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Royal flushes out external talk

Tight end Robert Royal heard the Tony Gonzalez rumors. He knows the positive impact Gonzalez would have had if Kansas City traded him to the Buffalo Bills.

Gonzalez is still with the Chiefs, who decided to keep their future Hall of Famer.

But whether Gonzalez was in Buffalo or Kansas City, it wouldn't affect Royal's approach to the game.

"Any great talent would help a team, and he's definitely been the best in my opinion for the last seven, eight, nine years," Royal said of Gonzalez. "I've been around this thing for a long time. It never surprises you when something happens. That's the nature of this game and part of being a professional is you have to expect anything."

"But I can't focus on that. I have a job to do, which is help get this team going in the right direction. I try to play physical, play smart and give the Bills the very best I've got. That will never change."

We may never know how serious the Bills were in trying to acquire Gonzalez. But what is clear is they are satisfied with Royal and Derek Schouman.

"I think both guys have played well," said Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. "I think going into the season there was doubt in all areas. Derek Schouman hadn't played, so how is he going to hold up? How is he going to measure up to the NFL standard? Robert was coming off [a knee] injury. How is he going to hold up? We drafted Derek Fine thinking he was going to be a good player. All of a sudden he's injured.

"So in our minds there were a lot of doubts. That's why we had to bring in a number of tight ends because we didn't know how it was going to unfold. But those guys worked extremely hard. Robert stayed here all offseason and there isn't a harder worker than Derek [Schouman]. It has paid off for both of those guys, and it has paid off for us."

The Bills talked about getting Royal and Schouman more involved, and they have followed through on that promise. Tight ends have 15 catches through six games, with Royal ranking fifth on the team with 13.

"I'm excited and I know Derek is, too," said Royal, who had 25 receptions last season. "You never know when your opportunities are going to come. . . . You never know when your number is going to be called. But you have to be ready to make a play when the opportunity comes."

To Schouman, it's not that big a deal how many passes come their way. The Bills have a balanced passing game that tries to spread the ball around. Quarterbacks Trent Edwards and J.P. Losman have completed balls to 10 different players, and five of them have between 13 and 21 catches.

Blocking is just as important for the tight ends. It's a role they fully embrace.

"Rob and I take a lot of pride in that," said Schouman, who has started games at tight end and fullback. "It's an important part of the game, and we do the best we can at it. We enjoy getting a chance to catch passes, but winning takes priority over personal statistics. We're working hard, playing hard and leaving it all out on the field on Sundays."

How much Royal and Schouman see the ball is predicated on what the defense gives the Bills. That is why both could loom large in Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers have one of the finest cornerback tandems in the NFL in Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. Their ability to shut down outside receivers is similar to what the Bills saw against Oakland's talented twosome of Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall.

If the outside is taken away, the Bills will look to attack the middle of the field. That has been an area of weakness for the Chargers, and that's where Royal and Schouman could do some damage.

Royal was part of a passing attack that was very effective making big plays on crossing routes and plays over the middle in the Bills' 24-23 comeback win over Oakland.

"If you get tight ends that match up well against linebackers and safeties you've got to exploit it," Schonert said. "Rob and Derek have worked hard on their route running and it shows. When teams want to double Lee [Evans] or the outside receivers you've got to have guys working inside. It's been a big part of our success so far."


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