By Jonah Bronstein
PITTSFORD — The Buffalo Bills set a franchise record last season by putting 21 players on injured reserve.
So far, they’re on pace to break that record.
Coach Chan Gailey announced after Sunday night’s practice that wide receiver Marcus Easley and linebacker Danny Batten will both miss their rookie seasons due to injury.
“Obviously, it’s not what we wanted,” Gailey said. “It’s just something that had to be done, looking at the long-term prognosis for both of them. We just couldn’t see, time-wise, that it was going to benefit them to try and make it back this year.”
Both players were hurt in the same practice Aug. 2. Easley, a fourth-round pick out of Connecticut who was considered very likely to make the regular season roster, sustained a knee injury that required surgery. Batten, a sixth-round selection from North Dakota State, hurt his shoulder and was originally projected to miss two to six weeks.
The Bills now have to open roster spots. It’s expected that at least one tight end will be signed soon, after the recent revelations that Shawn Nelson will be suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and Derek Schouman could miss up to six weeks with a knee injury.
The team may have gotten even thinner at tight end Sunday, as blocking specialist Michael Matthews hobbled off the field during individual drills. Gailey had no details on Matthews injury after practice, though it appeared he hurt his left ankle.
That leaves Jonathan Stupar as the only healthy body at the position. Stupar, who joined the team as an undrafted free agent two years ago and spent the 2008 season on the practice squad, has been running with the starters since the start of camp. The injuries have provided him even more reps with the reserve units.
“During camp especially, I try to improve on every aspect,” Stupar said. “A lot of people try to ask what are the certain areas. But I think whenever you get satisfied in that one area and you stop working on it, that’s when you start failing in that area. I think it’s better to keep working on everything — the run blocking, the pass catching, my route running, my timing on everything — just the little things, everywhere, that I try to work on.”
Steve Johnson started training camp as the starting receiver opposite Lee Evans and his place on the first-team hasn’t been threatened since.
But that doesn’t mean he’s doing everything right.
On Sunday, the second-year player said he got “chewed out” by Gailey for getting “too creative” while running a pass route.
“I made a minor mistake,” a smiling Johnson said. “It shouldn’t have been made, but it’s good I got yelled at. It’s time to handle business. No more mistakes.”
Gailey praised Johnson to the press after practice.
“The guy has really got some talent,” Gailey said. “He just has to pay attention to details. If he’ll continue to do that, he’s got a chance to be a very good receiver before it’s over with. He’s a really good one-on-one player and that’s what you have to be in this league.”
Due to steady rain, the Bills held their morning practice in the gym at St. John Fisher College. There was little contact and drills were not run at full speed.
“We would prefer to be outside,” safety Donte Whitner said. “That’s where football is played. But due to conditions out there, we had to come in here. Another part of football is being mentally sharp and knowing your assignment. A lot of times, walk-throughs can really help you as far as when you’re in a football game, it’s tough out there, you’re tired, and you have to be mentally focused on your job.”
The rain stopped shortly after the morning practice, but returned for about the first hour of the evening practice, which was held outside.
Sunday was the last double-session of training camp. The Bills practice at 3 p.m. today and 9 a.m. Tuesday before breaking camp. Both practices are open to the public.
Gailey said the team won’t start game-planning for Saturday’s preseason game against Cincinnati until they return to Orchard Park.
“We’re in training camp,” Gailey said. “Our focus is on getting better in the fundamentals and all the techniques that go with that. ... That’s what I told them Saturday when we got back in here. It’s back to basics until Tuesday when we break camp. After that, it kind of starts toward game-planning and getting ready for the season.”
Whitner said the absence of a game plan was a reason why the defense struggled in the preseason opener in Washington.
“We didn’t really play a lot of coverages,” Whitner said. “I think we have about 60 or 70 different things, as far as blitzes or coverages or ways to take away routes that hurt us in the past, just a lot of ways to attack quarterbacks.
“We feel like we’re going to be able to do that. We’re going to be able to affect a lot of quarterbacks. We play a lot of good quarterbacks, so we need a large arsenal to be able to affect those guys. That’s what we’re working on. That’s why (we’re having) all these practices. We’re still doing two-a-days, and you have (teams) that are out of camp already.”
Whitner said the Bills did a small amount of game-planning for Thursday’s game against Indianapolis in order to try and neutralize Colts receiver Reggie Wayne.
“Taking a certain guy out of a game can be a tremendous difference,” Whitner said, “and we didn’t do that the first game.”
Gailey said the secondary looked “a lot more comfortable in the scheme last week and hopefully they’ll take another jump this week.”
In the preseason game in which the starting groups play the longest, the Bills will face the Bengals’ dynamic duo of Chad Ochocinco and former teammate Terrell Owens.
“I’m looking forward to seeing T.O. and Ochocinco,” Whitner said. “He sent me a couple messages on Twitter. It’s all a lot of fun, but when we go out there on the football field, we expect to go out there and have a great showing against those guys.”
Whitner tweeted Owens and Ochocinco on Sunday, asking “did u watch our Indy Film yet?”
On Saturday, cornerback Drayton Florence tweeted: “Batman and Robin are comin 2 the Ralph. So call me ‘Mr. Freeze’ this week. I wanna hear ya on 3rd down @ the ralph.”
Contact reporter Jonah Bronstein at 282-2311, ext. 2258.