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Reggie Ragland easing his way back into practice for Bills

Reggie Ragland's tweet said it all: "Cleared!!! Thank you Lord!!!"

The Buffalo Bills' linebacker understandably was relieved when team doctors gave him the go ahead to participate in practice. It's been a long time since he was on the field, after all.

A second-round pick of the Bills in 2016, he missed all of his rookie season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during training camp.

"It felt great just to get back on the field," Ragland said after the Bills wrapped up their first week of spring practices. "To get my legs back up under me."

Ragland still isn't taking part in 11-on-11 drills. He was hurt Aug. 5, meaning it's been less than 10 months of recovery. That can feel like a lifetime to a young pro, though.

"Coming from Alabama, being able to play at the highest level you can play of college football and then coming to the pros and playing with some great guys like LeSean McCoy and Richie Incognito," Ragland said. "And then, the GM and everybody has you pegged as starting and you get out there and you’re playing and it happens – it’s very tough. But I know it happened for a reason and I know that I’ve got to keep getting stronger and keep coming back mentally stronger also."

Ragland is referring to former General Manager Doug Whaley's infamous "starters off the bus" comment he made in regards to last year's first three picks – defensive end Shaq Lawson, Ragland and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington. All told, those three started a combined 12 games in 2016, all but one of them by Washington.

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Ragland should be fully cleared by training camp.

"We’re going to take it along day by day," he said. "It just depends how my knee feels, but for the most part it feels great. The overtime that Shone Gipson and the staff has done for me has been fantastic. Everybody has been great. I’m thankful that I’ve got the type of people around me to help me get back like those guys."

The sooner Ragland can get on the field in a team setting, the better. The Bills made a significant investment by trading a pair of fourth-round picks to move up and draft him. That move, however, was made by a different front office. Ragland was drafted to be an inside linebacker in former coach Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme.

"There is some stuff that I’ve still got to get used to because I’ve never played in a 4-3 before," he said, "but for the most part I’m getting there, taking my time with it, and I’m just asking all of the questions that I can ask because it’s different from being out there and then just being in the classroom and just learning it so I’m just taking my time."

First impressions of the defense that's going to be installed by new coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have been favorable.

"Oh, it’s great," Ragland said. "It’s going to let the linebackers move around and eat so I like it a lot."

The question is, how will he fit?

The scenario floated most often is that Ragland will compete with Preston Brown for the starting job at middle linebacker.

"I'm a competitor, and I know Preston, he's a competitor, too," Ragland said. "I just got to come out and keep working hard the way he does day in and day out, because he's a very good player and a very smart player. I've got to keep making sure that when I get a chance to get back on the field, that' I'm on my game."

Another possibility that has been floated recently is having both Brown and Ragland on the field at the same time. Frazier certainly did not discount that last week when he said "you always want to get your 11 best on the field and I believe that those guys will be part of our best 11."

If that happens, Ragland will be learning another new position.

"Like I told the coaches, I’ll do whatever they need me to do to get on the field," he said. "If I got to do that, I’ll do that. I’m a competitor. I love this game. I love to play and just because I got to slide over, it’s not going to stop me from working my tail off every day."

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