Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are both saying all the right things about their prospects of playing this week for the Buffalo Bills.
But with the team’s Week Five game at the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night approaching fast, the likelihood of both running backs being 100 percent is minimal.
That means third running back Tashard Choice should see his most extensive playing time of the season against the Browns – which would be a bit of déjà vu.
During a Week Three victory at Cleveland in 2012, Choice stepped in after Spiller suffered a shoulder injury and rushed a season-high 20 times for 91 yards (Jackson missed the game because of a knee injury).
“It’s sort of the same situation. When opportunity knocks, you’ve gotta ball,” Choice said Monday. “If it comes down that I have a bigger role, I’m ready to roll. I’ve got to hold the fort down.”
Choice, 28, is a 5-foot-10, 210-pound bundle of energy. The six-year veteran is one of the Bills’ most vocal leaders and a key member of the special teams units — he played 25 snaps in that role Sunday, 71 percent of the Bills’ total. He also does not lack self-confidence when it comes to replacing Spiller and Jackson, should it come to that.
“I know I can play just as well when I get the opportunity, so I approach it the same way: When you get a chance, you just make the most of it,” he said. “There are opportunities for different guys for different reasons. I can’t control any of that. All I know is when I’m in the game, I just gotta play. I just gotta let what I know how to do, my abilities that I have, to let them out. I understand the offense and what I’ve got to do as far as pass protection and the run plays. I stay on top of that so when I’m in there there’s no letdown.”
Choice carried the ball a season-high three times in Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens after Spiller suffered a sprained left ankle and Jackson sprained the MCL in his left knee.
“We have all the confidence in the world in him. He did it last year when Fred went down. and it was just me and him. We expect the same thing,” Spiller said of Choice. “He prepares hard. He knows what he’s doing, so we don’t have any problem putting him out there. He’s been around a long time, so he understands this game. We look forward to having ‘20’ out there, he’s a fun guy to be around.”
Choice has a healthy 4.3 yard average on his 331 career carries. He’s scored 10 touchdowns and caught 77 passes for 560 yards. He’s a solid pass protector. His most productive season came as a rookie in 2008, when he ran 92 times for 472 yards and two touchdowns with the Dallas Cowboys.
He joined the Bills midway through the 2011 season as a free agent.
“Me, C.J. and Fred, all push each other. We’ve all been in the league for a while,” Choice said. “It’s a big help to see what other guys do really well and try to put that in your game and work with that. At the end of the day, the competition helps out so we can all be better.”
How much Choice plays will depend on the health of Spiller and Jackson.
Spiller said Monday if he can get to “80, 85” percent, he’d give it a shot at playing.
“If it was a Sunday game I’d definitely say I’d be out there,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to position myself to be out there.”
Spiller said he was concerned he may have broken a bone in his left leg against the Ravens. X-rays were negative.
“It wasn’t as swollen as we thought it was going to be,” he said. “That’s a good thing. Just going to take it day by day … and come Thursday see how it feels.”
Spiller said he plans change his usual routine and arrive at FirstEnergy Stadium at least three hours before the 8:30 p.m. kickoff to test the injury.
Spiller was asked how frustrating this season has been because of the various injuries that have taken him out of the lineup., even if briefly, for three of the four games.
“Ten,” he responded before the question was even finished. “It’s a 10. The frustration is a 10.”
Spiller was happy with the way he was running the ball against Baltimore. He gained 61 yards on 17 carries in the first half before he was hurt early in the third quarter.
“For me not to be able to finish was the frustrating part, but that’s football. A stupid injury happened. I’ve just got to move forward,” he said.
Jackson, meanwhile, said he felt “a little sore” Monday morning, and had been through two treatments early in the afternoon.
“Barring any major setback, I’ll be able to play on Thursday,” said Jackson, who indicated that he’d wear a knee brace against the Browns. “Right now, it’s just about strengthening it. Doing some rehab-type things to get the ligaments stronger.”