Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler sure did not look Thursday like a guy who just 4½ months ago was laying on an operating table having major knee surgery.
Chandler was running brisk pass routes and catching throws from rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel in the Bills’ fieldhouse after the team’s spring practice. If you looked closely maybe you could have seen that his cuts were not as sharp as normal. Maybe. He was running hard. He looked good, and he came off the field in a full sweat.
“The knee feels really good,” Chandler said. “I feel great. Running routes, you guys saw, I don’t know that it’s 100-percent but it’s better than most so I’m feeling good.”
Chandler’s full return by the time the Bills open the season in September is important to the team’s offense.
At 6-foot-7 and 263 pounds, he is a big target with a huge wingspan and a security blanket for Buffalo’s quarterbacks. That’s especially key given the Bills’ youth at the wide receiver position, where Stevie Johnson returns as the only sure-fire, proven commodity.
Chandler caught a career-high 43 passes last season, tied for second most on the team. His 571 receiving yards were second only to Johnson’s 1,046. He has 12 touchdown catches over the past two years, the most ever by a Bills tight end over a two-year stretch.
Chandler tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Miami last Dec. 23. He had surgery on it Jan. 9. The rehabilitation time for the surgery normally is seven to 10 months. Chandler feels good about his chances of practicing when Bills training camp opens in late July.
“I feel it’s realistic,” he said. “The injury is different than it used to be. The doctors are better. And I have to attribute some of this to I’m a Christian guy. God is the ultimate healer. Just put your faith in him and see how it goes.”
“This is probably my third week,” Chandler said, referring to when he started running pass routes. “I’m just kind of ramping it up each week. I’ve just been running ’em without ball and I started to catch the ball now too. So I feel good.”
The Bills refrained from adding a prominent tight end in free agency. They didn’t get a chance to get a top tight-end candidate in the draft. By the time their third-round pick came up, the top five at the position had been taken. Buffalo did pick speedy University of Arkansas tight end Chris Gragg in the seventh round. They have a capable blocking tight end in Lee Smith.
The offense needs a healthy Chandler. He wants to be ready for training camp to start developing chemistry with the Bills’ QBs. Former Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had a lot of faith in Chandler, who made stops in San Diego and Dallas before establishing himself with the Bills in 2011.
“I’ve made no bones about the relationship between the quarterback and the receiver needs to be there,” Chandler said. “You want to build a relationship with these guys. You want them to know that when it’s man to man, you’re the guy they want to go to. Yeah, I want to be there in training camp so they can see and so the new coaching staff can see what I can do.”
DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, was at practice Thursday as part of a tour of NFL teams and spoke to the players. Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly also watched practice.