All eyes have been on the Bills’ injury report this week, and rightfully so, with star running back LeSean McCoy (hamstring) and top receiver Robert Woods (foot) dealing with ailments that could keep them out of Sunday’s game at Miami.
But what’s interesting is that if those two miss the game, the players who would likely see the biggest increases in playing time – running back Mike Gillislee and receiver Justin Hunter – are both former Dolphins who didn’t work out in Miami but are carving out roles with the Bills.
The Dolphins selected Gillislee in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. He grew up in Deland, Fla., roughly between Orlando and Daytona Beach, and played collegiately for the Florida Gators.
Gillislee didn't get to play much as a rookie, suiting up for only three games late in the year after another running back got injured. He finished the 2013 season with six carries for 21 yards, and then spent the 2014 season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. After that, they cut him.
“Every day I made plays there,” Gillislee said. “In practice, I showed the coaches that I could play. But it just never happened. I never was given the opportunity. Lamar [Miller] was the premier back there, but I never felt like I got a chance.
“They had drafted Jay Ajayi [when I was] coming off IR, so there was six running backs. I guess I was the guy that hadn’t done anything in the NFL yet, so they released me.”
Gillislee spent time on Arizona’s practice squad last season before being released. The Bills added him to their practice squad in November and activated him a month later.
His first Bills carry went for a 30-yard gain. Gillislee would total three rushing touchdowns (from 50, 60 and 19 yards out) and three receiving touchdowns over the Bills’ final five games, earning the nickname “Touchdown Mike” from teammates.
Gillislee didn’t get a carry in the Bills’ first two games this year, but since the switch to Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator, he’s run 17 times for 116 yards and another long touchdown, scoring from 44 yards out last week against the 49ers.
“I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing,” Gillislee said when asked about a possible increased role this week. “If my name is called I’m going to give it my all. But do I want the ball a lot? Yes, I do. That’d be great.”
Hunter, meanwhile, was cut by the Dolphins late last month when they needed to bring up an offensive lineman before a Thursday night game. He was back in the Dolphins’ facility the next day and said he was about to re-sign when he found out the Bills had claimed him to fill the roster spot created by Sammy Watkins going on injured reserve. He didn’t know much about Buffalo, other than it’s reputation for cold weather, but was excited for the opportunity.
Hunter has made the most of it so far, with both of his receptions going for touchdowns. He's only played two games but is already tied with Marquise Goodwin for the team lead in that category.
So it’ll be interesting to see if Gillislee and Hunter – along with Charles Clay, Richie Incognito, Dan Carpenter and Reggie Bush – can stick it to their former employer Sunday and lead the Bills to a fifth straight win.
“It’s always good to go play against a team that released you and get the opportunity to make plays,” Gilislee said. “I look forward to Sunday.”