Marcus Easley can feel his opportunity slipping away.
The Buffalo Bills’ enigma of a receiver needed a strong preseason to prove he was finally ready to contribute on the field after missing all of his first two professional seasons.
So far, though, it hasn’t been there.
Easley has just two catches through the first three preseason games, for 15 yards.
“It’s been tough,” he said this week. “I knew it was going to be an uphill battle for me. I’m still in that position now.”
From the time he was drafted in the fourth round in 2010, Easley has tantalized with his combination of size (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) and speed (sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash). It appeared to be coming together for him last year in the preseason, especially in the third game when he caught five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The No. 2 receiver role looked to be there for him, but it never came to fruition. He was placed on injured reserve – for the second time in his career – just two days after the season opener because of a heart condition he’s been guarded about.
“Being where I was last year and this year, it’s pretty much from the top to the bottom. That’s what happens with injuries, guys step up, guys come in and of course they’re going to get the jump on me [considering] everything that happened,” he said.
Easley insists he’s 100 percent healthy, saying he feels better now that he has at any point in his professional career. And it’s not that he’s struggled with drops or failed to live up to the coaches’ expectations.
“He does everything you want him to do," Bills receivers coach Bob Bicknell said. “He’s a hard worker, a great kid. He knows what he’s supposed to do. He just needs the opportunity to play, he really does. He needs to get those chances to play the game. That’s kind of been his situation; it’s an uphill battle coming back from the time he’s missed.”
Easley is behind four receivers – Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson and T.J. Graham – who have spots on the 53-man roster all but assured. That leaves him in a battle with Naaman Roosevelt, Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin and Kamar Aiken, a group fighting for at most two spots.
“He’s had some really good days and some average days,” coach Chan Gailey said. “That’s what we’re looking at is how much of that average is because he hasn’t played in two years or is the average because he’s not playing up to what we expect and what we need?
“That’s where we are with him. He’s done some really good things on the field. We’re going to have to make a hard call depending upon what it looks like after Thursday night.”
Easley knows Thursday’s preseason finale in Detroit could be his last chance to make a favorable impression.
“Hungry is an understatement,” he said of his desire. “This is my life. This is my job. When that’s taken from you, how do you think somebody would respond? It was frustrating. I had my downs, but all that’s behind me now. This is Year Three and that’s all I’m really worried about.”
Easley’s physical skills still intrigue the Bills.
“He’s a big, physical player,” Bicknell said. “He runs well. Because he’s a big kid, he doesn’t always look like he’s running, but he moves well. He’s done some good things, gone up over defenders. He’s a very good blocker if we ask him to block.”
The Bills want Easley to continue to refine his route running and continue to use his big frame.
“He needs to do it more,” Bicknell said. “We talked about it early in camp at St. John Fisher. There were times on releases that he could really be physical coming off the ball and he worked on it and was able to do it. It needs to be constant.”
Because his first two seasons have washed out, the 24-year-old does have practice squad eligibility, should the Bills cut him and he clears waivers.
Gailey indicated Tuesday that about 80 to 85 percent of the roster decisions have been made. Easley likely falls into that 15 percent of players who still have time to earn a job. For now, that’s where his focus is.
“No one has actually seen what I can do,” he said.
Cornerback Terrence McGee was not in attendance Tuesday as the Bills practiced on the outdoor grass field, and the news was not good.
Gailey said McGee suffered a setback during Monday’s practice in his recovery from offseason knee surgery for a torn patellar tendon.
“His knee got a little weaker in practice [Monday]. So we’re sitting him and seeing where he goes looking for the future. He’s not going to play this week, so we’ll have to see where that puts us,” the coach said.
Gailey went on to say McGee’s condition is a long-term concern.
“You always are. Until a guy can go out there and play consistently and have no setbacks, you get worried.”
That being said, Gailey said it was premature to put McGee on the roster bubble with final cuts looming Friday. “I don’t see that right now, no,” the coach said.