The Bills have spent the better part of the past month filling holes as their roster has endured some heavy losses in late November and early December. Now, with out for the season with an ankle injury, Buffalo's young receiving corps just got a whole lot younger.
"It'll be a big challenge," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "Out of our top four we have a seventh rounder that hadn't played until this year really and three undrafted rookie free agents. So you look at that and the first thought is, 'Oh no, we're doomed.' But I told you in the preseason and the offseason that the three guys we have, Naaman Roosevelt included, they can all play."
Buffalo's quarterback is referring to the Bills prized class of undrafted rookies. Four undrafted rookies made the 53-man roster at the start of the season including receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones. Nelson initially served as the team's fourth wideout, while Jones largely played on special teams serving primarily as a gunner on punt coverage.
When Roscoe Parrish went down with a season-ending wrist injury in Week 9, Nelson and Jones teamed up to prevent a drop off. Added to the active roster a short time later was Roosevelt, another undrafted rookie, who has served on the practice squad all season.
With Evans unavailable, head coach Chan Gailey will be more dependent than ever on the rookie receivers, though Nelson and Jones don't look like rookies anymore. That's why Gailey isn't going to change much with respect to his passing scheme.
"Obviously you just can't go into the game and say because we have inexperienced guys we're not going to throw the football," he said. "You're still going to throw the football, execute your passing game and hopefully we'll do a good job of working with these guys and teaching them and they have to realize the game can't be too big for them.
"For the most part, Donald (Jones) and David Nelson have played this year for the whole year. Naaman would be the one in our four wide receiver set that would have to go out there and do his part, just like Donald came on and did his part when it was his time."
Gailey is referring to Jones' Week 11 performance at Cincinnati. Just two weeks after Parrish went on injured reserve, Jones working out of the slot had a big receiving day with five catches for 70 yards and a 28-yard touchdown.
Jones' playing time is likely to increase the most of the three rookies as he's expected to be the receiver that fills Evans' role outside.
"It does a feel a little bit different," said Jones. "Now you're actually out there the whole game. So it does feel a little bit different. If you're out there, you're out there and you've got to do your job, so that part is the same. I'll have to go in the film room with the coaches and Fitz and make some plays on Sunday."
Nelson meanwhile appears to be peaking at just the right time. With touchdown catches in his last two games, including the only one in the win over Cleveland last week, the silky smooth route runner has out-produced Evans over the past three games with 11 catches for 103 yards to go with his two scores. Evans over that span had four catches for 81 yards.
"I came in here with something to prove and I'm continuing to do that," Nelson said. "I don't expect my name to be a household name any time soon. All I can ask for is to earn the respect of the guys on this team and I think I've done that so far."
"It's been nice to see Donald and David take advantage of those opportunities when they've had them," said Fitzpatrick. "Now they've really got to step up. We're not going to change anything. We're going to continue to do what we're doing and plug them in and hope they can go out there and make plays."
The added task now is assimilating Roosevelt into the offense. Buffalo's receivers are entrusted with knowing all four wideout positions. With Roosevelt on hand since offseason workouts began in the spring, the coaching staff is not concerned about the University at Buffalo product blending in.
"He's a very intelligent guy," said Gailey. "It's not like you have to tell him what to do every time he goes to a different spot. He knows the offensive passing game scheme so it won't be an issue from that standpoint at all."
The rookie receivers largely credit Fitzpatrick for making their increased roles in the offense that much easier to handle as the season has gone on. Spending one-on-one time with them in the film room has helped to avoid a drop off in the passing game.
"He takes his guys and he sits them down. A couple of weeks ago we sat in the meeting room for an hour, just the two of us," said Nelson. "We watched film from the Minnesota game and he would give me a play and the coverage and ask me how I'd run that route against a certain coverage. He just wanted to know where I was going to be so he would know exactly where he'd put the ball. He wanted to get inside my head to see how I'd run certain routes.
"He's done that with Donald and I'm sure he told Naaman he wanted to meet with him sometime this week to make sure they're both in sync and have the same idea."
"I think as a quarterback that's one of your roles, just making everybody around you feel more comfortable and confident," said Fitzpatrick. "I think I've done that with those guys, but it's because I am confident with them. It's just a matter of getting (Roosevelt) out there in the games and making sure he's comfortable with what he's doing. He's a guy that I trust in terms of knowing where he's going to be. You know he's always going to make the catch. I'm looking forward to him getting out there and getting the opportunity to show what he can do."
The Dolphins' sixth-ranked pass defense is likely to have a lot to say about what Buffalo's young wideouts do this Sunday in Miami, but don't tell them their inexperience is going to hinder them.
"Everybody is going to say we have youth and inexperience," said Jones. "At the end of the day youth doesn't really matter. You just have to get your job done."