Buffalo Bills rookie class displays Rex-like exuberance
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) If the first day of the Buffalo Bills' rookie camp is any indication, coach Rex Ryan's larger-than-life personality has already rubbed off on many of the newcomers.
The rookies - from first-round pick Shaq Lawson to undrafted fullback Glenn Gronkowski - showed no fear of expressing themselves following practice Friday.
Quarterback Cardale Jones called Ryan his long-lost father because the two share a similar outspoken approach.
''Yeah, I've been looking for that guy for 23 years,'' said Cardale, who was selected in the fourth round out of Ohio State. ''I think I found him.''
Eric Striker, an undrafted linebacker out of Oklahoma, wondered what the big deal was about chicken wings in Buffalo, before being convinced he had to try them in the city in which the dish was invented.
As for Gronkowski, he smiled and teased that he's more intelligent than his famous older brother Rob, the New England Patriots star tight end.
''It's not easy to be that crazy and wild,'' the fullback out of Kansas State said of his far more outgoing sibling. ''But I think people are already starting to realize that ... I'm a little more tame, a little more intelligent.''
Ryan is just starting to familiarize himself with the newcomers, and especially liked what he heard from Gronkowski.
''Oh, absolutely,'' Ryan said, smiling, when relayed what Glenn said of Rob. ''I think that's a given, right?''
It was a loose and playful on-field debut for the seven-member draft class, rounded out by 14 undrafted free agents and seven players invited to the three-day camp on tryout contracts.
Excited as he was to finally oversee a practice, Ryan said it was premature to make any judgments following a 90-minute non-contact session and dwindling numbers at several positions. With no tight ends present, position coach Tony Sparano was forced to line up and run routes during seven-on-seven drills.
''It's like, wow, we've got a long way to go to say the least,'' Ryan said.
Much of the focus was on defense, where the Bills used their first three draft picks to fill various needs.
Lawson, a defensive end out of Clemson, was selected 19th overall. The Bills traded up eight spots to draft Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland at 41. And they select Ohio State defensive lineman Adolphus Washington 80th.
The trio is being counted upon to make an immediate impact on a defense that had difficulty adapting to the scheme Ryan introduced upon taking over last season.
Lawson is unfazed in knowing he's being asked to replace Mario Williams, who was cut in March.
''They drafted me because of the player I am,'' Lawson said. ''I ain't really thinking about Mario Williams. He was a great player. I just want to come in and do my job and do what I do best.''
Lawson and Ragland suggested they're already ahead after having established a bond during the pre-draft process.
''Yeah, we're kind of like four flats on a Cadillac,'' said Ragland, in his colorful way of noting the two are on the same level. ''I'm glad to be here with (Lawson), because he's one of the players that I wanted to play with.''
Striker is another player who doesn't lack for confidence.
At 6 feet and 221 pounds, he said it's nothing new to hear questions about his lack of size. That was the case at Oklahoma, where he was a three-year starter and honored for being a team leader.
''It's not hard to pick me out. You say, `Oh, there's the little guy in the middle,''' Striker said. ''You always have to prove yourself to any of the doubters and people who think you can't do it.''
His only issue for now might be chicken wings.
''I've tasted a great chicken wing, how better can it be here?'' Striker asked, before fielding suggestions of where to sample some true Buffalo wings.
Ryan was surprised to hear Striker's comments by saying: ''Well, we've already got to fix that, don't we?''
NOTES: New defensive line coach John Blake was absent after having shoulder surgery. ... Veteran free agent offensive lineman Matt Slauson visited with the Bills and watched practice five days after being cut by the Chicago Bears. Slauson played for Ryan with the New York Jets.
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