With the first practice of his first NFL training camp closing in, James Hardy agreed to terms with the Bills late Thursday less than 24 hours before the team's first work on the field begins for the 2008 campaign.
Bills COO Russ Brandon expressed confidence that Hardy would report to camp on time Thursday afternoon believing a contract agreement was just a few hours away and that proved to be the case.
Hardy, who is the odds on favorite to land the starting outside receiver role opposite top wideout Lee Evans, is a key piece to the offensive puzzle being assembled by new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert.
"James is coming along. He's like every rookie, but his talent is there," said Schonert. "He's a great weapon and he and Trent just needs to get on the same page. He's just got to get a lot of reps and I've got to do a good job of putting him in good positions and simplifying it if I have to."
Hardy was ultra-productive as the only proven offensive weapon at Indiana. Despite constant double team coverage for most of his collegiate career, the tall, lanky receiver compiled 36 touchdowns in 33 games.
After spring workouts in which Hardy made his share of plays and also made a few errors, the rookie wideout feels he made progress and will be ready for training camp.
"I'm starting to feel a part of the offense," he said. "I took a lot of reps with the ones. I was still making mistakes, but at the same time I've learned from them. I feel I'll get better each and every practice."
Buffalo's offense has ranked 30th each of the last two seasons, but the staff believes Hardy can present mismatches with his 6'5" frame, particularly in the red zone where the Bills need a boost for their scoring woes of a season ago.
"Having a big receiver helps us," said head coach Dick Jauron. "You can cover him and he can still be open. He can out-reach defenders for the ball. He can out-jump defenders for the ball in the red zone. In my opinion, very seldom does the jump ball occur except in the red zone, but reach is a big thing in our game and he's got reach."
Hardy was the ninth draft pick to sign with the club. Only top pick Leodis McKelvin remains unsigned.