The Buffalo Bills have many unanswered position battles with one preseason game remaining on the schedule. The competition is likely to heat up even more heading into the final preseason contest Thursday at Detroit.
Many players have used preseason game action to stake their claim to a roster spot. One of the younger players that has consistently done more with less is emerging rookie wide receiver David Nelson.
The undrafted free agent out of the University of Florida had an impact in his Bills debut against Washington in the first preseason contest, hauling in a team-high five catches for 47 yards and a touchdown. After not playing against Indianapolis, Nelson made his return to the lineup in Saturday night's 35-20 win over Cincinnati, with two catches for 34 yards and his second touchdown of the preseason.
Nelson battled through injuries during a portion of training camp, which included missing the Colts game last week with an ankle injury. Despite the lost reps, Nelson feels he is up to speed with the offensive philosophy through Week 3 of the exhibition slate.
"(I'm) just trying to get better and better every week. Every day, I come in with the mindset that I'm trying to earn a job, and I can't take a play off, I can't take a down off," he said. "I'm just trying to adapt, trying to get used to the game, and trying to transition from the college game to the NFL. So far it's going well, but I can't be satisfied with anything, I've got to keep working hard every day."
Nelson had the first Buffalo reception of the game against the Bengals, a 14-yard hookup with starting quarterback Trent Edwards in the first quarter. The rookie wideout was afforded the opportunity to line up as the first team's fourth receiver in their spread look with Lee Evans, Steve Johnson and Roscoe Parrish.
The play got the momentum going in Buffalo's favor, and later on in the drive, Edwards hit Roscoe Parrish for a 12-yard score to tie the game at 7-7. While he was in the game in a special four-wide package, Nelson said it was a great learning experience to share the playing field with the starters for the first time in his professional career.
"It was an amazing feeling; not only was it with the guys in my huddle, but it was against the ones (starters) on the other team. It definitely increased my confidence, just to know that I could go out there and play with the ones, make plays and help contribute," Nelson said. "We needed that play, and we ended up scoring on that drive. That's my job, to come in whenever I can and do whatever I can to help this team win, and luckily I was in the right position, and Trent made a great throw, so I just did what I could."
At the 7:15 mark of the third quarter, Nelson ran a nifty slant pattern, finding open space for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to deliver the football in stride, before running the rest of the way to pay dirt to extend Buffalo's lead to 28-17. Similar to his touchdown against the Redskins, Nelson showed great prowess in the red zone, and displayed a nose for the end zone, just one skill he feels he can bring to the team's aerial attack.
"To be honest, I'm willing to bring to the table whatever this team needs. Whether that be a possession receiver, whether that be a slot, outside, whatever it takes to get this team better, whatever it takes to get us to the next level," he said. "I feel like my size, with my body type, I'm more adept for the red zone, and I feel like I can handle things. The throws can be higher and I can go up and get it, because in the red zone everything happens so much faster. I think it helps to my advantage, but at the same time, we have some great receivers, who can do some great things in the red zone, and you're going to see a lot of exciting things this season."
His rise as a playmaker throughout OTAs, minicamps, and training camp has earned Nelson more playing time, and head coach Chan Gailey has taken note of his effort on the field. Gailey said he has been impressed with Nelson's progression, especially the ability to get open for his quarterbacks on a regular basis.
"That's a good trait for a receiver, to find a knack to get open and make a play," Gailey said. "He does seem to have a sixth sense about that. He's a very pleasant surprise for us this training camp."
With the Bills preparing for the final game of the preseason Sept. 2 at Detroit, many players will have one last chance to show the coaching staff what they can do. With Lee Evans, Steve Johnson, and Roscoe Parrish manning the top three wide receiver slots so far in the preseason, Nelson has his work cut out to become a role player in the Bills offense. Despite what he has accomplished this summer, Nelson intends to continue with his nose-to-the-grindstone approach as he tries to gain a foothold in the NFL.
"I'll never have the mindset that I've done enough. Every day, I go in and work as hard as I can to not only make myself better, but make this team better," Nelson said. "Until I hear my name called for sure and they say that you're on the 53 (active roster), I'm going to continue to work my butt off every day at practice, and continue to get better. All the other stuff, the coaches can worry about that stuff, my job is to go out there and make plays and the rest will fall into place."