Bills hope tight end can be Royal pain to foes

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

TORONTO -- To say Robert Royal could be the most important player in the Buffalo Bills' offense would be an exaggeration.

But not much of one.

Royal is Buffalo's starting tight end, and the reason you may not have heard much about him outside western New York is because he hasn't done much. Last year, he caught 25 passes, fifth-fewest among the NFL's starting tight ends. He missed every spring practice because of offseason knee surgery.

Royal, for good reason, has been overshadowed by quarterback Trent Edwards, running back Marshawn Lynch, receiver Lee Evans and left tackle Jason Peters' holdout.

Even so, Royal could make a mammoth impact on Buffalo's offense, which has failed to implement its tight ends for years.

"Tight end is big in this offense," Royal said after scoring two touchdowns in Thursday night's 24-21 preseason victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Toronto. "In order for this offense to go, we've got to hold up our end."

Royal scored on the Bills' first two drives. The seventh-year pro from LSU snagged an Edwards pass amid heavy traffic in the back of the end zone and bowled his way over the goal line on a 13-yard catch and run.

His performance was encouraging to Buffalo fans not only from an injury rehabilitation standpoint, but also as an indicator of how tight ends may figure into new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert's strategy.

"It gives us confidence that Robert's back," Bills coach Dick Jauron said. "Our plans are our plans. Obviously, they are very much affected by our personnel. In our business, sometimes you have to go find personnel to fit your plans, too.

"I guess that's a very roundabout way of saying we're very happy Robert is here. If Robert wasn't here, something else would have to happen. ... We're really pleased with Robert Royal. He's a tremendous teammate. He's a big-effort guy."

The Bills were decimated by injuries at tight end last year. Royal played through nagging knee pain because Kevin Everett suffered a spinal injury and a bum ankle limited rookie Derek Schouman to three games.

Between Royal and Michael Gaines, who left for the Detroit Lions, the Bills' tight ends had merely 56 receptions last year. That was a bonanza compared to their 31 catches in 2006.

"If you look at the overall NFL, tight ends are [important]," Royal said. "You've got to be able to do a lot. Tight ends, especially in this offense, we're probably second on the team in having to know the most things beside the quarterback."

Royal, an attractive target at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, went on to explain how tight ends need to know all of the offensive line calls to clear paths for Lynch in addition to running routes and giving Edwards another feasible option.

"Our job, first and foremost, is going to be to block," Royal said. "Then when I'm called on in the passing game, I've got to go out and make plays."