The 2014 season was a huge disappointment for the New Orleans Saints, a team that was penciled in for the NFC South title in August but had to settle for a second-place finish in the NFL’s losingest division.
It wasn’t exactly a year to remember for C.J. Spiller, either.
The former Clemson standout’s fifth season with the Buffalo Bills produced 300 yards on 78 carries in nine games. A broken collarbone knocked him out of action for eight weeks, and a poor relationship with then-Buffalo coach Doug Marrone soured him on his stay in upstate New York.
Perhaps, though, two negatives can combine to make a positive in 2015.
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The Saints signed Spiller to an $18 million deal in March, hoping to add some multipurpose firepower to an attack that led the league in yards (411.4 per game) a year ago but finished next to last in turnover differential (minus-13).
New Orleans sees Spiller as a piece that can complete the puzzle and the 5-11, 200-pound back is already fitting right in.
“The transition has been pretty smooth so far,” said Spiller, who talked with reporters this week while participating in organized team activities (OTAs). “We’ve been hammering away at the playbook, getting into the plays and just getting familiar with the whole offense, just seeing what I feel comfortable with.”
Mark Ingram is the ball hog in the backfield, and the Heisman Trophy winner finished with just under 1,000 rushing yards a year ago. But Saints coach Sean Payton insists he has big plans for Spiller, too.
“He has a unique skill set,” Payton said. “He has good speed. He’s someone that understands what to do in the passing game and I think he’ll provide versatility.
“It’s up to us to find ways to ... get him the ball in space. He’s also someone in the return game that I think can be a factor for us.”
One of the most favored of Clemson’s favorite sons, Spiller finished with 4,480 rushing yards and caught 1,362 yards receiving.
He also tallied eight special teams touchdowns while returning punts and kickoffs for the Tigers.
During his run at Buffalo – where he was a Pro Bowler in 2012 – Spiller racked up 3,315 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns and managed 1,195 yards and six scores via the passing game.
When healthy, Spiller has shown he can do it all – and do it all well.
“ I’ve been very blessed and very fortunate to have tremendous speed,” Spiller said. “But I’m more than that. But I think I’ve got some power, I take pride in my catching abilities, my blocking abilities. I just try to make my game a complete game.”
The 2015 season is three months away, and – as always seems to be the case – the NFC South is up for grabs.
Carolina won it with a 7-8-1 record in 2014. Atlanta suffered its second consecutive losing season and now has a new coach in Dan Quinn. Tampa Bay is in perpetual rebuilding mode.
Catching passes from Drew Brees and catching air in open spaces, a physically fit Spiller could help New Orleans get over the hump.