Bills wide receiver Derek Hagan is more confident than ever that he is ready to take on a starting role. Heading into his seventh professional season with his fourth NFL team Hagan feels this is the perfect situation for himself. He believes that his time spent around the league has prepared him to become an every down starter.
"I definitely think so," said Hagan. "I know that I am going into my seventh year, but I feel like each and every year I am getting better. As you get older you start to mature a whole lot and start to see things that are going on out on the field and it just makes things easier."
Coming into the league Hagan recalls leaning on veterans for guidance in both Miami and New York where he spent his first five NFL seasons. Now, he believes that his veteran presence and experience will help guide some of the younger receivers on the roster, while also competing with them for a starting role.
"That just comes down to knowing how to play this game the right way," Hagan said. "Now, it is just coming in and trying to pass that on to these younger guys and at the same time try to improve myself."
One of the more intriguing position battles that will be continuously monitored this offseason is for the number two wide receiver spot behind Stevie Johnson. Though head coach Chan Gailey did state that incumbent Donald Jones is the current frontrunner, he also made clear that nothing is set in stone. Hagan admits that the opening influenced his decision making this offseason.
"That is what it is all about," said Hagan. "That is what I came back for because I knew there was an opportunity here to come in and start and help this team."
Stevie Johnson remains out of team drills while he recovers from groin surgery. This has given other players like Hagan the opportunity to step up and show the coaching staff their individual talents. Hagan has consistently been working with the starters and filling in where Johnson normally would line up.
"That is where they have me at, but I am comfortable in any position," Hagan said. "For now since Stevie (Johnson) is out, that is where I am and I'm just trying to make plays over there."
While filling in for Johnson is no simple task, Hagan is proving that he can handle the role and is up for the challenge. Hagan has turned in his share of plays in the passing game during OTAs including an impressive catch and run deep over the middle on a throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Turning in such plays has been anything but easy against a secondary that has been very stingy during the spring practice sessions.
"That was actually the first time we hit an in-cut during OTAs," said Hagan. "The way the defense has been covering has prevented us from catching anything over the middle. Finally, we got a big 20 yard in-cut down the middle of the field that was wide open. If I break that tackle it is a touchdown."
In his only start last season with the Bills Hagan recorded seven catches for 89 yards in the season finale against the New England Patriots. He led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and in average yards per reception.
Hagan was very impressive in his start with Buffalo. He is hoping to build on the chemistry established with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the end of last year. In his four games with the team late last season, Hagan was able to get his feet wet and become familiar with the offense. Now, he feels like there are no limitations to what they could accomplish together this year.
"I think coming in late I just tried to put in the time and effort. Pretty much just getting on the same page as Fitz helped a whole lot," Hagan said. "Basically, I know that the sky is the limit and I just have to keep working."