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WNY tour impresses new Bills; Team's rookies stop at Naval Park, Falls

The Bills' rookies got their "Welcome to Buffalo" moment Monday during the team's annual tour of Western New York.

Conceived by Chris Jenkins, the team's manager of media relations, the tour is designed to give the team's newest players a better idea of what to see and do in their new home.

"We really try to give them an understanding of what they're coming into," said Paul Lancaster, the Bills' director of player engagement. "We want to give them an opportunity to embrace the city, as well as the city embrace them."

The group of 16 rookies departed Orchard Park at noon by tour bus and first stopped for a visit at the Naval Park downtown. Then it was off to to Niagara Falls.

"First time in Niagara Falls," said offensive lineman Mark Asper, who played his college football at Oregon. "There's a little place in Oregon called Silver Falls, and they've got like 10 little waterfalls and they're really skinny and there's not a whole lot of water coming over. This is pretty impressive."

"There's nothing you can say to describe it except it takes your breath away," said Ron Brooks, the team's fourth-round pick out of LSU who's a native of Irving, Texas.

Brooks said he'd never really visited north of Tennessee, so Monday's experience was brand new.

"I've been having fun so far. It's great to see the city finally. Sitting in the hotel room, I didn't really think too much about Buffalo, didn't have a chance to really see anything," he said. "But now that I'm out and getting a chance to go places, it's nice. I like it.

"It's nice to see where you're going to be living. I'm excited to bring my family up here and show them the same things."

After their trip to the Falls, the players browsed the New Era flagship store on Delaware Avenue. The tour was guided by JoAnne Hudecki and Danielle Shainbrown, both of the McGuire Development Company.

"We want to welcome them to Buffalo and show them what a great city this is," Hudecki said. "I think sometimes when young guys are drafted, they think, 'Oh my God, Buffalo.' "

That perception is fueled by our weather, which was not a problem Monday.

"It's a perfect opportunity for us to be out," Lancaster said. "A lot of our guys are walking around like, 'it's not snowing.' Yeah, it's not snowing. It's May. Not to say it won't happen, but realistically it doesn't snow here every day. It's not 30 degrees every day," Lancaster said.

Eventually, the weather will take some getting used to. Twelve of the 16 players on Monday's tour come from the South.

"This is warm for you?" asked linebacker Nigel Bradham, a native of Crawfordville, Fla. "It's nice, but it ain't warm."

Brooks, though, welcomed the change.

"It's better than being in the hot and humidity," he said.

In recent years, the tour has added a community component. Monday's stop was at the Edward A. Sanders Community Center, where they signed autographs for the kids.

"I had always heard the fan base was great and stood behind their team," Brooks said. "Once I became a part of the organization, the fans have really got behind me. I'm excited to meet them."

The tour ended with dinner at Chef's.

"When they're out in Orchard Park, sometimes they don't realize, Buffalo is right there, 20 minutes away. We want them to take advantage of it -- eat in the restaurants downtown -- and enjoy it," Hudecki said. "There's great city living, also. A lot of the veteran players are living in the apartments on the waterfront, there's young professionals in the lofts. We want them to know about it."

"It's a nice experience for us," safety Nick Sukay said. "We get to be with our teammates, and experience the community at the same time, so it's a nice way to break us in."

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Rookie minicamp over the weekend was a success for fullback Dorin Dickerson and safety Nick Saenz, both of whom signed free agent contracts, the team announced Monday. Buffalo also signed offensive tackle James Carmon, and released quarterback Aaron Corp and safety Ian Wild.

Dickerson, 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, played college football at Pitt under Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. He's a former seventh-round draft choice of the Houston Texans in 2010, appearing in seven games predominantly on special teams. He's also spent time on the practice squad for both New England and Pittsburgh.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com