This turned out to be the perfect offseason for Buffalo Bills defensive end Alex Carrington to add bulk to his 6-foot-5 frame.
"During the lockout, it wasn't too hard to gain weight," Carrington says with a smile.
Don't get the idea Carrington was sitting on his couch eating peanut-butter cups. The Mississippi native spent virtually all winter and spring in Buffalo, training to get ready for his second NFL season.
The result was a 20-pound gain in muscle and a reshaped body for a player the Bills hope will make an impact this season. Carrington is carrying 305 pounds and has shown so much mobility that the Bills started giving him snaps as a rush linebacker the past week.
He is one of the young players to watch tonight when the Bills play their second exhibition game against the Broncos in Denver.
The Bills' top pass-rusher, Shawne Merriman, is being held out tonight as a precaution. He has a minor leg ailment but could play if it was a regular-season game, coach Chan Gailey said. That will give some of the younger pass rushers, like Carrington, Danny Batten and Antonio Coleman, more opportunity. In the wake of the release of former No. 1 draft pick Aaron Maybin, the Bills desperately need one of their young rushmen to show something. If Merriman goes down during the season, where do the Bills get their pass rush?
The preseason opener in Chicago last week offered some hope. Batten had two sacks. Carrington had one and pushed the pocket well.
"I have a little more weight on me, and it helps get a little edge on my opponent," Carrington said this week. "I was 285 last season. This weight helps me. I've been fluctuating from 305 to 310 to 300."
A big jump in conditioning level is typical for motivated players in their second NFL season, after a year of improved diet and exercise.
"In college you eat a lot of Ramen noodles," Carrington said. "I really started eating right when I started training for the combine. I learned when to eat and what to eat, and it has helped me out a lot."
On his offseason diet, Carrington said: "I was eating the right things and getting plenty of protein. I ate a lot of chicken. I ate three good meals and I supplemented them with two or three protein shakes a day and then ate a lot of parfaits with all-natural yogurt and berries. There's probably 40 grams of protein in each shake."
He worked out at both a local YMCA and at Body Blocks Fitness Center in downtown Buffalo.
"They've got a good program, and it's hard work, too," Carrington said.
Carrington has very long arms and natural strength. He lifted 225 pounds 26 times before last year's draft. (Powerful Marcell Dareus bench-pressed 24 repetitions this year.) That combination gives him good ability to press the pass blocker into the backfield before trying to disengage. At 305 pounds, Carrington is the prototypical 3-4 defensive end.
"I believe I can do a good job setting the edge," Carrington said, in reference to stopping off-tackle runs. "Hand placement is a big part of that, and having the right angle of attack. We've worked on that. Bob Sanders [outside linebackers coach] is doing a really good job coaching us."
The Bills think Carrington might be mobile enough to make an impact as a stand-up outside linebacker, which is why he has seen snaps there in practice and why he has worked with Sanders.
Carrington could be a handful lining up on the strong-side, over the tight end.
"It's unsettling to see somebody that big out there," said Bills tight end Scott Chandler. "You look and see a guy who's 300 pounds instead of 275. He's not a typical outside linebacker. Any time you're 25 pounds bigger than anybody else and stronger than anybody else, he sets a good edge out there."
"He's doing a really nice job of rush outside," Gailey said. "You're only going to show him every now and then dropping. That's not what he does. You do it just enough to create indecision sometimes. He's a big load on the edge, and he's got good speed for a man his size. He's been an interesting project during the course of camp."
Carrington played about 12.5 snaps a game last year. Expect that number to rise, whether he proves himself at outside backer or not.
"I don't really think I've lost a step from gaining the weight," he said. "My ball get-off has been pretty good during the entire camp. I feel pretty confident. I have to stay low and get off the ball. But we're still in preseason. We have a lot of work to do."