Coastal Carolina alumnus Thigpen begins season still with Buffalo Bills

ablondin@thesunnews.comSeptember 8, 2012 

For at least a few weeks this summer, Tyler Thigpen wasn’t sure if he would retain his position in the NFL as a backup quarterback with the Buffalo Bills.

The Coastal Carolina graduate and Myrtle Beach resident spent the 2011 season as the No. 1 backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick after signing a three-year deal. But the team signed two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Vince Young in May, and it already had Brad Smith, a wide receiver and kick returner who played quarterback in college at Missouri and is an NFL weapon as a quarterback in “wildcat” formations.

“It has been a long process this entire preseason since they brought in Vince Young,” Thigpen said Thursday. “For a couple weeks I thought I was on the way out.”

Thigpen outlasted Young, who was cut on Aug. 27, but his roster spot still wasn’t secure because the Bills acquired Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson that same day.

Thigpen figures his fate came down to his performance in the final preseason game against Detroit on Aug. 30, when he was given the bulk of the snaps at quarterback.

“I knew it was all riding on me and what I did,” Thigpen said. “As a quarterback you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get or you might get passed by. I wanted to make it a tough decision for them.”

Thigpen apparently showed enough to retain his job, completing 18 of 30 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. Though he threw two interceptions – one that was returned for a touchdown and one late in a 38-32 loss – they both came after defensive linemen got a piece of the ball in Thigpen’s hand on the throws, and Thigpen feels he got better as the game progressed.

“Whether I was going to be here in Buffalo or not, I knew whatever I did on a short week against Detroit would be evaluated by the other 31 teams,” Thigpen said. “I thought I needed to take advantage of that and I feel I did.

“I felt I had a real good command of the offense throughout the offseason, and getting that extended time in the preseason game, it was good to go out and show I could have command of it. … I was going to the right place and making the right decision and making the right reads.”

Thigpen made the Bills’ 53-man roster, though at a cost.

He said he signed a three-year, $9 million deal before last season, has already collected $3.5 million of that and was slated to make $2.5 million this year. But on Sept. 2, the final two years of the three-year deal were annulled and Thigpen agreed to a new one-year deal for $1.5 million.

“Once the final cuts came up that day, I spoke to my agent and they wanted to free up a little cap space to sign some other players,” Thigpen said. “I was willing to do that. Obviously you don’t want to take a pay cut, but if it helps the team out I’m willing to do it.

“I’m just glad to be here in Buffalo still, with this team, and not having to learn a new offense and go to a new area.”

Thigpen said he was commended by Buffalo General Manager Buddy Nix for the way he handled the intense competition for his job. “The situation I was put into this preseason with them bringing in Vince Young, with them bringing in Tarvaris Jackson, Buddy Nix told me I gained a lot of respect from him by the way I handled myself and the situations,” Thigpen said.

“I’ll continue to love this game after I’m done playing. But playing in the NFL you look at it differently. It’s still a game, but it’s definitely a business. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s not in the league, how much of a cutthroat business it is.”

Thigpen went 1-10 as a starter for a poor Kansas City Chiefs team in his second year in the league in 2008 but put up respectable numbers, throwing for 2,608 yards with 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 54.8 completion percentage. He also rushed for 386 yards and three touchdowns.

He was just 3 of 8 for 25 yards with an interception last season. “Being a backup, the only playing time you get is in the preseason. … I’m definitely a quarterback who is a repetition guy. The more reps you get the more comfortable you feel in the offense and reading defenses. When you’re a backup you have to learn how to take mental reps.

“… Each and every year I’ve been in the league I feel I’ve learned a lot more. Whatever you can learn to get better you take that with you.”

The Bills open the season Sunday at the New York Jets, and Thigpen believes they can improve on their 6-10 record in 2011 and battle for a playoff spot. The offense is potentially potent with Fitzpatrick, No. 1 wide receiver Stevie Johnson and running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and the defense has added defensive end Mario Williams from the Houston Texans and rookie defensive back Stephon Gilmore out of South Carolina.

“For the most part I think we’ve got all the pieces to the puzzle now and we’re playing as one unit,” Thigpen said.

Although Thigpen managed to withstand challenges to his job this past offseason, he said he’s prepared for retirement from the league, whenever it may come. Thigpen, 28, is in his sixth year in the NFL.

“Obviously I don’t want it to come to that, but it’s going to come one day,” Thigpen said. “Whatever the next step in my life is, if it’s to find a real job after football, I think I could handle it. I don’t think I’ll go into in a state of depression like a lot of other guys do. Football’s all I’ve known in my life but I think I’ve set myself up well financially. I’ve been smart with my money.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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