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NFL AM: Bills Lose Linebacker Reggie Ragland for Season

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The first season-ending injuries are starting to surface during 2016 Training Camp and one of the biggest ones so far struck right into the heart of Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills defense.

The Bills learned on Wednesday that rookie linebacker Reggie Ragland, who many projected as a first round pick before he fell into Buffalo’s lap in the second, will miss the entire 2016 season due to an ACL injury. Ragland suffered the injury on a non-contact play last Friday that left the Bills hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Their expectations were met with Wednesday’s news.

“It’s really unfortunate for the young man and our team because we know he’s a good player,” Ryan told reporters. “He wanted to help and show the kind of player he is because he knows he’s an outstanding player and he wants to show he was the best linebacker in the draft class. But more than anything he wants to be a part of this team and help this team.”

The selection of Ragland was initially seen as a coup for the Bills, who were desperate for help up the middle on defense. The second round pick joins Buffalo first round pick, Shaq Lawson, who underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason, on the sidelines. Both players were selected to provide quick fixes to the ailing Buffalo front seven and instead its back to the drawing board for the Bills.

“In this business you’ve always got to have a replacement ready to go, and we’ve done a great job of that,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.

After Ragland’s injury, the team responded quickly, doing whatever they could to plug the hole by signing former Rob Ryan charge in New Orleans, David Hawthorne, as well as veteran Brandon Spikes. Hawthorne spent four seasons with the Saints after spending his first four in Seattle, and was solid in Ryan’s defense, making 37 starts over his first three seasons. But he fell out of favor after Ryan was fired last season.

Spikes is a former second round pick, but never became the player the Patriots expected him to be. He last played for the Bills in 2014, but missed all of last season after his attempt to return to New England was cut short when he was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident and charged with multiple motor vehicle violations. He spent a year away from the game, but reported to Buffalo camp in great shape and proclaiming himself a changed man.

“Well, I think with the year off, the football’s still the same size,” he said. “It’s the same game. That didn’t change. I’ve been doing this since I was 6 or 7 years old. Like I said, I’m anxious. I’ve dreamed of this day plenty of times. I’ve dreamed of this moment so I’m sure I’ll be ready to seize the moment.”

But make no mistake, it’s going to be difficult for Buffalo to fill the void that was left there by Ragland. Ryan also pointed to the offseason signing of Zach Brown, who was supposed to play a bit part as a rotational player but now sits first on the depth chart at the Will spot, as proof of Buffalo’s depth and ability. Brown, a former second round pick, spent his first four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, but saw his role diminish over the years before the Bills came calling.

“You play to the strengths of your guys,” Rex Ryan said. “Zach Brown has unusual skills as a coverage linebacker. Is he an every-down player? I’m not sure, we’ll see. We’ll let it play out, we haven’t even had a preseason game, so we’ll see how it goes. Spikes is hard to miss, that dude’s a giant. I like the way he plays, the temperament, the way he carries himself. I’ve said all along our defense will be much improved and I’ll stand by that.”

Without their top two draft picks for most of the season, it will be an uphill battle for Ryan’s Bills to prove him right.

CHARGERS LOSE STEVIE JOHNSON

The Bills weren’t the only team coping with season-ending injury loss on Wednesday. The San Diego Chargers also felt the pain.

The Chargers learned on Wednesday that the knee injury of wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who went down on just the second day of training camp August 1, is worse than initially believed. Johnson had surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus, which San Diego hoped might only sideline him for a couple months. But when doctors went in to repair the knee, the damage was more extensive and after completing the surgery, they believe it will be closer to a year before Johnson is fully recovered.

The injury occurred after a seemingly harmless diving catch during a seven-on-seven drill. When Johnson returned to his feet, his knee buckled and he crumbled to the ground in pain.

“An unfortunate situation for everything he’s done to this point in time,” coach Mike McCoy said at the time of the injury. “We’ll go on from there.”

The 30-year-old was coming off an injury-riddled 2015 season in San Diego, that saw him miss six games due to lingering hamstring and groin injuries. However, when he did play, Johnson had success, hauling in 45 of his 65 targets for nearly 500 yards and three touchdowns. He was expected to play a substantial role in the Chargers offense in 2016 as the primary slot receiver after the team added Travis Benjamin to play an outside role opposite Keenan Allen.

Who that role belongs to now is up for grabs. San Diego signed former Packers wideout James Jones after Johnson went down and he’ll get a chance to play a role in the offense, but ideally the Chargers would like to see one of the younger players they’ve invested time and resources in emerge as a favorite. Among those players is Tyrell Williams, an undrafted free agent out of Western Oregon.

Williams suited up for four games last year, but it wasn’t until the season finale against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos that he flashed his true potential, hauling in an 80-yard touchdown pass from Phillip Rivers that briefly gave the Chargers the lead. Williams has picked up where he left off at Chargers camp this summer.

Now the 6-4 second year wideout is looking to seize the opportunity created by the injury to Johnson, who he considered a mentor.

“We’ll all have to pick it up while he’s gone,” Williams said. “He’s meant a lot to me. Whenever I had an off day or a bad day on the field, he was always able to pick me up. You can definitely feel a difference when he is there and not there.”

With Allen and Benjamin holding down the top two spots at receiver, the Chargers were already in good shape to hold it down without Johnson. But the emergence of Williams makes him one to watch as the Chargers get set to begin their preseason this Saturday in Tennessee against the Titans.

BOSA STANDOFF ROLLS ON

One you won’t be able to watch as the Chargers begin their exhibition slate is the team’s first round draft choice, third overall pick Joey Bosa, who shockingly remains unsigned nearly two weeks into training camp.

There shouldn’t be that much to unravel here, as the NFL’s latest collective bargaining agreement left very little wiggle room for teams and players to negotiate rookie contracts. But there are the points of guaranteed money and offset language, the former of which is important to Bosa and his team, and the latter of which is just as vitally important to the San Diego front office.

Bosa wants more money up front, in case an injury occurs that puts the Chargers in position to cut him. San Diego wants the offset language to indicate that if they do cut him to do injury or poor performance, they can recoup some of what they spent should another team sign him. Not a lot of faith to have in the guy you made the third overall pick in the draft where the top two teams reached for quarterbacks.

The latest reports on negotiations came through on Wednesday and they were that there was nothing to report. Negotiations are at a standstill with neither side talking or willing to at the moment. Eventually both sides are going to have to compromise, but that can’t happen if neither will even come to the table.

Menawhile, the Chargers are deep into preparations for their first preseason game. After that, the second one will be right around the corner and so on and so forth, and Bosa is running out of time to learn the system and develop chemistry and camaraderie with his teammates, and his coaches are running out of time to learn where he fits best, what he can do and how they should utilize him. It’s all detrimental to the team, to the point where now veterans are speaking out.

“My advice to any player that’s going through any kind of contract situation is that, at one point, you’ve got to be a man and you’ve got to understand that you’ve got to get ready to play,” Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who is no stranger to holdouts, told the San Diego Union Tribune. “Sometimes you’ve got to just, as a man, you’ve got to step in and say, ‘This is what it’s going to be. Because sometimes, whether or not (there is) miscommunication with the general manager or the agent, whatever it is, at the end of the day, it’s your life, it’s your career. And you kind of know what’s best for you, and you know what you need. You still have to have that tunnel vision of being able to go out and perform at the highest level. So, to me, that was always the determining factor when I had issues.”

Gates is right, but at this point it’s not just on Bosa. The Chargers front office needs to stop being petulant about this as well and get something done with the player and his agent, before this really starts to impact their season.

 


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys