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Bills lean on old veteran and raw rookie to replace McCoy

(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)

By JOHN WAWROW

AP Sports Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Frank Gore isn't sure he would have signed with the Buffalo Bills this offseason if not for being coaxed into it by his long-time friend LeSean McCoy.

Devin Singletary, meantime, could barely contain his initial excitement over the prospect of meeting Gore and McCoy in person upon being drafted in the third round by the Bills in April.

Little did either anticipate they would be the ones taking over the primary running back duties heading into Buffalo's season opener at the Jets on Sunday after McCoy was released last weekend.

"He was one of the reasons why I did come. He talked to me and he wanted me to come here and compete with him," Gore said of McCoy, who has since signed with Kansas City, where he is reunited with his former coach Andy Reid.

"It was tough, but we also knew it was a business. I'm happy for him," Gore added. "And I'm also happy for me and my teammates in our room that we get a chance to work together and compete, and help our team be successful."

Rather than share carries with the 31-year-old McCoy in a backfield that would've featured two of the NFL's most productive players, the 36-year-old Gore is instead preparing to open his 15th season working with Singletary.

And that's fine with Gore.

The NFL's active leader in yards rushing not only spent much of the offseason mentoring the 21-year-old, but also knew of Singletary's abilities when he was leading the nation in scoring during his sophomore season at Florida Atlantic in 2017.

"Great kid, man. Very natural. He understands the game and works his behind off and listens," said Gore, who was first made aware of Singletary by Florida Atlantic's running backs coach, former NFLer Kevin Smith. "I'm rooting for him and also competing with him, trying to keep him hungry and get him better."

Singletary didn't initially know what to make of McCoy being cut, before coming to the realization he's in line for a far more expanded role.

"I definitely didn't see this coming," Singletary said. "It shows that they believe in me. Now it's time to see how it turns out."

Coach Sean McDermott hasn't revealed his plans at running back, which will be rounded out with T.J. Yeldon, expected to play a role in third-down passing situations.

What's clear is how Gore and Singletary are being relied upon to boost a running attack that stagnated under McCoy and behind a patchwork offensive line this season.

Gore has plenty to prove in coming off an injury-shortened season in which he played 14 games and finished with 722 yards rushing - his fewest since his rookie year. With 14,748 career yards rushing, Gore is 522 from passing Barry Sanders for third on the NFL list.

The decision to release McCoy after four seasons in Buffalo eventually came down to Singletary's development this offseason. Though undersized, the 5-foot-7, 200-pound player has been fearless in running up the middle and impressive in not going down after the first hit. More important, Singletary was adept in catching passes out of the backfield, something he wasn't asked to do much in college.

Singletary's six catches in three preseason games matched his total last year, and included an 18-yard over-the-shoulder reception made in a 27-14 win over Carolina.

"We knew he could run with the ball in his hands. I talked about his vision and his instincts and feel. I think it was when he checked the box on the passing game," general manager Brandon Beane said, referring to what stood out about Singletary this summer.

That went beyond Beane's initial thoughts in drafting Singletary, referring to him as being "the funnest guy" he had scouted last year because of the player's speed, vision and shiftiness.

"I wouldn't call him a home-run hitter, but he can make guys miss in a phone booth," Beane said of Singletary, who finished with 714 carries for 4,287 yards rushing and scored 67 touchdowns, including one receiving.

Singletary drew comparisons to McCoy at college for having similar running styles. He's also a big fan of Gore.

"Frank is one of the greats," Singletary said, recalling how Smith would have him watch film of Gore. "He used to put on Frank's tapes just to show his contact balance, how he finds his way through cloudy situations, when there's no hole there and how you've got to make something."

As for McCoy, he showed Singletary how to stay motivated.

"You've got to come in and never get comfortable," Singletary said. "I've never seen (McCoy) comfortable. He always came in and worked. And that's definitely something I took from him."

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Updated September 4, 2019

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