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Looking for diamonds in the rough

Buffalo's pro personnel department is always looking to improve the talent level of the team's roster, but most outside observers wouldn't expect them to be busy in the middle of June. But that's when they organize one of their largest workouts each year.

Better than 100 aspiring players will showcase their skills in front of the members of the Bills' pro personnel department in the hopes of getting a shot in the NFL.

"The reason we have this workout is we don't want to be a reactive personnel department," said Bills Vice President of Pro Personnel John Guy. "We want to have our data and our information so that when necessary we can be proactive. We have these workouts because there are guys out there. Some have talent."

Guy credits staff members Rob Hanrahan, C.J. Leak and Kevin Meganck for putting the workout together, which often is a two month process of coordinating travel, accommodations and making sure there's the right number of prospects at each position.

"The drills we use are a lot of the same drills used by our coaching staff to judge a player's talent level," said Guy. "It's shot by our video staff with four different cameras. It's a legitimate workout."

About 90 percent of the prospects attending Thursday's workout are fresh out of college. Some were on Buffalo's undrafted forecast board. Some are from small schools where there's less of a book of measurable information readily available.

Three University at Buffalo graduates will be on hand Thursday. Offensive linemen Jeff Niedermier and Ray Norell, along with safety Adekunle Akingba will be working out. A couple of Syracuse linebackers, Jeff Flaherty and Vincenzo Giruzzi will also be in attendance as well as Ithaca quarterback Dan Juvan.

Players come to Buffalo at their own expense, hoping their skills are enough to catch the eye of the personnel department to at least be a consideration or roster option should injury strike the current roster that's headed to training camp. Signing someone on the spot however, is extremely rare.

"Right now we don't have the spots to do that," said Guy. "You're always trying to adjust the back end of your roster and you're always trying to get better. We've had a lot of guys that have come out of workouts that are on our roster now."

Buffalo's current roster has 17 players on it that were eventually signed off a workout including Fred Jackson, Justin Jenkins, Brian Moorman and Bryan Scott among others.

When injuries strike Buffalo's roster it's up to Guy and his assistants to have solutions or more specifically names. And that list gets a lot shorter as the season draws closer.

"As we move through the preseason the numbers become smaller and smaller," said Guy. "Teams eat up numbers because of injury and by the second preseason game there are a lot of guys that have jobs that were probably sitting at home a few weeks earlier."

Armed with tape and accurate measurables like height, weight and speed as well as an idea of playing ability allows Buffalo's personnel department to set their emergency list and practice squad list with confidence.

"It's always about what we need," Guy said. "Who has legs? Who has strength? What do we need? We need a receiver with size and speed or maybe we need a quick guy when we're setting our practice squad. You gear your practice squad toward two things, developing a guy that can be a player, but also to simulate your opponents. We want to get a variety of looks and a variety of guys so we can be proactive when we need to."

In previous years the Bills and other organizations could rely on NFL Europe and the Arena League to gauge the level of talent. But with NFL Europe extinct and the Arena League's future in doubt a mass workout is more important than ever.

"You don't have the Arena League and you don't have NFL Europe, so what do you have? You have the Canadian league," said Guy. "We have one CFL guy on the team already."

That player is receiver P.K. Sam.

After reviewing tape of the workout over the next couple of weeks, Guy's staff will rank the prospects based on performance.

"We'll have a brief conversation coming off the field right afterwards to see what players stood out in the respective position groups," said Guy. "And we'll go look at them on film later. Players are paying their way to get here for the most part, so if they're good enough we'll express interest and hope in them somewhere down the line. But if they have a chance to play in Canada or in Arena League 2 I have no problem helping them."

To some mining for talent in this fashion may seem to offer little reward for all the time put in, but if the bottom of your roster is better than a division rival's it could mean the difference late in the season when just about every team has lost personnel to injury.

"You can't draft everybody for your team," said Guy. "You need to have alternatives."

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