The Buffalo Bills drafted wideout Marcus Easley in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but the former Connecticut star hasn't yet played a down in the NFL. His rookie year was lost to a training camp knee injury and in 2011 he was diagnosed with a heart condition, costing him another season on injured reserve. As such, the third-year rookie has some ground to cover to get into the receiving rotation.
When talking with reporters following Monday's practice, Bills head coach Chan Gailey was asked about motivating Easley despite his two lost seasons. Gailey thinks Easley has the right mindset, but admitted it won't be easy for him to prove himself.
"I don’t think I need to talk to Marcus, because his attitude has been so good," said Gailey. "His work ethic and the things he’s done in the off-season to get ready to participate. He has been so strong and so good. I haven’t had to say a word to him. He is an upbeat guy. He knows he’s got to fight an uphill battle to get into the fray, but I think he can."
An "uphill battle" is probably not what Bills fans want to hear about Easley, who many have pinned high hopes on for the upcoming season. In two separate polls in the last four months, fans picked Easley to emerge from the crowded lot at wide receiver to snag a starting job opposite Stevie Johnson. In March, he received 53 percent of the vote and almost doubled-up incumbent starter Donald Jones. He once again received 53 percent of the vote in May following the selection of third-round wide receiver T.J. Graham, who took votes from Jones in the poll, leaving Easley as the clear favorite amongst Bills fans.
In an interview with Buffalo's WGR 550, Easley said his friends and family have helped him stay grounded and focused as he's battled through the setbacks.
"I just took the time that I needed to get away from football to correct what needed to be corrected," said Easley. "The brighter side is I'm healthy now and all the focus is on this year, you know just coming out here and competing."
Easley's hoping he can leave his imprint on the coaching staff this summer and follow suit during the 2012 season.
"It's been a long journey but it's a new year, a new team, and that's just all my focus right now," he told WGR.
That is one thing Easley has going for him that he hasn't had in the past: he's finally healthy, and the team still hasn't found their man opposite Johnson. That provides him with an opportunity to showcase his talents to coaches, at the very least.
With the Bills' free agent pursuit of Robert Meachem in mind, it's obvious they weren't comfortable simply handing any incumbent receivers the spot. They drafted Graham, re-signed Derek Hagan, and signed David Clowney. Jones is still very much in the mix. With all those guys getting their shot, Easley will have to prove himself. It's also a fair assumption that all of the wideouts will have to do the same.