Last year at this time the expectations for then rookie receiver Marcus Easley were high. He had come off a promising spring where he made a number of head-turning plays in the Bills passing game during OTAs and minicamp. But a knee injury the first week of training camp ended his rookie year before it started. Now with the 2011 season fast approaching, the expectations for Easley are still there despite not even playing in an NFL preseason game in 2010.
Bills receivers coach Stan Hixon was genuinely excited they landed Easley as a fourth-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft believing he had solid tools for the pro game.
"He was 6'2" 220 pounds and 4.4 speed so he had the vertical that you're always looking for," Hixon told Buffalobills.com. "I was excited about him in camp because he was making some plays and then he just got hurt."
Easley suffered a knee injury after a hard fall exacerbated a strain during the first week of training camp. By the third week of August he was on injured reserve and had significant surgery to repair loose and damaged cartilage in his knee.
Fully healthy since late December, Easley enters the 2011 campaign much like a rookie having never suited up for Buffalo. Hixon however, believes the tall and speedy wideout is better equipped than the average rookie this year.
"He's older and should be smarter and he knows the offense and he's just got to go out there and apply it," said Hixon. "Hopefully now his time is here. I think he's mature enough to know it's a setback that he can bounce back from and get better."
What Easley showed that convinced Hixon and other members of Buffalo's offensive staff that big things are possible was his uncanny knack in getting behind the defense for big plays in practices through the spring and early summer last year.
"By being tall he's not really considered a long strider, but he has that top end speed and he's strong too," Hixon said. "That helps out in the bump and run and in underneath coverage, beating the linebackers. I think that it gives him an opportunity to be as good as he wants to be."
Also aiding Easley's chances of success early was the fact that he remained in Buffalo all last season despite not having a chance to be on the field on Sundays. He rehabbed and went to team and position meetings where he learned the nuances of his position as well as the big picture of the offense.
Hixon, who tests his receivers regularly in written form during the season said Easley performed well. Buffalo's receivers coach feels the depth of knowledge gained will help him play faster than a typical first-year player.
"He's got the knowledge and the concept of the play," said Hixon. "Not just what he's doing, but what everybody else is doing. Who are we trying to affect? Who are we trying to beat on this particular pass play? It won't be the first time he hears it. During last season within game plans we had new routes, new options and new plays so it won't be new to him. He's heard it before and visualized it before and now he'll be able to go out there and do it."
Doing it obviously is the key, and Hixon believes Easley's execution and playmaking ability will happen sooner rather than later. Time on the job though is the only thing that will Easley to where everyone on the offensive side of the ball wants him to be.
"The main thing for him is just playing in a game. He's been in practice and scrimmaged, but Marcus has to just play. We'll see what happens and what he learns. The more you play the more you're making decisions by yourself. Yes, you have coaches on the sidelines and they can holler out instructions, but in the game you're on your own. You need to either make the play or don't make the play and more often than not I think he'll make the play. His best football is ahead of him. His best is yet to come."