Lorenzo Alexander is honest about the predicament the Buffalo Bills find themselves in at the moment.
“Right now, we're not good enough just to win on defense,” the veteran linebacker said Thursday. “We have to win at least two of three of the phases, if not all three, if we want to find ourselves in the position to win at the end of games.”
It’s not a shock that the Bills have struggled offensively with a rookie quarterback and an underwhelming group of wide receivers. The defense has turned things around in a big way after a rocky first six quarters, but the special teams haven’t come through, particularly in the last two games.
“We need to be part of the reason we're winning games and not a crutch to the team,” Alexander said. “That's just the reality of the matter right now.”
In an effort to get things turned around, Alexander and kicker Stephen Hauschka led a team meeting this week that focused on improving the special teams.
“Making sure guys understand you can't have the mentality of ‘I have to do special teams.’ It has to be the mentality, ‘I want to do it, and this is how I view myself as a starter,’ ” Alexander said.
He speaks from experience. Alexander carved out a successful career playing primarily on special teams before becoming an integral defensive player since coming to Buffalo.
“I did it for 10 years,” he said. “You can have yourself a nice career, being a special-teams demon and being a solid backup, or you develop into, like James Harrison did, like I've done later in my career, more of a starter. You don't want to hurt your team or yourself by having a lackluster mentality.”
Rookie receiver Ray-Ray McCloud lost a fumble on a muffed punt and the Bills had a punt blocked against Houston, setting up easy points for the Texans.
“I thought we got off to a good start on special teams for the first four games, and then the last two weeks haven't been good enough,” coach Sean McDermott said. “A lot of that comes down to giving up big plays, whether it's us putting the ball on the turf, or a big return against Tennessee. There's certain guys that were kept for special-teams purposes primarily. We've all got to step our game up in that regard. It's worth field position, it's worth a competitive advantage. We've kept some guys to create that, and we haven't gotten the job done the last two weeks.”
The Bills are still working through who will be the primary punt returner against the Colts in Week 7. If running back Taiwan Jones can’t play because of a neck injury, Marcus Murphy figures to be active and could get another shot. McDermott’s other options are giving McCloud another chance or sticking with the sure-handed Micah Hyde.
“I’m definitely looking forward to that opportunity, but it's not about bouncing back. I've got short-term memory. After that play, I was on to the next,” McCloud said. “We've got to take it up a notch on special teams. That's our challenge this week.”
The Bills made a change to their 53-man roster Thursday, promoting rookie receiver Cam Phillips from the practice squad. To make room for him, the team released fellow rookie receiver Robert Foster.
Phillips, an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech, is a 6-foot-0, 201-pounder who impressed during training camp.
Foster played in all six games so far this season, but his playing time has steadily decreased. He had just two catches for 30 yards. It’s possible he could swap spots with Phillips and join the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Jones and quarterback Josh Allen did not participate in Thursday’s practice. Allen has already been ruled out for the game. Guard Vlad Ducasse participated in a limited fashion for the second straight practice, while defensive end Trent Murphy was upgraded from a limited participant Wednesday to a full participant Thursday.