The NFL notebook…
ELMA, N.Y. ó Running back Fred Jackson brought the coolers filled with bottled water and sports drinks. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick brought the laughs as several Buffalo Bills opened their NFL-lockout version of a voluntary minicamp Monday.
Proudly displaying his sweat-soaked T-shirt after a 40-minute running and conditioning session, Fitzpatrick winked and said, ěThatís why I wore a grey T-shirt, so it looks like I was working hard.î
With no end to the NFL labor dispute in sight, this is about as lathered up for football as Fitzpatrick and his colleagues can get these days. He was one of about 35 Bills ó plus a handful of undrafted rookie free agents ó taking part in a two-hour informal workout inside a suburban Buffalo sports complex that doubles as home to the Western New York Flash of the Womenís Professional Soccer League.
It was the first of five informal workout sessions the players have scheduled for this week in what amounts to the teamís largest reunion since the Bills cleaned out their lockers a day after their season ended in January.
ěItís like old home week,î cracked center Geoff Hangartner.
Fitzpatrick was impressed with the turnout after he hosted a smaller group of teammates for workouts in Arizona last month.
ěIt always helps when youíre working out with other people, especially your teammates,î Fitzpatrick said. ěI thought it went as well as expected today.î
Mondayís workout was limited to agility, strength and conditioning sessions. The players split time working out in the weight room and on the field. Fitzpatrick expects heíll get an opportunity to start throwing passes to build chemistry with his receivers later in the week.
Reminders of the lockout were still prevalent.
With team staff barred from attending because of the lockout, the players brought in two private trainers, Bob Bateson and Demeris Johnson, to oversee the workouts.
Before the players stepped on the field, they were required to sign a waiver so the owners of the facility werenít held responsible for anyone getting hurt. A reporter was asked to seek a facility staff member to mop up a pool of water that had collected in a hallway after rain blew in through an open doorway.
And the players had to switch fields near the end of their workout to make room for the start of the Flash practice.
ěItís definitely different, because weíre accustomed to coming in, getting breakfast, getting taped, having the typical warmup, so the routine is off,î Wilson said. ěBut the good thing about this is weíre all ó all 32 teams ó having to endure the same fight. Itís all about whoever handles the lockout the best, and once itís over, who ever get ready the fastest.î
FALCONS NOT BORED
ATLANTA ó Atlanta Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton insists he isnít bored by the NFL lockout.
But with just a few player-organized practice sessions scheduled, the Falconsí defensive captain took a dip in 52-degree water with beluga whales Monday afternoon.
ěYou never think youíd be in a tank with belugas,î Lofton said with a smile. ěThereís no way, but this is a pretty special day at the Georgia Aquarium. Itís good to make something productive happen. We got in our workout early and now weíre here, so weíre getting stuff done.î
With the lockout nearly 70 days old and showing few signs of resolution in federal court, Lofton joined linebacker Coy Wire and defensive end Kroy Biermann in taking a preview of the Georgia Aquariumís up-close experience with belugas.
While the Falcons donít know when theyíre going to report to work, the aquariumís program opens to the public on June 1.
ěItís a weird time,î said Wire, who serves as the Falconsí representative to the NFL Players Association. ěWe love having a chance to support the aquarium and bring awareness to this program, which is incredible.
ěBut thereís no question itíd be nice to get an idea of when the seasonís going to start.î
NEW ORLEANS ó Jonathan Casillas was tantalizingly close to rising from the ranks of the undrafted to an NFL starter in a mere two seasons, only to have a freak injury in the last exhibition game of 2010 relegate him to rehab.
Now Casillas can only hope the NFL lockout wonít set him back too much as he tries to prove to the New Orleans Saints that he deserves another shot to start at outside linebacker.
ěOf course itís going to hinder it,î Casillas said of the lockoutís effect on his comeback from a broken foot. ěEverybodyís going to be hindered.î
Casillas has been unable to get treatment and continue his rehabilitation at Saints headquarters since the lockout began March 11. So, aside from some brief trips back to his home state of New Jersey, he has remained in New Orleans, seeing specialists on his own and taking part in the players-only practices organized by Saints quarterback Drew Brees at Tulane.
Casillas said he has felt good during workouts with teammates and that none of the running or agility work has been a problem. If there are any lingering limitations that might affect him in a game, he is not aware of them.
ěWe havenít played football yet. You never really know until you get out there and start doing things like that,î Casillas said. ěIím taking my time. Iím not in a rush to do anything football-related as of right now.î
A 6-fooot-1, 230-pound former standout at Wisconsin, Casillas was the only rookie free-agent to earn a spot on the Saintsí 2009 roster.
He wound up playing in 11 games, even starting twice. He also got into all three playoff games, including the Saintsí Super Bowl triumph over Indianapolis.
Not long after the Saints held their championship parade, strong-side linebacker Scott Fujita left in free agency for Cleveland, meaning the Saints would need a new starter in 2010.
Although Casillas played on the weak side, his performance in training camp impressed coaches enough to move Scott Shanle to the strong side and move Casillas up to starter on the weak side. The move showed promised when Casillas recorded 10 tackles in the Saintsí 2010 preseason opener at New England.
ěI always believed that I could play in this league, whether it be as a starter or regular contributor,î Casillas said. ěGoing through my rookie year, playing behind Shanle, watching Fujita and learning from (middle linebacker Jonathan) Vilma ó all those guys ó they taught me how to be a better football player, a better professional.î
Casillas continued to consolidate his spot in the lineup until going down in the preseason finale at Tennessee on Sept. 2 with a Lisfranc injury, which required the insertion of two screws in his foot and which tends to have a recovery time of seven to 12 months.
One of the screws has since been removed, but Casillas said the other will remain.
On Sept. 4, the Saints placed Casillas on injured reserve, officially ending his second season before it had really begun, and he spent the fall in rehabilitation at team headquarters.
ěIt was tough,î Casillas said, but added that teammates and coaches ěmade me feel good about being around the facility, and I didnít feel like I was moping around. They made me feel good about getting back out there and that they wanted me there.
ěThat was much appreciated to help me get along, and Iím grateful for it and as motivated as Iíve ever been,î Casillas continued. ěI feel like itís my sophomore year in college again, when I knew I could play. I know I can get out there and be a starter and contribute to this defense, man, because I think weíve got something special.î
The Associated Press