The months of intense rehabilitation, the overhaul of his nutritional intake and the countless hours in the weight room all began to pay off for Robert Royal Thursday night as the Bills tight end scored not once but twice in Buffalo's 24-21 preseason victory over Pittsburgh.
"Robert showed up," said head coach Dick Jauron. "That was really good. That was a good thing for us."
Good for a couple of reasons. Good because it shows Royal is making strides in his return from offseason knee surgery and good because fellow tight end Derek Schouman left the game early with a knee injury and did not return.
The ever modest Royal admitted it was a rewarding night for him, but is far from satisfied with his game.
"It's always good to go out there and have a good day, but I still have some things to work on," Royal said. "I had a penalty that was called on me when we were backed up and some run blocking things I think I can continue to work on that."
Royal's coaches and teammates recognize the renewed commitment he made to the game this past offseason and seeing him perform the way he did Thursday night was almost a relief knowing how unsettled the tight end position has been for the team.
"(It was) big for him and big for us too," said Jauron. "We're counting on him to be a leader on our football team. He always has been excellent in that area, but he's coming off the injury and he made two big catches. And he ran after the catch and scored with the ball on the second one. It was very good for us to see."
Both of Royal's touchdowns Thursday came on third down plays in the red zone. The first was a 3rd-and-goal situation at the Pittsburgh seven-yard line. Edwards zipped a bullet pass in to Royal five yards deep in the end zone despite being surrounded by Pittsburgh defenders.
"That was a tight window," said Royal. "It was open from the beginning, but it closed pretty fast. He did a great job of getting the ball up and getting it out and I was able to make the play. That was a play that we were working on in practice all week and it just so happened that coach called it up at the right time."
The second happened on a 3rd-and-4 play from the Steelers 12-yard line. Royal caught the Trent Edwards pass in the flat at the five and just crossed the goal line as the defense closed in on him.
"You need to be able to turn to your tight end in this offense and get him the ball in tight space," said Edwards. "Rob is obviously a big, physical tight end that we need to get in those situations and be accurate with the football. That's where we're going to score points in the red zone with a guy like that at tight end."
But the Bills weren't certain that Royal would respond coming off of knee surgery. And after missing the entire spring second-year tight end Derek Schouman excelled to the point where he is listed in front of Royal on the depth chart.
Royal doesn't concern himself with his depth chart status, but rather in how he can make himself better to serve the team.
"I've been pushing myself to the limits," Royal said. "I've been out there every day trying to do the things I can to be the best player I can overall to help this offense and help this team get to the next level which is the playoffs and ultimately the Super Bowl."
That task figures to be easier with their veteran tight end healthy and producing in the fashion he did Thursday night.
"It gives us confidence that Robert's back," said Jauron. "We're very happy that Robert is here and I'm really pleased with him. He's a tremendous teammate, he's a big effort guy and tonight he showed it to his team."