ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The hardest part of Roscoe Parrish's most frustrating season in the NFL last year involved the Buffalo Bills' receiver trying to explain to his 8-year-old son why he wasn't getting any playing time.
Benched for four games, sparingly used in others and even stripped of his regular role as a returner, Parrish recalled the difficulty he had in coming up with any firm answer to satisfy his biggest fan, Roscoe Parrish III.
"The only thing I could tell him was, well, I didn't know what to say," Parrish said after practice Monday. "He's so competitive. And by him not seeing me playing, I knew it kind of hurt him."
Based on how this preseason has gone so far, Parrish's phone calls home should go far more smoothly this year.
The invisible man in Buffalo no longer, Parrish is suddenly feeling revitalized by having secured the slot receiver's job in first-year coach Chan Gailey's newly introduced offensive scheme. It's a role that Gailey pegged for Parrish since spring, and one that should allow the undersized — he's generously listed at 5 feet 9 — but speedy player to use his abilities to exploit mismatches against slower defenders.
The sixth-year NFL player proved that in a 35-20 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, when he scored on a 12-yard catch by getting free over the middle and outrunning linebacker Dhani Jones to the end zone. And it's been evident in Parrish's numbers through three preseason games, in which he's tied for the team lead with seven catches and second with 82 yards.
"Everything's been going pretty good, I must say. You've seen that I've been more involved than in recent years here," Parrish said. "I'm just taking advantage of my opportunities right now."
The difference is that Parrish is finally getting a real opportunity, which is something that couldn't be said for the player in his previous five seasons in Buffalo since being selected in the second round of the 2005 draft out of Miami.
Though a threat in the return game, Parrish could never find his niche as a receiver. His best season came in 2007, when he had 35 catches for 352 yards and a touchdown with three starts in 16 games.
The low point was last season, when Parrish became an afterthought in Buffalo's passing attack following the addition of Terrell Owens. He was then benched for four straight games, a move which immediately followed a 6-3 loss to Cleveland, during which Parrish muffed a punt that set up the Browns' winning field goal.
He finished with three catches for 34 yards in 12 games.
"Right now is right now," Parrish said, keeping his focus forward. "We've got a different approach and I'm just looking forward to this season."
It's the same approach Gailey is taking.
When informed of Parrish's limited role last season, the coach said, "I don't know anything about that."
As for this season?
"I'm not just comfortable, I'm excited about Roscoe Parrish and what he's going to bring to our football team," Gailey said. "We're going to work to try to make sure he's a major part of this offense."
Gailey has a track record for designing offenses around play-makers, which has become evident in how the Bills are using rookie running back C.J. Spiller in a variety of roles.
Quarterback Trent Edwards can foresee Parrish having a similar impact.
"I feel like we're putting him in good spots to win," Edwards said. "Roscoe in the slot is a tough player to stop."
Parrish remains cautious when outlining his expectations. He's had coaches talk him up before and then fail to get him involved. And he's still stung by what happened last season.
The one thing Parrish did learn was how important it was to not get down.
"Sometimes when you mope or feel sorry for yourself and your opportunity comes, you don't succeed, you don't seize the moment," he said.
For motivation, all Parrish needs to do is recall the conversations he had with his son.
"Every time I wake up and come on the field, all that lingers in my head," Parrish said. "I have to be the best that I can be, and set a good example for him, my son."