ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — As fast as C.J. Spiller might be, the Buffalo Bills’ first-round draft pick has discovered he can’t outrun his own expectations.
The rookie running back’s impatience got the best of him, too.
“Probably a C-minus,” Spiller said Wednesday in assessing a disappointing rookie season that comes to a close this weekend when the Bills (4-11) travel to play the Jets (10-5). “I’m not going say it’s a ‘D’, and I’m not going to say it’s an ‘A’ or ‘B.’ But it didn’t go exactly the way I wanted it to.”
Not even close.
After showing signs of his dynamic potential in the preseason, and opening the year as a starter, Spiller has spent the rest of the season relegated to an uncustomary backup role.
With two touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return, Spiller never anticipated the transition to the NFL would be so difficult after making the game look easy by scoring 51 times in four seasons at Clemson.
In college, he expected to score every time he touched the ball, with 21 of his touchdowns coming from 50 yards or more.
In Buffalo, Spiller has slowly begun to appreciate that something as simple as a 5-yard gain is actually considered a success in a league filled with superior talent.
“I was just trying to hit that home run every time. And I’ve got to understand that I’m not going to get that home run every time,” said Spiller, drafted ninth overall. “These guys are good, too. They’re in the NFL for a reason. And that’s something I kind of learned over the last three to five weeks.”
Spiller’s slow development has been regarded as the biggest setback for an offense that’s found a semblance of identity in Chan Gailey’s first year as coach.
In 13 starts, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has 3,000 yards passing to become the first Bills player to reach that level since J.P. Losman in 2006. And Fitzpatrick has thrown 23 touchdown passes, the most since Drew Bledsoe had 24 in ’02.
The running attack has also found a rhythm since Fred Jackson reclaimed the starting job after Marshawn Lynch was traded to Seattle in October. Jackson has five touchdowns and is 108 yards rushing short of his second consecutive 1,000-yard season despite only 12 starts.
That leaves Spiller’s role unsettled.
He has 71 carries for 278 yards, and 24 catches for 157 yards and a score. Spiller’s biggest impact has come in the return game. He has a combined 1,064 yards, and took over the punt return duties after Roscoe Parrish was hurt in early November.
Combined, that’s still a large drop from the numbers he produced at Clemson. That’s where he became the second player — joining Reggie Bush — to finish his college career with 3,000 yards rushing, 1,500 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards in punt returns.
Gailey is staying patient in assessing Spiller’s progress, and suggests the Bills might have attempted to put too much on the player in handing him the starting job to open the season.
“He had some growing to do,” Gailey said, noting that Spiller still needs to develop his blocking skills in pass situations. “We’ve been an experiment in progress all year about how to use the great talent he has.”
He’s looking forward to seeing how far Spiller can develop next season.
“He’s going to be a very good player,” Gailey said. “Because of where he was picked, expectations are put on somebody like that. That’s not anything he did wrong or did bad. He’s just got to learn. In five years, this will never come up.”
Jets coach Rex Ryan is a big believer, too.
“He is a dynamic player, there’s no question. It’s just a matter of time,” Ryan said, before referring to Spiller as having Pro Bowl potential. “Before it’s all said and done, he’s going to be visiting Hawaii a bunch. I think he’s got that kind of ability.”
Spiller’s not there yet, and still showing the telltale signs of a rookie attempting to do too much.
He had a season-best 84 yards from scrimmage (30 rushing, 54 receiving) in a 34-3 loss to New England last weekend. But the performance was overshadowed Spiller’s two lost fumbles, including a muffed punt.
“I definitely didn’t play the way I was capable of playing,” Spiller said. “I learned from that.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.