Even after 15 years in the NFL, things happen in the league that surprise Frank Gore.
Case in point: The release of LeSean McCoy on Saturday by the Buffalo Bills.
Gore was working out when McCoy broke the news. The veteran’s immediate reaction?
“I thought he was [joking],” Gore said Monday after practice. “Then 10 minutes later, I saw that he was serious.”
Gore viewed McCoy as a little brother, saying he’s still a “top dog in this league.”
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Gore said of McCoy’s release. “The guy can still play. … I was looking forward to working with him. We’ve both been successful in this league. I was ready for us to go back and forth, to compete. So, it was tough, but I also know the business. I’m happy that he’s in the situation he’s in, going to Kansas City with his old coach who drafted him. They’ve got a good team over there. I hope he does well. Now it’s trying to keep our room tight – trying to work every day and get better to help this team be successful.”
The Bills’ running back room now features Gore, fifth-year veteran T.J. Yeldon and rookie Devin Singletary, the Florida Atlantic product who impressed the Bills so much in the preseason that they felt comfortable moving on from McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Singletary said. “I just knew I was going to come in and work hard. I had vets in front of me, so I knew I was going to be a sponge. … I definitely didn’t see this coming.”
Gore might have. The veteran watched Singletary in college and came away impressed with what he saw.
“He’s got a bright future, as long as he just keeps working and me and T.J. keep pushing him,” Gore said of Singletary. “I think as a group, we’ll be fine.”
There is no finer mentor in the NFL for Singletary than what the Bills have in Gore. The 36-year-old ranks fourth in all-time rushing yardage with 14,748 and is just 522 yards from passing Barry Sanders for third all time. Among the 50 leading rushers in NFL history, only three have more games played than Gore. Emmitt Smith leads the way with 226, followed by Marcus Allen (222) and Earnest Byner (211). Gore will tie Byner when the Bills visit the New York Jets on Sunday in the season opener and can match Smith if he appears in all 16 games this season.
Similar to how Gore referred to McCoy as his “little brother,” Singletary said Gore has been a “big brother” to him. Both Gore and Singletary bonded over being from Florida and have grown closer day by day.
After cuts were made this past weekend, Gore had a message not just for Singletary, but for all the team’s young players.
“You never can get comfortable in this league,” he said. “That’s why I go out there every day and try to be like it’s my first year. … I look at it as week to week in the league. That’s why I stay up every day.”
Bills coach Sean McDermott was asked Monday what the plan at running back would be now that McCoy was no longer in the equation, but he sidestepped the question by saying only that he has confidence in the players at the position who remain on the roster. That’s not a surprise given that the coach is generally loathe to discuss his lineup in detail.
Singletary said nobody from the front office or coaching staff has talked to him about his role since McCoy was released. No matter who starts, though, it’s clear the Bills think Singletary is ready for a significant role. That’s based not only on his performances in training camp and the preseason, but also on what they think is to come.
“There's also a projection of showing our confidence in a young player that we believe he can ascend and develop,” McDermott said. “That's what we do as coaches.”
Singletary’s numbers in preseason weren’t overwhelming – he ran 12 times for 42 yards and one touchdown, and caught six passes for 46 yards. Those six receptions, however, matched his season total from last year and showed the Bills that they can count on him to be a viable receiver out of the backfield.
“I wouldn’t say I surprised myself. I always felt that I could catch, I just didn’t have as many opportunities" in college, Singletary said. “The team gave me an opportunity here to showcase what I can do, and I feel like I’ve been doing pretty good so far.”
Like Gore, Singletary said he was surprised to learn McCoy was released. If the rookie needed a refresher on the business side of the NFL, it came Saturday. At the same time, a different message was sent about the team’s confidence in their rookie runner.
“It shows that they believe in me,” Singletary said. “Now it’s time to see how it turns out. They believe in me, I believe in myself, and the sky is the limit from here.”
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The Bills signed three players to their practice squad Monday: Quarterback Davis Webb, linebacker Nate Hall and wide receiver Tyron Johnson.
Webb, a former third-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 2017, spent training camp with the New York Jets, the Bills’ Week 1 opponent.
“It's good to have him. I mean, we don't do that,” McDermott said, referring to the idea of signing Webb for his intel on the upcoming opponent. “Other people sometimes do that out there. We do it for the player, and a chance to add good players to our team. So, we're happy to have him.”
Webb played his final college season at Cal, throwing for 4,295 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2016.
Johnson was with Houston during training camp before being released. He played in college at Oklahoma State, where he finished with 53 catches for 845 yards and seven touchdowns last year.
The Bills have one vacancy remaining on their practice squad.