Doug Marrone acknowledged the other day that he pulled Nathaniel Hackett aside and essentially reminded his young, vibrant offensive coordinator to be more judicious with his public comments. Hackett’s crime was saying on WGR 550 radio that he was going to run C.J. Spiller until he vomits.
“It’s real simple: We’re going to give him the ball until he throws up,” Hackett said. “So he’s either got to tap out or throw up on the field. Let’s just put it that way.”
Hackett wasn’t speaking in literal terms, of course, although Spiller wouldn’t be the first athlete to toss his cookies on the field. The coach wanted to push his most dangerous offensive weapon to the limit with the idea that more carries for his electrifying running back equates to a better chance of winning.
It didn’t sound like a poor choice of words. It sounded like a great idea.
More offensive than anything Hackett said was Spiller standing on the sidelines after averaging 10-plus yards per carry in the first two games last year, while drives repeatedly stalled, while the quarterback struggled, while losses piled up, while the Bills missed the postseason yet again.
You want nausea? They may be the Bills, but around here the “B” is silent. Ask 75,000 fans how they felt while walking out of Ralph Wilson Stadium after the 52-28 loss to New England. Spiller gained 292 yards on 29 carries in his first two games and had 12 carries the next two games combined.
Spiller averaged 6 yards per carry, tied with Adrian Peterson for most in the NFL among running backs who had more than 35 carries last season. The stat is actually misleading. Spiller was averaging nearly 6.5 yards per carry before he was held to 59 yards on 24 carries in the season finale against the Jets.
Bills fans should take a good look at Peterson, who will be in town when the Vikings visit The Ralph on Friday night. Spiller could be the same type of back if the Bills used him properly and made the same commitment to C.J. that the Vikings make to AP.
He averaged 7.2 yards for his first 72 carries before the bye week last season. The Bills’ answer for his production was giving him 15 carries in the next two games. He had 15 or fewer carries in 10 games last season. And he still finished the year with 1,244 yards rushing, eighth most in the league.
And Chan Gailey wonders why he was fired. He was smitten with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who flamed out after signing his big contract. The Bills didn’t win enough. At times last season, it looked like they quit. Gailey’s biggest flaw, however, was not getting more from his offense after it became apparent that Spiller was a rising star.
How do you keep Spiller under 100 yards? Allow Gailey to call the plays.
Say what you will about whether the Bills should have taken Spiller with the ninth pick overall in 2010. The Bills had far more pressing needs at other positions when they selected him. In fact, they needed anything but a running back that year. But what’s done is done. Spiller is here, and it’s time the Bills get the most from him.
Gailey never said as much, but there was an underlying feeling that he limited Spiller’s carries last season to keep him healthy. He had reservations about whether Spiller’s 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame could withstand the punishment that would have come with more carries. Plus, he had another good back in Fred Jackson.
Coaches aren’t hired to preserve players. The idea is getting the most out of them while they can for as long as they can. It’s about winning. If that means running them into the ground and shortening their careers, well, too bad. It’s not the coach’s problem. That’s the deal players make when they sign NFL contracts.
Spiller is a class act who never publicly complained about his playing time, but internally it must have made him sick, too. He’s a competitive athlete and first-round choice. The Bills should have devised ways to maximize his ability. He and Jackson, good in all situations, should have been on the field simultaneously as much as possible.
The Bills will have a new quarterback this season, likely EJ Manuel. The best way for any newcomer to grow comfortable with a new offense is establishing a running game and putting the quarterback in high-percentage passing situations. Spiller can only accelerate the learning curve for Manuel. Jackson also can help.
Spiller is no longer hiding the fact that he wants the ball. He wants to become an elite NFL back. He would like to reach 2,000 yards rushing this season. It would mean averaging 5.5 yards per carry and averaging about 23 carries per game, or one more carry per game than NFL leader Arian Foster had with Houston last season.
Spiller only had one game last year in which he had 23 carries, and that was the meaningless final game. It’s about time the Bills find out just how much production they can draw from the guy. He’s their most dynamic player. He’s their biggest game-breaker. He’s 26 years old. He has plenty of yards on his legs.
It’s no wonder that Hackett wants to use Spiller until the tank is empty. Spiller must have jumped off the screen when Hackett and Marrone started breaking down Bills’ video. They must have been shaking their heads in disbelief while examining how much he offered and how little he was used. It must have been sickening.