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 PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) -The ever-playful Robert Royal wasn't in the mood for talking, which is a rarity when it comes to the extroverted veteran Buffalo Bills tight end who normally greets people by putting his arm around their shoulder and cheerfully asking how they're doing.
Not on Sunday and, curiously, not after he and the Bills should have been upbeat in returning for their first practice back at training camp since Royal scored two touchdowns in a 24-21 preseason win over Pittsburgh on Thursday.
Lowering his voice, Royal politely nudged the focus of conversation to the team's offense and away from himself.
``The most important thing was the fact that we were able to do a lot better than we did the previous week,'' he said. ``As an offense, you always want to see yourself making strides.''
It didn't matter to Royal that he was the one who put the strut in the Bills' step by capping their first two drives with touchdown catches of seven and 13 yards.
``No, no, no,'' Royal said. ``I'm just trying to stay modest and just remember that it's still a very long season and I don't want to look at things more than what they are. Right now, it's still early.''
The message was clear: This is only August, and Royal, entering his seventh NFL season, still has plenty to prove if he intends to keep the starting job, and also show he's capable of bouncing back after playing most of last year on a bad knee, which required offseason surgery.
``Feeling good, looking good,'' Royal said, finally breaking into a familiar grin. ``Now it's time to play good.''
Proper grammar aside, Royal's outing against Pittsburgh was encouraging for numerous reasons. Besides dispelling concerns about his knee, which kept him from taking part in the Bills spring minicamps, Royal provided preseason pop to what had been mostly an anemic passing attack.
Royal may also benefit in the short term from an injury to Robert Schouman, who missed practice Sunday and is out indefinitely with a strained left knee. Coach Dick Jauron said trainers informed him that it will be weeks before Schouman is expected to be cleared for practice.
Schouman was hurt when a teammate was knocked into him while covering a kickoff in the second quarter of the win over Pittsburgh. He limped off the field and did not return.
Both of Royal's touchdowns passes from starter Trent Edwards came on third-down situations and both in the red zone, two areas where the Bills experienced difficulty last year. On the first one, Royal made a jumping catch between two defenders near the back of the end zone. The second came when Royal made the catch at the 5-yard line, and then bulled past safety Ryan Clark before diving into the end zone.
``It gives us confidence that Robert's back,'' Jauron said. ``He's a tremendous teammate, he's a big-effort guy and he showed it.''
``It was huge,'' added Edwards. ``Rob's obviously a big physical receiver that we need to get in those situations. That's the way we score points in the red zone, is with a guy like that.''
For many reasons, Royal has not been 'that guy,' since joining the Bills as a free agent in 2006 following four seasons with Washington. In two years with Buffalo, Royal has 48 catches for 481 yards and six touchdowns.
Nagging injuries have been a factor, though Royal has not missed one game with the Bills. Another factor is how the Bills have ignored working their tight ends into the passing attack, instead using them as blockers in passing situations or halfbacks after the team went without a fullback last season.
It's evident the plan is changing under first-year offensive coordinator Turk Schonert.
Royal and Schouman have been used more in passing situations during practice. Royal first began turning heads during the first week of camp when, within the span of a half-hour, he caught two touchdown passes during team drills.
That's now translating into preseason games.
``It was good getting some touches, but at the same time I just feel like I've still got a lot to work on,'' Royal said. ``I've put in a lot of hard work this offseason. And just to see me reaping some of the benefits right now, it feels good.''
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