The 2010 season was a lost year for Bills tight end Shawn Nelson. A four-game suspension, followed by groin surgery in mid-September and a late season bout with migraines saw Nelson appear in just five games for the Bills last year. Heading into 2011 Nelson has significant ground to make up in what is shaping up to be a very short offseason.
Bills tight ends coach Bob Bicknell admits the 2010 season was as troubling for him as it was for Nelson.
"It was very frustrating," Bicknell told Buffalobills.com. "The kid has a lot of talent. He's got all the tools that you look for. The bottom line toughest part of this business is availability. That's first and foremost. It doesn't matter what the position is and where you're at, you need to be available to play. A lot of times it's not something you brought on yourself and sometimes it is. You just hope that all of that bad luck or bad situations are behind him and he can come in and excel."
Though his athletic talent is unmistakable, Nelson never really had an opportunity to prove himself to the new coaching staff being off the practice field as well as the game field last year.
Where the series of setbacks in 2010 presumably hurt Nelson the most was in terms of exposure to the offensive system in year one under Chan Gailey. Nelson missed time in OTAs last spring due to the poor health of his mother at the time. That was followed by time missed at training camp and the first five weeks of the regular season. He also missed most of the last six weeks of practice and his migraines eventually landed him on the Non-Football Injury list in Week 15 effectively ending his season. As a result Nelson will have a lot to learn and nail down when players can return to work.
"You've got to be here every day," said Bicknell. "You have to be practicing every day and developing every day. That's the reality of this league and the reality of this profession. That's a very important thing because not being available means losing experience.
"The level of play going against the best in the NFL, you need that experience to learn how to block and be able to get open against some of these guys and be able to fit in zones and feel where the open area is. There are so many things where he has to develop and that's going to take practice and getting experience and playing."
Nelson went to a specialist in Miami in January to rectify his migraine problem, which has cropped up each of the last two seasons. Due to the work stoppage its unknown if a solution was found.
The good news for Nelson is the starting tight end role is very much a wide open competition entering 2011. So despite the time that he lost last year, the former fourth-round pick still has a chance to prove to the offensive staff that he can be a dangerous weapon for them.
"I've said it and he knows that it's open," said Bicknell of Nelson. "There is nobody at the tight end position where they've got things locked up. They've got to show us. It's extremely important for Shawn to show us he can be the type of player that his potential says he can be. I have no different plan for him than any other player we have right now at the position. He needs to come in and show that he can be that player."