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Jason Croom continues push for Bills' No. 2 tight end job

Quarterback Nathan Peterman isn't surprised by the emergence of Jason Croom as a Buffalo Bills tight end this summer.

Peterman played with Croom way back in 2011 in a high school All-America all-star game in Dallas and then joined Croom as a recruit at the University of Tennessee in 2012.

"We came into Tennessee together," Peterman said. "I played in my high school all-star game with him. I've known Jason for a long time. He's a freak, man. He's a mismatch out there. We've got to keep working. He definitely has a lot of talent and can really be a weapon for us this year."

Bills fans got a glimpse of what Peterman is talking about in Sunday's exhibition game.

Croom continued his push for the Bills' No. 2 tight end job with a big game in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The 6-foot-5, 246-pounder caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Peterman and then hauled in a 21-yard pass to set up the Bills' second touchdown.

"I've continued to work at it, and it's coming along," said Croom. "I'm not where I want to be yet."

Croom was one of the surprises of Bills' training camp, after spending nine weeks on the team's practice squad last season. He used his size and quickness to consistently make plays.

"He does it in practice," said Bills safety Jordan Poyer. "He's a strong physical tight end big guy. He's able to separate from safeties and linebackers and get himself into view. He's a great athlete."

Croom spent his first four years at Tennessee as a wide receiver. He missed all of the 2015 season with a knee injury, and it was during his rehabilitation that he decided to ask the Vols coaches to let him switch positions.

Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap (96) tackles Bills quarterback Josh Allen (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

"It was something I thought about because I weighed as much as our tight ends," Croom said.

"And you watch the league," he said, referring to the NFL, "and that's what it's turning into. Mismatches. So I thought it would be a good opportunity for me."

Croom caught 21 passes for 242 yards as a tight end his senior year at Tennessee.

Those modest numbers, plus his injury history, prevented him from getting drafted. But Croom showed his athleticism in pre-draft workouts.

He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds and broad-jumped 10 feet, both better than average. Bills starter Charles Clay ran 4.70 and broad-jumped 9-6 coming out of college. Eagles star tight end Zach Ertz ran 4.67 and broad-jumped 9-6.

But he was raw as a rookie in Bills camp last summer. He said his time on the practice squad last year helped him adjust to the NFL.

"It was an opportunity to continue to learn more about the position," Croom said. "Being a former receiver, you've got to know a lot more about what's going on at the tight end position."

Croom said he has worked hard to become a pro-level blocker.

"That's the first thing I do when I step on the field at practice," he said. "I work on my footwork, my fundamentals. I'm strong. I have quick twitch. It's all just working the fundamentals so it's all instinct. I continue to work on that. I want to be the best I can because I want to be an every-down player."

Being a flexed-out receiving tight end, however, is Croom's strength.

On the TD pass from Peterman in the third quarter, Croom smoothly plucked the ball in the right flat, turned up field and ran out of a tackle attempt from Bengals safety Josh Shaw. He sprinted up the sideline to the end zone. Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley ran interference to shield Croom from another defender.

"It was a three-level route," Croom said. "It really was just me executing. I knew what I had to do. ... The receiver in front of me made it easy for me. I just had to make the extra effort to get into the end zone."

Based on his playing time the past two games, Croom looks like he's ahead of both last year's No. 2 tight end, Nick O'Leary, and Logan Thomas. Khari Lee fills a blocking tight end role. The Bills probably will keep three tight ends. Some teams keep four.

"He showed up," said Bills coach Sean McDermott. "He's made plays, and not just in games, the three games we've played, but also in practice. ... At the end of the day, that's the name of the game, the guys that can make plays."

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