Starter or not, TE Royal is a leader
Robert Royal came to Buffalo Bills training camp this year missing something that he had a foothold on last year — the starting tight end spot.
The veteran, who is entering his seventh NFL season, sat second behind Derek Schouman on the depth chart when the team came to camp at St. John Fisher in July.
You wouldn’t have been able to tell by the way Royal acted.
He was still a vocal leader on offense and a tutor to many of the younger players. Now, with camp about to close, Royal’s role may have gone from reserve to starter but his demeanor has stayed the same.
He is coming off a two-touchdown effort against Pittsburgh last Thursday and is looking to become a vital target for quarterback Trent Edwards in 2008.
“I am feeling pretty good,” Royal said after Tuesday night’s practice. “I am just trying to stay on track. I am hoping to come out and be a great player and leader and help us get to a higher level.”
With or without the starting job, Royal had a tall mountain to climb entering the season coming back from offseason knee surgery. He spent time in the pool and weight room rehabbing his knee instead of participating in organized team activities. Royal was rewarded with a clean bill of health when he came to camp.
“You need to be able to turn to your tight end in this offense and get him the ball in tight space,” Edwards said. “Rob is obviously a big, physical tight end that we need to get in those situations and be accurate with the football. That’s where we’re going to score points in the red zone, with a guy like that.”
Thursday’s game proved that the 6-foot-4 Royal has plenty of value in the Bills’ offense. Both his touchdowns came inside the red zone.
And his role should only increase after a knee injury to Schouman that will keep him out at least for a couple of weeks.
“We’re counting on him to be a leader on our football team,” Bills head coach Dick Jauron said of Royal after the Steelers game. “He always has been excellent in that area, but he’s coming off the injury and he made two big catches. And he ran after the catch and scored with the ball on the second one. It was very good for us to see.”
Royal made an immediate impact with the Bills in 2006, his first year with the team. He made a then career-high 23 receptions and scored three touchdowns. He also proved to be valuable in pass-blocking situations.
Royal started 15 games last season, catching 25 passes and scoring another three TDs.
“I am just trying to go out and get everybody going,” said Royal, who spent the first four years of his career with Washington. “We have a young team, but we have more veterans than we’ve had in the past. I just have to try and keep pushing the younger guys on offense.”
The Redskins took the LSU standout in the fifth round of the 2002 draft. Royal had 59 receptions for 707 yards and seven touchdowns with the Tigers.
He also was an excellent defensive end at Karr High School in Louisiana, recording 80 tackles and 10 sacks his senior season.
“I always tell (Bills defensive coordinator Perry Fewell) that I could play defense, get him some sacks and touchdowns,” Royal said with a smile.
Royal credits his grandmother, Shirley Jackson, with helping him reach full potential. Her example of always putting family first has helped him in raising his daughter Skyy.
“I grew up with her, and she showed a lot of determination to help raise everyone in our family,” he said about his grandmother. “Everybody in our family looked up to her. Growing up, I wanted to take care of everybody like she did.”
Bryan Sullivan is covering Bills training camp for Messenger Post Newspapers. He can be reached at (585) 394-0770 ext. 273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.