Shawn Nelson looked relieved in Buffalo's locker room Monday. Relieved that his league-imposed four game suspension was behind him, and that he could get back to his team and hopefully contribute on the field sooner rather than later. For a Bills offense looking for any measure of consistency, Nelson hopes in some way he can help to provide it.
"I'm very excited to be back with my brothers on the football field. It's been a long four weeks and I've been working hard and training hard," said Nelson. "Now I just want to come out and play and help these guys win some ball games."
Nelson was suspended for violation of the league's substance abuse policy. It made for a long month of individual training as the tight end was not allowed to practice with the team or go to any of their games over the season's first four weeks. He described it as tormenting. The isolation however, gave him time to think and he places a much higher value on his career coming out on the other side of the suspension.
"It's no fun being at home on Sunday watching those guys compete and I can't be there with team," he said. "I think it was just a character check for myself. I've been praying about the situation. I just looked at it as a stepping stone and a hump that I've got to get over and not let it crush me. And I think that I've done that. I've had a lot of people behind me, support from my family and friends, teammates and my church family."
The challenge now for Nelson is getting back in game shape, something that was made all the more difficult by groin surgery last month following a preseason injury.
"I tore my groin and I'm coming back from surgery," he said. "I had surgery like four weeks ago, but I feel fine. I'm stilling feeling it a little bit, but I'm almost there."
Head coach Chan Gailey said he's expecting Nelson to be on the practice field this week, with the intent on making a decision for his game status on Friday or Saturday.
"He will be able to practice with us this week," Gailey said. "All indications are everything is okay, but we have to wait until we get on the field. We'll make a determination later in week whether he's ready to go or whether we ask for the (roster) exemption this week and he would be ready to go next week."
Provided the Bills are granted a roster exemption, they would not have to make a roster move to make room for Nelson until after Sunday's game, should he not play against Jacksonville.
Gailey also mentioned football readiness. Nelson feels ready to get back into the practice setting, but realizes he hasn't had a lot of contact lately.
"It's different when you're watching film and looking in the playbook than being on the field and actually running the plays," Nelson said. "The biggest key for me is going to be just getting back into football shape, as far as running the plays and contact and all of that. I haven't been in a game since the first week of preseason. That's the biggest thing I have to worry about, but other than that I think I'll be fine."
"Conditioning. Being able to handle his pads on the move," Gailey said. "Being able to make cuts, things like that which he really hasn't been able to do. He's been able to run back and forth, but he hasn't been able to block, run routes or do those kinds of things."
The Bills could use some help at the tight end position. Jonathan Stupar and David Martin have been busy as the only two tight ends on the roster. Nelson offers game breaking athletic talent.
"Shawn can definitely make a difference," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "A very athletic and talented guy. He stepped up last year and made some plays. We're looking forward to seeing what he brings. Shawn was drafted because they felt like he was the guy that could get downfield with his speed and athleticism. I think he is that guy, it's just a matter of getting him back up to speed and seeing how comfortable he is back on the field."
It's safe to say that Nelson is chomping at the bit to make a difference for an offense struggling to string positive plays together. Being forced to watch his teammates toil these past four Sundays with limited results has made him hungry for the game and to hopefully be an answer.
"Anytime you go through something like that and you see your teammates struggling like that in that way and you're watching it and wishing you could be there," said Nelson. "You're itching and craving to get in and make a play. It just reminds you of how much you love this game and how much you love your teammates and how much you want to help these guys win."