As the Buffalo Bills prepare for the 2010 NFL season, there are many intriguing storylines that will play out before the end of training camp in late August. Many popular questions relate to the quarterback position, or who will see time at the receiver slots, how the defense will adjust to the 3-4 scheme, or how the young offensive line will come together. Perhaps the biggest battle of all is at arguably the strongest position, depth-wise, on the entire squad.
With veterans Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and first-round draft pick C.J. Spiller as the marquee names in the offensive backfield, the Bills have a number of viable options to choose from in the running game. That list also includes a two-year veteran looking to make an impact with his second NFL team.
Chad Simpson was signed by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He began his collegiate career at the University of South Florida before transferring to Morgan State, where he rushed for a school-record 1,402 yards, along with 14 touchdowns, on his way to being named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year as a senior in 2007. In his two seasons with the Colts, Simpson saw limited duty carrying 30 times for 147 yards and three touchdowns.
His biggest contribution was in the kick return game, where he averaged 23.4 yards per return, and scored a 93-yard touchdown last year for the AFC Conference Championship team. He signed a free agent contract with the Bills on May 11.
Beginning his career as a free agent in the talented Colts organization, Simpson said he was constantly battling for a roster spot his first two seasons, and has become accustomed to that role.
"That's the NFL for me. I always have to fight to be here," Simpson said. "It probably won't stop any time soon, but hopefully, it will stop one day. With the reps that you do have, it's an opportunity to show off your stuff, but starting from the bottom, there aren't too many advantages."
For as difficult as the road has been for him thus far to gain a foothold in the NFL, being a new addition at a deep position is a prospect that Simpson has taken in stride.
"It's (the Bills running backs) a great group of guys to compete against," he said. "You really get to see what you're made of."
As the Bills have a strong list of names on the depth chart at running back, so too are the number of capable kick return men on the roster. Players like Jackson, Leodis McKelvin, Roscoe Parrish and Terrence McGee have all excelled in the return game in recent years. It is the stiff competition for playing time that Simpson said will help motivate him to be a better player.
"You have a bunch of guys that can do everything that I can do," he said. "It's going to come down to making plays in the preseason (to earn playing time)."
Entering the new Bills system under offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins after working with Peyton Manning the past two seasons has presented Simpson with a fresh opportunity. Thus far in team preparation, he said that there are similarities between how the two teams operate, but each also has unique wrinkles on offense to help present a challenge to opposing defenses.
"There are a few less plays here, and there are a lot more formations over in Indianapolis, but I really like this offense," Simpson said. "Especially with the runs plays, I love the run plays over here. I think we are going to do well with those plays."
With all four quarterbacks on the Bills roster receiving significant repetitions in offseason workouts, the rest of the offense has had the chance to experience the different cadences and tendencies of each signal caller. Simpson said that he has not viewed the situation as being any different than previous offseason camps, even though Manning has never missed a game in his NFL career, and often handles the majority of practice reps.
"Whoever is in has got to do the job," Simpson said. "They still have to execute the plays. Really, it's not much of a difference at all."
The position battles will heat up at St. John Fisher when training camp begins July 29. At this point, the running back position could very well be one of the focal points given the amount of talent currently at the disposal of the Bills. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, Simpson is excited for the chance to show the organization what he can do to help the team succeed.
"I feel I can bring anything to the table, it's just me getting an opportunity to showcase myself," he said. "The more of an opportunity I get, the more I feel I can convince a lot of people here."