It is clear that the Bills still have plenty of work to do before their regular-season opener against the New England Patriots. However, in a 31-21 preseason loss against the Green Bay Packers, backup tight end Jonathan Stupar had another encouraging performance.
Stupar, who joined the Bills' practice squad last September as a rookie free agent, caught a 9-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for the team's first touchdown in the third quarter. He also had a game-high five receptions for 63 yards, marking the second week in a row he held that distinction.
"It was a tight window," Stupar said of the opening Fitzpatrick had on the scoring pass due to Green Bay's coverage. "(Fitzpatrick) kind of squeezed it in there. I think it actually bounced off (the defender) and bounced off me and I just made a play on it, which was nice. It felt good to get that first touchdown."
Besides his score, Stupar also helped set up a touchdown by drawing a pass-interference penalty on Green Bay safety Anthony Smith that gave the Bills a first-and-goal from the Packers' 1-yard line with 1:43 left in the game. Two plays later, running back Bruce Hall ran for a 1-yard touchdown for the game's final points.
Head coach Dick Jauron said Stupar is becoming a "go-to guy" for backup quarterbacks Gibran Hamdan and Fitzpatrick. While commenting on the many mistakes of the Bills, Jauron found some positive remarks to make about Stupar, who had six catches for 56 yards in last week's preseason game against the Chicago Bears.
"He's catching the ball well, he's pretty much where he's supposed to be, and he's turned into a guy who's kind of a favorite target with Ryan and (Hamdan) out there," Jauron said. "And he looks good doing it."
In fact Stupar has been so productive he currently leads the league in receptions this preseason with 15 and stands second in receiving yards (155) to only Jacksonville's Troy Williamson.
Stupar said he was pleased with his performance Saturday, and he knows why he's reaping some rewards this summer. He made sure to put in additional time with the quarterbacks in the offseason to develop a stronger on-field relationship with the team's signal callers.
"That's something that I've been working on in the offseason with the quarterbacks after practice," said Stupar, who entered the NFL from Virginia last year as an undrafted free agent with New England. "We've been doing different routes and everything. It's about trust, and they need to know that you're going to be where you need to be at the right time. That's something that's starting to come along with us, and I'm starting to have balls thrown my way, which is kind of nice."
The fate of Stupar is somewhat up in the air. If the team chooses to keep four tight ends he'll make the 53-man roster. If the staff chooses to keep only three however, Stupar could again be looking at another season the practice squad, with Derek Schouman, Derek Fine and rookie fourth-round pick Shawn Nelson ahead of him on the depth chart.
But Stupar is not going to worry about depth charts or reps. He's committed himself to making the most of his opportunities and thus far they're yielded some very positive results.
"I think it went really well," he said of his performance. "I think in the second half, our offense threw the ball real well. I think we're meshing really well and we have a lot of guys who are out there making plays. Just being hungry for the ball I guess is what it really is. Every time the ball is up there, if you're an offensive player, you want to go get the ball. You want to go up and make the play."
And that is exactly what Stupar has done this preseason.