PITTSFORD — Jamie Blatnick picked the right team to work out for in April.
Blatnick was undrafted out of Oklahoma State in 2012 and spent last summer in training camp with the Denver Broncos. He spent six weeks on Denver’s practice squad and then took a job as a personal trainer and nutrition coach in Colorado for the rest of the year.
Fast forward seven months, and Blatnick has a legitimate shot to make the Bills’ 53-man roster as an edge rusher. The Bills are unproven at edge rusher after veteran Mario Williams.
Jerry Hughes, the former first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, looks like he’s the second-best pass rusher on the team behind Williams. After that it’s a free-for-all among Blatnick, Kourtnei Brown and Marcus Dowtin. There’s a fair chance two of them will make the team.
Blatnick had a strong spring for the Bills and has flashed some ability to pressure the quarterback the past week during training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Blatnick has worked with the second string all camp, which is the kind of opportunity that doesn’t often come to an undrafted guy a year out of college with no NFL game experience.
“I’m extremely happy with it, and I just have to take advantage of it,” Blatnick said after Thursday’s practice. “I’m definitely getting a lot more quality reps than I was last year.”
It’s fair to say Blatnick is a different player than he was last summer with the Broncos.
He had a good career as a defensive end at Oklahoma State, making 27 starts and leading the team in sacks as a junior (with 5.5) and a senior (with 8.5). But he was viewed as a “tweener” entering the NFL Draft because he didn’t have prototypical height (he’s 6-foot-3) for a defensive end and his arms aren’t long (at 31.5 inches). He played at 265 pounds and wasn’t viewed as fast enough to play linebacker. He didn’t run fast at the combine, clocking at 4.81 seconds in the 40-yard dash, although his 20-yard shuttle time of 4.2 seconds was fourth quickest among defensive ends in the draft.
Blatnick bulked up to 270 pounds to try to make the Broncos as defensive end.
“There was nothing I could do about it,” Blatnick said of being viewed a tweener. “It was kind of like, pick what weight you want to be at and try to get labeled one or the other. So I decided to gain weight. For me it’s pretty easy to drop weight. I figured it would be easier if I gained it, and I played end at Oklahoma State.”
Blatnick participated in a three-day Bills minicamp as a tryout player in April, got invited to camp and was told the team viewed him as a linebacker.
He dropped his weight to 248 pounds.
“It’s a big difference,” he said. “I feel good. When you drop weight, you feel faster but it’s not really that top-end speed where you notice a big difference. It’s that every-down speed that’s the biggest difference. My legs feel good. It’s easier to move around. I’m quicker. It fit perfect. They told me I was going to come out here and play backer so I was like, let’s drop some weight.”
Blatnick graduated from Oklahoma State with a degree in health education and promotion and is just 10 credit-hours shy of a master’s degree in applied exercise sciences. He knew how to cut his weight the proper way.
“That’s really the main thing that helped me lose a lot of the weight, learning about my body and the things I need to eat, nutrient timing, in order to lose weight,” he said.
Blatnick is physical enough to back up strong-side linebacker Manny Lawson and said he feels comfortable when called upon to drop into the flat in coverage.
“I dropped into coverage in college, too. I played boundary end, and we ran fire zones,” he said, referring to zone blitzes in which a defensive lineman drops into coverage.
Starting with Sunday’s exhibition game in Indianapolis, Blatnick will aim to prove he can get heat on the quarterback along with being effective enough in coverage.
Brown, at 6-4 and 253, is a little lankier than Blatnick and also is converting from college end to pro linebacker. Brown had a less productive college career than Blatnick, serving mostly as a backup on a talented defensive line at Clemson. Dowtin, 6-2 and 226, is more of a hybrid linebacker-safety who played in three games for Bills coordinator Mike Pettine with the New York Jets.
The Bills need at least one of them to provide some depth to the lineup.