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Bills’ Gray fights for a role at tight end

The Buffalo Bills won’t release an official depth chart until sometime during training camp.

For now, though, here is a good idea of how things look at tight end: 1. Charles Clay. 2. Everyone else.

“It is a good battle,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said of the competition among MarQueis Gray, Chris Gragg, Nick O’Leary and Clay Burton to earn reserve roles behind Clay. “They’re each a little different in the physical attributes that they bring, but all of them have a shot.”

Gray’s best attribute at the moment is his ability as a receiver. Just 10 days after coming to the Bills last season as a waiver claim from the Minnesota Vikings, Gray was forced into action because of an injury to Gragg and wasted little time making an impact. He caught two passes for 71 yards in a 26-10 win over Cleveland in Week 13.

“I was grateful just to have a chance to play on offense,” Gray said. “Since I had been in the NFL, I’d been doing a lot of special teams, so to get that chance to showcase what I can do on offense was really a blessing for me.”

Gray ended up starting the final five games of last season, settling into his role as a tight end. The 6-foot-4, 242-pounder played quarterback and wide receiver in college at Minnesota. In 37 career games, he started 26 times at quarterback, throwing for 2,053 yards and 14 touchdowns, running for 1,731 yards and 12 TDs and catching 60 passes for 766 yards and six TDs.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” Gray said. “Having that quarterback mentality – where I can still know the playbook and make adjustments on the fly – that helped me out a lot when I got here. When Gragg got hurt, that next week, I had to suit up and be ready to go.”

With the departure of the previous coaching staff, Gray has had to learn a new offense again, but it’s one that he at least has some familiarity with. His NFL career started as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 when Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman held the same position there.

“It’s a lot easier than my rookie year,” Gray said. “A lot of the adjustments, the formations, I’m familiar with those, and that’s helped out a lot.”

Roman said earlier this offseason that he could see a scenario in which the Bills use four tight ends on game days.

“That’s what all tight ends want to hear,” Gray said. “There is competition throughout the roster. Charles was bought here to be that guy, but we’re fighting to be his backup. With this system, a lot of tight ends are going to play, so we’ve got to make the most of our reps.”

Gray has done that so far in Ryan’s eyes.

“He’s been great,” the coach said. The “big thing is going to be when we put the pads on, to block for us, because he can do all the route runs and catch the football. His speed is impressive. Can he have that impact as a blocker? That’ll be something we’re looking for.”

To improve in that area, Gray has been focused on improving his strength.

“Being a quarterback all my life, I’m still trying to catch up in the strength department,” he said. “I feel like I’m quick enough to get on guys and just hang on for dear life. ... I know that’s one of the things I need to work on. I’ve always been a natural route runner, I’ve always been able to catch the ball. Being able to go in the trenches and block is one of the things I’m working on this summer.”


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