Bills tight end Derek Fine is only entering his second NFL season, but he's the second most experienced player at his position on the roster. With veteran Robert Royal now in Cleveland, Fine is one of the elder statesmen at all of 25 years of age. Don't tell him however, that he's not a primary candidate for the starter's role at the tight end position. The former fourth-round pick has shown in OTAs that he is ready to compete for a more prominent role in the Bills' offense.
"I'm just excited for the opportunity, and to really get into my second year with the team," Fine said. "I'm comfortable with the system and with the other guys and with Trent (Edwards) and just being on the field."
The Bills have experienced many changes to their offense and defense since the end of last season. Their offseason practices are beginning to give players the chance to get more comfortable with each other. With the addition of Terrell Owens, and playing with other top wide receivers such as Lee Evans, Fine has noticed that there are a lot more opportunities for the tight ends to catch the ball.
"Obviously with the speed of Terrell and Lee, it's definitely going to open up the middle of the field more for us, so it's really just our job to get open in there and find the holes that they allow for us," Fine said. "Our part is just to try and find the open spots and do our part to help Trent out and try to bail him out."
Tight ends coach Charlie Coiner also has stressed to Fine the importance of making a stronger a connection with Edwards. It is evident in practice that Fine and Edwards are meshing well.
"In the end, coaches are gone, coaches are on the sideline," Coiner said. "(The players) play the game, and there has to be communication between those two. If Trent trusts him to run the right route and understands how he is going to run that route, it's going to be a lot better situation than if you guess it."
Coiner especially likes Fine's versatility, which can keep opposing defenses guessing as to what's coming pre-snap.
"Fine is a physical guy," the coach said. "When he lines up next to a tackle, it might be running, it might be pass protection it might be passing to him on the route. There's a lot of things he can do."
Fine has been performing well in the passing game. His strengths are gaining separation from his coverage defenders and getting open in the red zone as he's had a handful of touchdowns in the practice setting this spring. The last three weeks have given Fine time to see in detail where his strengths are, as well as what he can work at more to have the chance at winning a starting position.
"I've been working on the pass game as a whole," he said. "I think if you ever get complacent, you're not getting any better and that kind of ruins the whole point of the game. There's a lot of other parts of my game that I concentrated on."
"He is that tight end that, even as young as he is and as inexperienced as he is, can line up next to a tackle and do a lot of things that we're going to expect him to do," Coiner said. "He's made improvements from last year to this year, in some of his route running. He runs physical underneath routes, he catches the ball really well."
Last season, Robert Royal handled most of the Bills' inline blocking responsibilities at tight end, but those responsibilities now figure to shift to Fine and third-year tight end Derek Schouman.
"We all really lean upon each other and try to help each other out because there's really not a whole lot of us," said Fine. "In order for us to succeed as a group and as a room of tight ends, we have to make sure to help each other out because we work with each other pretty much on every play."