ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- C.J. Spiller is the first to admit his transition from star college running back to NFL rookie was much more difficult than he had imagined. But two years later, the former first round pick is rounding into form.
Spiller, the ninth overall pick out of Clemson in the 2010 draft, will once again be thrust into the starting role in Buffalo's backfield when the Bills (0-1) host Kansas City (0-1) Sunday. With starter Fred Jackson out with a knee injury sustained in last week's loss to the Jets, the rushing load will be squarely on Spiller's shoulders for at least the next month.
It'll be the second straight season in which Spiller has been plugged in as the main man following a Jackson injury. In relief, Spiller began showing signs of breaking out after Jackson broke his leg in a game against Miami in Week 11.
"It definitely gives you confidence to know that you can do it," said Spiller, who averaged nearly 90 yards rushing in each of the final three games last season. "But the quote that I am going to stick by for the whole year is 'past success doesn't guarantee future success.' I can't just bank on what I did the last six weeks to say I'm capable."
After Jackson went down, Spiller came in and picked up a career-high 169 yards on 14 carries, including an electrifying 56-yard touchdown scamper against the Jets. And since Week 13 of last season, his total of 757 yards from scrimmage is the fourth-most in the league.
"He handled being the guy at the end of last year really well, so I expect him to handle that this year as well, how ever long we're in this situation," coach Chan Gailey said. "He's not the biggest back in the world, but he's really strong for his size. I think he'll be able to handle it. He had a great game, made some great runs, showed great speed and burst."
It was that burst of speed that Spiller was unable to unlock during a frustrating rookie campaign. Garnering a mere 283 yards rushing in 2010, Spiller seemed lost when he touched the ball. Used to turning something into nothing throughout his stellar career at Clemson -- where he finished second in NCAA Division I history with 7,588 all-purpose yards -- Spiller found the NFL terrain much more difficult to navigate.
Rather than busting long runs, Spiller was on the verge of being labeled a bust after his uninspiring first year. But after averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 107 carries last season, followed by his showing against the Jets, Spiller is efficiently quieting his doubters one by one.
"I was a rookie coming into the NFL and, of course, you get a Top 10 pick and there are high expectations," he said. "I've learned a lot over the past couple of years, and taking the mindset that anything between three to eight yards is a great run. I think that was probably my biggest adjustment, just because of the success that I had on the college level. I tried to translate it over. But once I realized that, I think that kind of helped in my advantage."
That maturation has helped Spiller become a better runner between the tackles, and his rookie habit of trying to dance around the defence is a thing of the past.
"With C.J., the biggest thing is confidence," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "Last year he found that confidence at the end of the year after Fred (Jackson) went down and he became the man. So you could see in that game vs. the Jets, the C.J. that was there at the end of last year with the swagger and all that.
"He's here to stay."