Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan speaks to the media following an NFL football practice in Orchard Park, N.Y., Tuesday, May 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
Bill Wippert
May 25, 2016

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Coach Rex Ryan stepped to the podium and immediately proclaimed the Buffalo Bills are ''a zillion miles ahead'' of where they were last year.

And then Ryan spent much of the next 22 minutes of his news conference facing questions regarding the half-dozen on- and off-field headline-grabbing events that took place over the past week.

It was a nine-day, what-could-go-wrong-next stretch that began May 16, when the Bills revealed rookie first-round draft pick linebacker Shaq Lawson and starting receiver Sammy Watkins had surgery. It continued Wednesday when general manager Doug Whaley acknowledged he used ''a poor choice of words'' when referring to football being a violent game that he didn't think was intended to be played by humans.

In between, the Bills introduced what's regarded as one of the NFL's most restrictive media policies, and placed running back Dri Archer on their reserve/did not report list for going AWOL after being claimed off waivers.

The bad news didn't sway Ryan, who on Tuesday said: ''I think we're going to have a heck of a football team I'm excited about.''

Yet, it left plenty cause for concern regarding how Buffalo - a team whose 16-year playoff drought is the NFL's longest active streak - might already be stumbling out of the gate before Memorial Day.

''I get it,'' Ryan said, referring to the news of Watkins having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, which he called ''a slap in the face.''

On the bright side, he said, Watkins will be recovered in time for the start of the regular season.

As for Lawson, pegged as a starter the night the Bills selected him 19th overall, Ryan defended the decision to have the Clemson pass-rush specialist have surgery to repair a lingering shoulder injury. He called it a pre-emptive move that's best for the team and player's long-term future.

''If he never had the surgery, he could play right now. But what we're trying to get is Shaq Lawson at 100 percent,'' Ryan said, tapping his finger on the podium for emphasis. ''We took this guy not to come here and play the first five games or the first four games of the season. We took the guy to be a great player for a long time.''

Ryan then dismissed a question regarding Archer's failure to report, saying there's not much to discuss.

''We're better talking about Jim Braxton,'' Ryan said, referring to the former Bills fullback who played a key role as the lead blocker for O.J. Simpson in the 1970s.

Archer hasn't been available for comment, and a message left with his agent, Joel Segal, has not been returned.

Player-related issues haven't been the only concern for the Bills, who dominated social media and sports-talk TV and radio shows for that Whaley said and for their new media policy.

Appearing on Buffalo's WGR Radio on Tuesday, Whaley made his comment answering a question whether Watkins was injury-prone.

''I wouldn't say that,'' Whaley said. ''It's the game of football and injuries are a part of it. It's a violent game that I personally don't think humans are supposed to play, and these things are going to come up.''

The comment raised eyebrows at a time the NFL is defending itself over player safety concerns, particularly concussion-related issues.

On Wednesday, Whaley issued an apology by clarifying what he meant to say.

''The point that I was trying to make is that football is a physical game and injuries are part of it,'' he said.

''Playing football no doubt is very physically and mentally and emotionally challenging, and that is all part of what makes the game so compelling to play and watch,'' Whaley added. ''The game has more protection for players now than ever, thanks largely to the safety advancements and numerous rule changes made by our league.''

And then there's the Bills' media policy, which drew criticism for barring reporters from mentioning dropped passes or interceptions that occur during closed practices.

Jeff Legwold, President of the Professional Football Writers of America, described the rules as ''a vast over-reach of the guidelines in the (NFL's) current media policy.''

Ryan sidestepped the issue by deferring questions to team spokesman Scott Berchtold.

There are 66 days before the Bills open training camp.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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