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Bills open informal workouts in suburban Buffalo

By John Wawrow

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 23 2011 5:31 p.m. MDT

Buffalo Bills' Leodis McKelvin talks on the phone a he waits for teammates to arrive for AN informal football workout in Elma, N.Y., Monday, May 23, 2011.

David Duprey, Associated Press

ELMA, N.Y. — Running back Fred Jackson brought the coolers filled with bottled water and sports drinks. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick brought the laughs as several Buffalo Bills opened their NFL-lockout version of a voluntary minicamp Monday.

Proudly displaying his sweat-soaked T-shirt after a 40-minute running and conditioning session, Fitzpatrick winked and said, "That's why I wore a grey T-shirt, so it looks like I was working hard."

With no end to the NFL labor dispute in sight, this is about as lathered up for football as Fitzpatrick and his colleagues can get these days. He was one of about 35 Bills — plus a handful of undrafted rookie free agents — taking part in a two-hour informal workout inside a suburban Buffalo sports complex that doubles as home to the Western New York Flash of the Women's Professional Soccer League.

It was the first of five informal workout sessions the players have scheduled for this week in what amounts to the team's largest reunion since the Bills cleaned out their lockers a day after their season ended in January.

"It's like old home week," cracked center Geoff Hangartner.

Fitzpatrick was impressed with the turnout after he hosted a smaller group of teammates for workouts in Arizona last month.

"It always helps when you're working out with other people, especially your teammates," Fitzpatrick said. "I thought it went as well as expected today."

Monday's workout was limited to agility, strength and conditioning sessions. The players split time working out in the weight room and on the field. Fitzpatrick expects he'll get an opportunity to start throwing passes to build chemistry with his receivers later in the week.

Reminders of the lockout were still prevalent.

With team staff barred from attending because of the lockout, the players brought in two private trainers, Bob Bateson and Demeris Johnson, to oversee the workouts.

Before the players stepped on the field, they were required to sign a waiver so the owners of the facility weren't held responsible for anyone getting hurt. A reporter was asked to seek a facility staff member to mop up a pool of water that had collected in a hallway after rain blew in through an open doorway.

And the players had to switch fields near the end of their workout to make room for the start of the Flash practice.

"It's definitely different, because we're accustomed to coming in, getting breakfast, getting taped, having the typical warmup, so the routine is off," Wilson said. "But the good thing about this is we're all — all 32 teams — having to endure the same fight. It's all about whoever handles the lockout the best, and once it's over, who ever get ready the fastest."

The Bills joined a number of NFL teams whose players have organized informal workouts over the past month. It's a group that includes the Saints, Jets, Giants, Redskins and Lions, who held a series of workouts outside of Detroit last week.

Fitzpatrick isn't sure how much the workouts will help the Bills in the win-loss column once the season begins.

"I think that part of it is overrated, because guys that have been around for more than a year or two know how it works," Fitzpatrick said. "I do think it's good just in the sense that everybody's able to get together to see where you're at and compare yourself with your teammates just to let them know that you're working hard and expect them to do the same."

Receiver Lee Evans, linebackers Chris Kelsay and Reggie Torbor were among the veterans present. The group included two other quarterbacks, Levi Brown and Brian Brohm, who has not been re-signed by the Bills. Also on hand were two of the Bills' nine rookie draft picks, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, a third-round selection, and defensive back Da'Norris Searcy, a fourth-rounder.

Linebacker Andra Davis, who helped organize this week's workouts, was absent due to travel delays. Cornerback Terrence McGee is expected to show up later this week, as well.

Among the notable players not present were linebacker Paul Posluszny, who elected to continue working out near his home outside of Pittsburgh, Shawne Merriman and rookie first-round pick, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus.

Wilson finished the session leading a handful of players through a limited walk-through to help the rookies become familiar with the team's defensive philosophies.

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