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Tough decisions made as Bills set 53-man roster

The Buffalo Bills parted ways with 19 players on Saturday, bringing the team's active roster to the NFL required 53-man limit. Some of Buffalo's cuts were veteran players that had become familiar to fans, but with new offensive and defensive schemes implemented this offseason, players that were previously fits did not suit the approach of the new coaching staff.

The Bills released center Sean Allen, running back Andre Anderson, running back Joique Bell, quarterback Levi Brown, guard Kirk Chambers, defensive end Rashaad Duncan, fullback Rodney Ferguson, center Christian Gaddis, tight end Andrew George, wide receiver James Hardy, tackle Nick Hennessey, wide receiver Chad Jackson, cornerback Ellis Lankster, guard Andre Ramsey, wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, cornerback Lydell Sargeant, running back Chad Simpson, guard Jason Watkins, and linebacker Donovan Woods.

Strong safety Jon Corto was placed on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, and tight end Derek Schouman was Waived/Injured. To round out the roster moves, tight end Shawn Nelson was placed on the Reserve/Suspended List for the first four games of the 2010 NFL season.

"Probably the toughest day of my year is today. Some of those guys got a chance, they really do, but it just wasn't the right time on our football team right now," head coach Chan Gailey said. "I wish them the best, but we had to make decisions that were best for our team right now."

One of the surprise releases was Hardy, the 41st overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, who had 10 receptions and two touchdowns in his brief tenure with the Bills. He appeared in only 16 games over two seasons, and began last season on the PUP List while recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in Week 15 of his rookie season against the New York Jets.   

Jackson signed a free agent contract with Buffalo on March 31 of this year, and added veteran experience to the Bills wide receiver battle in training camp. The former University of Florida star entered the NFL as the 36th overall selection by the New England Patriots in the 2006 NFL Draft.

Roosevelt, a Buffalo native and former University at Buffalo standout, also did not make the final five wide receivers on the depth chart. As an undrafted rookie, he is eligible to be signed to the Practice Squad once he clears waivers.

Brown, a seventh-round selection in this year's NFL Draft, was inserted into the rotation at quarterback with veterans Trent Edwards, Brian Brohm and Ryan Fitzpatrick in training camp. While Brown adjusted well in his first exposure to NFL action, Gailey decided to retain all three of the veteran signal callers for the active roster. Like Roosevelt, Brown is also eligible for the Practice Squad if he clears waivers.

Brohm was one of the quarterbacks believed to be on the bubble, but his strong play against Indianapolis in Week 2 of the exhibition slate helped to affirm his status on the active roster. Still, important decisions like final roster cut-down tug at the nerves of professional athletes, and Brohm said that he was no exception.

"I think any time you walk in the locker room on cut day, everybody has some natural nervousness," he said. "But, I was confident once the coaches watched the film they would like what they would see. I'm just happy to be part of the team."

In terms of where he might fit in to the depth chart, Brohm said that he ran the scout team in practice on Saturday, a job traditionally held by the second-string quarterback. In addressing the quarterback competition, Gailey said that the team kept the three quarterbacks who give the Bills the best chance to be successful.

"They (Brohm and Fitzpatrick) both played well, they did a good job. When they got their opportunities, they moved the team," he said. "I thought they were efficient at what we were trying to get done at the quarterback position, and that was a hard call because I think Levi has the chance to be a very good player in the long run. But to give us a chance to win right now, those are the three guys that give us the best chance."

The two wide receivers the Bills will keep alongside starters Lee Evans, Steve Johnson and Roscoe Parrish are rookies David Nelson and Donald Jones. Both players were signed as undrafted free agents this spring, and each had a strong preseason, with Nelson tallying two touchdown grabs and Jones contributing seven catches for 68 yards. Each man was notably sharp on special teams, something that likely helped them make their first NFL roster together.

"It was a stressful last few months, but today was a great day for me," Jones said. "I feel special teams was a big part of it. When you come in as a free agent, how you make the team is through special teams, and I feel like it was a big part." 

"Now it's time to flip the switch and it's time to get into season mode," Nelson said. "I'm here to help this team win, I'm going to try to bring that winning atmosphere, winning attitude that I had back in college, and I'm going to try to bring it to this team, make it contagious, and hopefully it will trickle down to the whole team. My work's never done, just because I made the team doesn't mean anything. It's time to get to work and time to get this team to the next level."

Gailey said that Nelson and Jones both earned their way on to the roster through hard work, and distanced themselves from the veteran competition they were up against in Hardy and Jackson.

"To be honest with you, those guys played really good during preseason. They did a nice job on special teams for us; in our opinion, they gave us the best chance to win football games," Gailey said. "That's why you make those decisions. One thing when you come in without any pre-conceived ideas, everybody gets to start on an even keel, and those guys played well when they got their chances. They made the most of it."

Another undrafted player who made his mark was defensive back Dominique Harris. The former Temple Owl beat out veterans Sargeant and Lankster for the final spot in the secondary, and said he lost a significant amount of sleep on Friday night.

"It was very nerve-racking, but well worth it," Harris said. "I'm very happy to be a part of this organization, and I will do whatever I have to do to stay a part of it."

While it is often documented in detail, the grind that the players go through during the offseason workout schedule, OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and now the final roster countdown, it is an equally long time coming for the coaching staff and front office. Gailey said that the process to reach a final decision is often just as taxing as participating in the positional battles.

"(General Manager) Buddy (Nix) and I have spent entirely too much time together in the last few days. We have agonized over every decision, played with I don't know how many different scenarios, and we both go home at night thinking about it, come in the next morning thinking about it," Gailey said. "It's very difficult. We've got to do what's best for our football team, today and in the future, and that's how we made the decisions."

As the roster stands now at a number of the key positions profiled entering training camp, the Bills will carry two tight ends, five wide receivers, seven offensive linemen, and 11 defensive backs to begin the regular season. That number would change when Shawn Nelson is eligible to return from suspension on October 4.

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