PITTSFORD – Doug Marrone was able to summarize his thoughts on Jimmy Gaines in four words Friday.
“He runs extremely well,” the Bills’ coach said of the Buffalo native attempting to make his hometown roster.
OK, so it’s not the highest of praise – but at least the coach knows Gaines’ name.
That’s a good start for an undrafted free agent.
“I’m just trying to go out here and make them notice me a little bit more,” Gaines said Friday night after practice at St. John Fisher College.
Gaines is currently running with the Bills’ second team on the left side at linebacker, meaning he could be a weak- or strong-side ’backer depending on the offensive formation.
“I’m focused on doing my job and knowing my assignments,” he said. “Once I know my job, it’s time to play football after that. After that, you can start making plays like you did in college.”
Gaines starred at Canisius High School before attending the University of Miami. As a senior in 2013, he started all 13 games for the Hurricanes and made 83 tackles.
Wearing his Bills uniform every day at practice still hasn’t completely sunk in.
“It’s still crazy. Every day I think, ‘Wow, am I really on the Bills?’ It’s a childhood dream,” Gaines said. “The first practice I had jitters, then the first practice with pads I had jitters. Now coming up to the first preseason game, I’m sure I’ll have them too, but I’m having fun with it. It’s been a great experience.”
With Kiko Alonso being lost for the season before training camp and Nigel Bradham suspended for the season opener, Gaines has a good opportunity to make the 53-man roster, but he’s not getting ahead of himself.
“This is my job interview every day,” he said. “The only thing I can control is me, so I’m trying to do that.”
Gaines said the message from the coaching staff has been to play “fast and physical.”
“As a linebacker, you’ve got to play downhill,” he said. “I’m getting pretty close. I’m feeling more and more comfortable with it.”
The Bills got some good news on the injury front Friday as tight end Lee Smith (lower body), left guard Chris Williams (toe) and offensive lineman Chris Hairston (back) were able to practice.
Hairston, who has been splitting first-team reps with Kraig Urbik at right guard, played left tackle with the second-string offense Friday.
If Smith is able to play Sunday against the New York Giants, it would give the Bills three healthy tight ends. Starter Scott Chandler (groin) and Tony Moeaki (hamstring) are not expected to play.
Starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin did not take team reps. McKelvin hasn’t done so in a week, so it would be a surprise if he played Sunday.
Near the end of practice, the starting offense ran a “two-minute” drill of sorts, beginning on its own 25-yard line with 1:28 on the clock.
Three straight incompletions put the offense in a hole, but quarterback EJ Manuel connected with receiver Mike Williams for a first down on the ensuing fourth-down play. The offense wasn’t able to turn the drive into points, however, taking a delay-of-game penalty before Jacquies Smith ended the series with a sack.
The second-string offense didn’t fare much better, as Jeff Tuel was intercepted by cornerback Nickell Robey.
Other highlights from practice:
• Linebacker Nigel Bradham made an interception of a Thad Lewis pass that bounced off the hands of running back Anthony Dixon. It was one of two drops on the night for Dixon.
• Quarterback Dennis Dixon threw one of the prettiest passes of the night, a fade to receiver Kevin Elliott for a touchdown during red-zone work. A short time later, the pair hooked up for another score.
• Defensive lineman Jarius Wynn and Stefan Charles teamed up to blow up a run by Ronnie Wingo.