After coming up with what proved to be the game-winning touchdown reception at Jacksonville in Week 2, it had been a quiet couple of weeks for Bills receiver James Hardy. But in Week 5 the rookie was a bigger part of the game plan and showed flashes in an otherwise forgettable game for the Bills last Sunday.
Hardy had a big third down conversion to start the game on a 3rd-and-5 at the Buffalo 30 that went for 13 yards on a catch over the middle. He followed that up with another third down conversion moving the sticks on a 3rd-and-7 catch that went for 17 yards over the middle as well. Hardy's last catch was made in the game's waning moments, again over the middle on third down.
Three catches for 35 yards might not look like much on the surface, but for Hardy it was a step in the right direction.
"It was huge for me," said Hardy. "I was starting to get into a groove. I really thought it was going to be my break out game and it didn't work out the way I expected. But it gives me more motivation to come in and have two weeks of great practice and have that kind of game against San Diego."
Ever the optimist Hardy believes he is making strides with his game even if it's not yet translating into production numbers on the field.
"My coaches say they're happy with where I'm at and I'm going to continue to strive for more progress each and every day," he said.
Prior to the season Hardy was well aware of the time it sometimes takes for rookie receivers to adapt to the NFL game and produce, but he was determined to shorten his learning curve as much as possible. Now five games in Hardy is finding out that you can't rush progress, especially when so much of the pro game is new.
"The routes that I'm trying to get down pat right now are not the routes I ran at Indiana and the scheme is different as well," he said. "So I'm just trying to learn everything at once and continue to grow."
One of the more challenging parts of being an NFL receiver is learning how to read coverages on the fly. As a wideout is running his route he needs to recognize whether he's facing man or zone coverage and adjust his route accordingly. It's something that was never required of Hardy during his college days.
"It's just something I have to get used to. When you have a lot of things that have been thrown your way that you haven't experienced before it can be difficult at times," Hardy said. "But I feel I've grown in that area. I feel I'm coming along very well. We're 4-1 and no one expected us to be 4-1 and I'm learning while we're 4-1. And hopefully as we hit our peak as a team I'll be doing the same thing."
That would be music to the ears of offensive coordinator Turk Schonert, who is eager to take advantage of Hardy's vast athletic talents, especially with Roscoe Parrish still recovering from thumb surgery.
Hardy is doing all the right things to contribute more as soon as possible. The receiver is taking extra reps at practice and sitting close to Lee Evans in the film room. The rookie is trying to make the most of every opportunity to improve.
"It takes repetition and that's why I take a lot of reps in practice," said Hardy. "That way it's easier for me in the game. Leodis (McKelvin) and I are the only rookies playing because you don't just throw rookies in there in those situations, but when Roscoe (Parrish) went down my time came sooner than expected. It's still going to take a little bit more time, but I'm coming. I'm starting to get comfortable and now I'm just waiting for that breakout game."