There might not be a player on the Buffalo Bills' 90-man roster who is more eager for the start of training camp or more appreciative of his chance to compete for a job than receiver David Clowney.
That's because Clowney was forced to live without the game all of last season, after being among the final preseason cuts by the Carolina Panthers.
"I love the game of football," Clowney said after practice this week. "Even to this day I say I don't understand how guys hold out. I'm a player. I love to play football. The money isn't a big deal to me. I just want to play football, at the end of the day that's all it's about to me, playing the game I love."
Clowney hopes to emerge from what promises to be a dogfight for roster spots at wide receiver position for Buffalo this summer.
Stevie Johnson is the top threat at split end. David Nelson is entrenched as the top inside receiver. Who will win the job at the outside flanker spot opposite Johnson?
It could be Donald Jones, who opened last season as the starter. It could be young Marcus Easley, the receiver with the best combination of size and speed on the team. It could be third-round draft choice T.J. Graham, the speedster from North Carolina State. It could be ex-Dolphin Derek Hagan or Clowney. Throw in Buffalo native Naaman Roosevelt, who catches everything thrown his way, along with incumbents Kamar Aiken and Ruvell Martin, and the Bills will have a tough time picking what likely will be six men to make the 53-man roster.
Clowney brings the element of deep speed the Bills need to create more space in the middle of the field for all their other weapons.
He ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.36 seconds when he came out of Virginia Tech in 2008. The 6-foot, 188-pounder said he just ran a time in the 4.3s a month ago.
"With 10 more pounds (than in 2008)," Clowney said.
Bills Wildcat quarterback Brad Smith, who played with Clowney on the New York Jets, says Clowney's speed is legitimate.
"He's always on as far as his speed goes," Smith said. "Some guys build up to it. His is from the first step to the 100th step -- it's always on that high gear. I think his ability to keep that speed up for a long period is a major attribute for him."
Clowney has not showed that blazing speed very much thus far in the NFL.
His career looked like it might be on the rise after 2009, when he averaged about 20 snaps a game for the Jets. He caught 14 passes for a 13.6-yard average. But the Jets rarely used three- and four-receiver sets, which limited his opportunities. Then the Jets opted to upgrade at receiver by acquiring Super Bowl most valuable player Santonio Holmes in a trade with Pittsburgh.
"Santonio is a good friend of mine," Clowney said. "I've known Santonio since the 10th grade ... we're both from Palm Beach County (in Florida). When they brought him in, I kind of already knew what was going to happen."
Once Holmes came off a four-game suspension to start the season, Clowney was released. He was claimed by Carolina and saw limited duty the rest of the season for the Panthers. He failed to make the Panthers' squad to start the 2011 season. That started the long wait for an offer.
"To all of a sudden not be playing, that was kind of tough," he said. "I look at it like God makes everything happen for a reason. I had an opportunity to really spend time with my family. At the same time, every week I had a workout. I worked out for the Giants, the Titans. I was going here, I was going there."
Four days after the end of last season, on Jan. 5, the Clowney signed with the Bills after a workout in Orchard Park.
"As soon as I finished my workout, (general manager) Buddy Nix said, ‘We need you here,'" Clowney said. "I know sometimes you got guys who just talk. But he seemed really excited to bring me in. That made me feel good. So it wasn't really a hard choice when it came between that and the type of offense coach (Chan) Gailey runs."
Coach Chan Gailey, of course, regularly uses three and four true wideouts on the field. Clowney is spending this spring getting comfortable with the offense. He says he's eager to play outside or inside in the slot. He likely will have to show something on special teams, too, to crack the roster.
"When training camp comes around I'll be very comfortable with all four positions, from the slots to outside," Clowney said.
The Bills held their ninth organized team activity workout Thursday on the grass field behind the fieldhouse. They work again today, then have three mandatory minicamp practices next week. All are closed to the public.