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John DeShazier: C.J. Spiller brings more to the table than game-changing speed

Former Buffalo star is a complete back

It's understandable – perhaps, even expected – to be mesmerized by the wheels.

C.J. Spiller can run, and it's not just play-making speed that allows him to turn a 5-yard gain into a 13-yarder. It's game-changing blaze – a recorded 4.37-second 40-yard dash – that can turn a toss sweep into a 70-yard sprint where he outruns the angle a defensive back has, and seam-splitting burn that makes any of his kick returns worth watching.

It's the kind of blur that can add to a defensive coordinator's collection of gray hairs. So it's not much of a surprise that a pair of the open, welcoming arms that greeted Spiller when he agreed to join the New Orleans Saints as a free agent belonged to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Not that the Saints saw much of Buffalo during Spiller's five seasons there – New Orleans played the Bills just once in that time, and Spiller sat out that game with an injury. But Ryan is entering his 18th NFL season, and 12th as a defensive coordinator.

He has seen the film and, if even if he hadn't, he now has seen a bit of Spiller in person, during the Saints' offseason workouts.

"I know one thing: C.J. Spiller, the first thing you say is, 'Speed,' " Ryan said. "He can take it the distance and he's an outstanding competitor, and exceptional guy. He's special with his speed. If you say one thing, he's got home run speed."

Spiller has 14 runs of at least 33 yards in his NFL career, 39 kickoff returns of at least 20 yards (including touchdowns of 102 and 95 yards) and six punt returns of at least 20 yards.

But it might not be wise to pigeonhole him.

At 5 feet 11, 200 pounds, Spiller is a bit more than a scat back.

"He's not just a little guy, he's got good size to him but he runs like he's a little, tiny guy," Ryan said.

"Obviously, I've been very blessed and very fortunate enough to have tremendous speed," Spiller said. "But I'm more than that. I think people are always going to have that perception, 'Oh, he's just a speed back.'

"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. People are going to have their own labels but I know what I'm capable of doing."

He'll get a chance to show much of what he's capable of doing with the Saints. He was considered a free agent coup by the Saints and Spiller considers the union a perfect one, given what he has seen of the Saints' offense.

"I always kept a close eye on this team, just the way that Coach (Sean) Payton used the running back position and a guy with my type of skill set," Spiller said. "It was always intriguing watching from afar but now, being in the thick of things, I see why those guys were very successful."

Said Payton: "He's explosive. He knows what to do. I think there's a real good fit for him with what we're going to do offensively. We'll put him in a role, whether he's in the backfield or flexed out. The key, I think, for him is … finding ways to get him the ball in space and let him utilize his skill set and speed."

Once Spiller gets the space, he knows what to do.

Meanwhile, he's familiarizing himself with his teammates and playbook, steps that must be taken before the wheels fully can be set in motion.

"The transition has been pretty smooth," Spiller said. "We've been hammering away at the playbook, getting into the plays and just getting familiar with the whole offense, seeing what I can grasp very quickly and what I feel comfortable with."

Photos taken from the New Orleans Saints Organized Team Activities at the team's facility. photos taken by Michael C. Hebert.

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