ORCHARD PARK —
Naaman Roosevelt has been here before, but this is a whole ’nother ballgame.
A lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, he’s sat in the stands at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and performed on the field as a record-setting quarterback for St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute. As he graduated into becoming the University at Buffalo’s all-time leading receiver, Roosevelt found his way over to the Bills Fieldhouse, which UB borrowed for indoor practices, and in March, a place to showcase Roosevelt and his senior teammates to NFL scouts.
On Friday, Roosevelt had the surreal experience of strapping on a helmet with his favorite team’s symbol on the side and beginning his first minicamp as an undrafted Bills rookie.
“It’s definitely unbelievable,” he said after the day’s second practice. “When I first got here and tried on my helmet and looked at the Bills logo, you see it on TV all the time and now you have it on, it’s definitely a crazy experience.”
Roosevelt was a standout performer in the two sessions that were open to the media. He caught just about every ball thrown his way, including a long pass down the sideline in which he reached over his shoulder to make the grab.
“I was kind of nervous, but once you get used to it, it’s just playing football,” he said. “Definitely different than college. Guys are bigger, moving faster. But I’m starting to get the hang of it.”
Roosevelt said he had a few teams call him after the draft, but he decided to sign with the Bills in part because of the chance to continue his career at home, but also because he saw a good opportunity to make the roster.
Aside from Lee Evans, the Bills have few proven players at the receiver position. With Terrell Owens and Josh Reed out of the picture, the remaining group consists of Roscoe Parrish, James Hardy, Steve Johnson, Chad Jackson and Felton Huggins — who have combined for 11 starts in their careers — and fellow rookies Marcus Easley, Donald Jones and David Nelson.
“The best thing (Roosevelt) does with the football is run with it,” Doug Majeski, the Bills coordinator of college scouting, said in a video interview on the team website. “He has a lot of production when the ball is in his hands. He’s quick up field, he’s got vision as a runner and he makes yards.”
Despite setting UB records with 268 receptions, 3,551 receiving yards, 28 touchdown receptions and 5,341 all-purpose yards, Roosevelt wasn’t considered to be a prospect worth drafting mainly because of his 40-yard dash times.
“He’s not a track guy,” said Juan Taylor, Roosevelt’s position coach at UB. “He’s a gamer. He has football speed. He’s shown on film that he can separate and run by people.”
Roosevelt also believes that the return skills he showed in his first two seasons at UB could help him make the 53-man roster. On Friday, he spent extra time after practice fielding punts.
“When I get the ball in my hands,” he said, “I want to show I can make plays.”
Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at 282-2311, ext. 2258.