C.J. Spiller is a glass-half-full guy. He is a team player. He is a devout Christian. You’re 100 times more likely to see him quote scripture on his Twitter account than to express vanity or selfishness.
So it was no surprise that Spiller shrugged off any sense of disappointment over his production in assessing his 2013 Buffalo Bills season.
“I thought it was great,” Spiller said. “I was able to carry the ball and we did different things to try and involve me in the passing game. Overall I thought it was a good year.”
“From the outside in, y’all guys will probably say it was down because of the numbers,” Spiller acknowledged, “but when you get a new system to try to get accustomed to as quickly as you have to, I thought I did a pretty good job with that.”
Spiller’s numbers were way down. He acknowledged his goals this year were 1,500 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns and an average of 6 yards a carry.
He finished with 927 rushing yards, 185 receiving yards and two touchdowns. That’s 1,112 scrimmage yards. He touched the ball 234 times, or 15.6 a game in the 15 games he played. He averaged 4.6 yards a carry.
Last year he had 1,244 rushing yards, 459 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. That’s 1,703 scrimmage yards. He touched the ball 250 times, or 15.6 a game in the 16 games he played. He averaged 6.0 yards a carry.
The biggest reason for his drop was an ankle injury hindered him for a big stretch in the middle of the season.
Another factor was Fred Jackson played in every game, unlike last season. Jackson produced 1,283 total yards on 254 touches. Jackson played 57 percent of the snaps. Spiller played 33.5 percent.
Another factor was Spiller did not find holes in the defensive front like in 2012.
He was tackled for loss or no gain 37 times in 2012 but 54 times in 2013. He had 43 runs of 1 or 2 yards last year, but 52 such runs this year.
Spiller said the ankle, which he injured in the Week Four game against Baltimore, was a big problem. He missed one game and it arguably affected him at least six others.
“It had a big effect on how I played because I was in and out of games, really wasn’t myself until late in the season,” he said. “But now I’ll finally get some rest, let it heal as much as it can and then come back next year and really try to explode.”
Spiller said he is squarely on the same page with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley.
“I don’t have any concerns or any doubts what my role will be,” he said. “I think we just had an obstacle in the road when I got injured in Week Four. I think it kind of hindered some of the things that we was able to do with me. Like I said, we keep coming in and out of games, it’s hard really to get a guy going like that. . . . I know these coaches, Coach Hackett, Coach Wheatley, we do a great job of communicating, telling me what I need to do and what I need to work on, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Jackson’s quality impacted Spiller in the passing game. Spiller had 25 touches on third down last year, including 13 catches for 137 yards. This year he had only eight third-down touches, with just two catches for 19 yards.
Jackson is a bigger man than Spiller and is much more effective in pass protection, a key on third downs. Third-down usage shouldn’t be much of a concern for the Bills’ coaches nest season. Jackson is great in that role, and Spiller can do the job if Jackson gets hurt.
The larger concern is the no gains and tackles for loss by Spiller in the run game.
Spiller usually lines up 7 yards, or 7½, behind the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is under center. In the shotgun, Spiller often is just 5 yards behind the line, close to the quarterback.
In the shotgun, Spiller is so quick, sometimes it seems he doesn’t have as good a view or hits the hole a half-step before it fully opens.
Of his runs for loss or no gain, 26 came with the QB under center and 22 in the shotgun. He averaged a healthy 4.0 yards a carry in the shotgun but an even better 5.0 when the QB was under center, according to News figures. The shotgun is going to remain a huge element of the Bills’ offense. It’s an issue for Spiller and the coaches to sort out.
“I think there’s something to that,” said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. “We got to kind of get it a little more specific on each run concept and so forth, because he’s so fast, it’s different having him back there than Fred.”
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily the depth. I think it’s more - he’s really, really fast. So we have to be sure once we get back there and study it, look at it and see where he’s looking, see where his eyes are, where we want him to go.”
“This is the first year in the offense, so we’ll go back and look at some things and see what we can do to bounce ideas off each other, see if we can split me out wide and do certain stuff,” Spiller said. “If we able to do that, that’s fine, but if not, then I can’t sit around and pout about it. I just have to do what’s asked of me and first and foremost I got to be running the ball effectively, and then we’ll get the passing game going.”
Spiller joked about Hackett’s training camp assertion that the Bills would use him until he vomited. And he said reporters who guessed he was gunning for a 2,000-yard season were wrong.
“I told you all that I wasn’t going to throw up,” he said. “I mean, nobody can never put any higher expectations on me than what I put on myself. Everybody was talking 2,000. I already had a goal in my mind what I wanted to do individually as a player, so I was just letting y’all guys speak that stuff. And y’all was making all the fantasy owners mad and happy at the same time. I’m definitely looking forward to coming back and really, really exploding in this offense.”