Discover more from Go Long
What Fuels Motor: Devin Singletary is the player who can lift the Bills to the Super Bowl
Think Buffalo should draft a running back? Think again. You won't even recognize the running back known as "Motor" in 2021.
Nobody enjoys reliving the worst moment of their professional life.
This isn’t exactly the first topic you want to bring up as a total stranger. Such misery could lead to one Click! on the other end of the phone or, bare minimum, this player checking out.
Yet the play must be discussed. When you think of Devin Singletary, there’s a good chance your mind races back to the 12:49 mark of the second quarter in the AFC Championship Game. That’s when the Buffalo Bills running back universally known as “Motor” took his eyes off the ball and dropped the swing pass that could’ve busted the game wide, wide open.
Catch that pass, make Tyrann Mathieu miss and… peace. See ya. The Bills take a 16-7 lead and this is a completely different game.
Instead, one play later, they punted.
Instead, coach Sean McDermott then sent Singletary right to the bench.
To so many Western New Yorkers, that drop and that sight of Singletary glaring at his hands in disbelief was all the proof the franchise ever needed to know Motor could only do so much. Super Bowl dreams effectively died right then at Arrowhead Stadium with the Bills surrendering 21 unanswered points.
And since then? Nobody’s heard much at all from Singletary. He isn’t one to spam your Instagram with nonsense and he hasn’t penned a tweet since Aug. 3, 2020. As all mocks shat into the atmosphere project running backs galore to Buffalo, as his own GM publicly rips his speed, as rumors swirl ‘n swirl and he seems more ‘n more like that stale carton of milk in the back of the fridge, the man himself is in zero rush to launch an all-out media blitz to boost his sinking public approval ratings. In truth, locking in this chat with the Bills back was a challenge because publicity — in any form — is not something Singletary seeks.
He’s a quiet dude and he’s very yes-sir, no-sir initially here.
But delicately ease into The Drop by asking Singletary if he has watched that play or buried it forever deep, deep, deep into the confines of his memory and he cuts off the question.
His voice spikes.
As if he wanted to discuss this play the entire time.
“You’ve got to play that!” Singletary says. “That hurt’s going to teach me not to keep my eyes off the ball. That hurt is only going to strengthen me. You can’t run from it. Of course, I think about it. But I grew from it. Because I can face it now. I can talk about it.”
So, no, he isn’t hanging up this phone. He isn’t afraid of his demons.
He insists he must examine the “good” and the “bad.”
“The road that I’m on,” he says, “that’s what it takes. It happened! Shit. You’ve gotta face that.”
Meanwhile, the loudest predraft battle cry you’ll hear is that the Bills absolutely, positively must draft Najee Harris! or Travis Etienne! or Javonte Williams! Right now, you’re more apt to see a Buffalonian douse their wings in ranch than say they love Singletary. It’s been the opposite. And, hell yeah, Singletary sees it. He cannot avoid it. He compares all this noise to himself watching an NBA game. He loves “talking crazy” but admits he wouldn’t have a clue where to start if he were building a team.
Right now, it sure feels like everyone’s out of the Motor business.
His voice spikes again. He’s soft spoken no more.
“There’s always going to be somebody who’s not happy,” Singletary says. “There’s always going to be somebody who’s not satisfied. And half of the time, the people who are talking about it wouldn’t stand a chance in my shoes. So, what it comes down to, is half of the things I’m doing is not to prove it to the doubters. A lot of these things I’m proving to myself. People talking all that nonsense, it comes with it.
“There’s no use giving any energy to that. Once upon a time, that would fuel me. But at this point? I’m already fueled up.”
And that’s it. That’s the key.
That’s why he attacks that KC moment with such ferocity and that’s why everyone should ignore the rumors, ignore the mocks and put no stock in general manager Brandon Beane saying neither Singletary or Zack Moss are home-run hitters. Fight the temptation to believe the grass is greener on the other side because right here is the answer to Buffalo taking the next step and winning at Arrowhead: A fully fueled-up “Motor.”
By the time he’s back in Orchard Park, NY, nobody is going to recognize Devin Singletary.
He’s been quite busy since that drop because what does fuel Singletary is currently taking him to a new level.
That KC drop.
His 1-year-old son.
His two cousins who were never able to sniff a NFL Sunday.
His “big brother,” Greg Bryant, who was shot and killed.
His raw desire to be one of the best players in the league.
“I want to be great. I want to be remembered as one of the best,” Singletary says. “I could go on and on about what fuels me.”
So, he starts at the top.
That opportunity in an AFC title game can be taken away at any moment.
Singletary knows this better than anyone.
Singletary knows his two cousins — two names you haven’t heard before — would do anything to be in his cleats.
Cortney Brooks was one of the best players in his entire neighborhood, a future star quarterback. Yet he was forced to quit the sport due to a heart condition. Whenever his heart got too worked up, Singletary says, he’d pass out.
“He could’ve gone far,” Singletary says. “There’s no telling. There’s no limits on what he could’ve done.”
Brooks is doing well today. He details cars and does lawn service but everyone back home knows what could’ve been.
Then, there was Adrian Witty. He’s five years older than Motor and essentially introduced the sport to him. In the backyard, they used to roughhouse on a slab of carpet. In the frontyard, at his cousin’s command, a young Motor would bob ‘n weave ‘n cut through the line of bushes like they were linemen. And as early as three years old, Singletary didn’t just attend every one of Witty’s youth games. As soon as the game was over, he’d strap on his cousin’s sweaty helmet, shoulder pads, everything. He idolized Witty because, like Brooks, Witty was destined for greatness.
Off to the University of Cincinnati Witty went with his blistering 4.4 speed.
Then, injuries ruined everything.
In ’14, he tore his groin. All training camp, Witty was the only DB who refused to take a day off. He’d tell the trainers something wasn’t right — he felt some soreness in this region — but Witty says he “kept pushing, kept pushing, kept pushing” and those trainers failed to protect him from himself. And in Game No. 1, vs. Toledo, there he was defending a receiver on a 12-yard comeback route. Witty cut when the receiver cut and… pop. Season over.
Nights were the worst. He recalls writhing in pain so loudly his wife thought he was having nightmares.
He worked his way back. He was determined to put it all together his sixth year at Cincy.
And on Sept. 19, 2015 — a day forever etched in his memory — Witty’s leg literally snapped in half.
Go ahead and replay his broken fibula (and dislocated ankle) here but, please, only if you haven’t eaten breakfast yet. The commentator even utters a horrified “Oh my goodness” as teammates all bend a knee in sorrow. What stings most? To this day? Witty knows he shouldn’t have even been on the field. Most of that game, he was on the sideline with a sore hamstring but with the game tied at 30-30 and only eight minutes left, he says, “coaches got edgy.”
He sucked it up and ran onto the field.
“And that was the exact play that ended it all for me,” Witty says. “It’s hard to live with.”
His eyes filled with tears. Not because the bottom part of his leg had snapped like a twig, no, Witty cried because of all the work that went into getting back. Two days later, he had a four-inch plate and a “tightrope” surgically implanted into his leg to speed up the healing process. By the spring, he could run a 40. He could bench press. But Witty couldn’t change direction at all so he reluctantly told all NFL teams inquiring about a workout, Thanks, but no thanks.
Today, he’s a behavioral tech at Deerfield Beach High School and a youth football coach.
He’s unbelievably optimistic, too. Four days ago, Witty shared a video of that fateful injury on Facebook in hopes his words would inspire someone out there. Three days ago, he talked to Singletary for an hour-plus on the phone. He’s still trying to share every nugget of wisdom he can with his little cousin. This time, Witty told Singletary that he still has those “What could have been?” moments, that he still wishes he could’ve somehow worked out for one NFL team. Just one.
He never got that chance. Motor, however, did. Motor listened to his cousin who said he’d need to be “phenomenal” at Florida Atlantic, need to be “Jesus” to get noticed as a 5-foot-7 back in Conference USA. And all Motor did was rush for 4,287 yards and 66 touchdowns in 38 games to get drafted 74th overall by the Bills.
“I’m always on him,” Witty says. “Because I want the best for him.”
This thin line was never lost on Singletary, how easily everything could’ve ended with one awkward collision.
“It showed me not to take what I was blessed with for granted,” Singletary says. “I know my cousin would give anything to be in my shoes just to taste the NFL, just to get a game. They would do anything. You know what I’m saying? So, that’s it. That in my head alone just fuels me not to take a day off, not to ever take it for granted. Not one play. That’s just how much respect I’ve got for the game. That’s what it’s done for me and my mindset.”
And finally, there’s Greg Bryant.
No career lost had a greater impact on Singletary than this life lost on May 7, 2016. Bryant was the starting running back at American Heritage (Fla.) H.S., two years ahead of Singletary. He wasn’t just a mentor. He was a “big brother.” He supplied more fuel than Singletary will ever comprehend. When Singletary scored his first touchdown in high school, Bryant immediately told Motor that he’d be better than him one day if he could just believe one thing and one thing only: That he’s the best damn player on the field.
No doubt, the future looked unlimited for Bryant, too. After being ruled academically ineligible at Notre Dame, he was just restarting his college football career at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The plan was to star at UAB when the school relaunched its football program in ’17 and, then, star in the NFL.
He returned home to surprise his Mom on Mother’s Day Weekend.
He was killed.
At 4:30 a.m., Bryant left a West Palm Beach nightclub in his stepfather’s Chrysler and at 4:45 a.m., on Interstate 95, an unknown assailant fired several times into the vehicle. One day later, Bryant was declared brain dead and his family made the decision to take him off life support. To this day, the murder is a mystery. Police ruled it a homicide, never honed in a suspect and Bryant’s mother is still left without answers. That weekend, the 21-year-old was telling everyone who’d listen how jacked he was for UAB.
He was going back to school the next day.
“It was tough, bro,” Singletary says. “It was tough. It was tough.”
Singletary still remembers getting the news from his Dad around 6 a.m. He was half-asleep. He didn’t want to believe it. He never was able to say goodbye. And when he thinks back to How? and Why? and tries to make sense of such a senseless murder, he can’t. As far as he knows, Bryant never hung around bad crowds in South Florida. He says Bryant didn’t have any enemies but did hear that this could’ve been a case of mistaken identity, of retribution gone wrong.
Right then, Singletary quit staying out late. Period. He slowed his life down to a crawl.
As the eerie sound of a police siren blares, Singletary imagines everything Bryant lost that weekend.
“He was right there at the door,” Singletary says. “He was knocking at the door.”
His voice trails off and so does the sound of that siren.
Singletary prays to Bryant before every game. He’s certain his “big brother” is watching over him.
And this, of course, is real fuel.
Not Mock 19.0. Not a Todd McShay report that the Bills want Etienne. Singletary believes he needs to shine in the NFL for these three loved ones and, honestly, that could be a 1,000-pound burden to carry. A burden that spirals Singletary into a dark place. We’ve seen this before in Buffalo. Sammy Watkins really struggled with the pressure of making it for everyone back in Ft. Myers, Fla. When his brother became entangled in a RICO investigation… he cracked. He drank. And drank. And slipped into depression.
Bring this up to Singletary and he says being able to talk to his cousins helps.
“To hear how they’re doing now — and their take on it — that’s one way I’m not just going through depression,” Singletary says. “I’m surrounded by love. If I’ve got a problem, I’ve got people I can talk to. I’ve got people who are there for me. That’s one way I can cope with it. And another way, when I work out, I just put it all in the workout. It clears my mind. For real. It’s therapeutic to be honest. It’s almost like rappers who go in the booth and let it all out. That’s how I am on the field or in the gym.”
When he needs to get hyped, he’ll play a Lil Baby or Kodak Black verse.
If he’s in an old-school mood, he’ll fire up the Teddy Pendergrass.
Either way, he locks in. Always. And Singletary has never been more locked in his entire life than he has these last 2 ½ months.
His outlook is sharp, and that’s great.
But to be one of the best? To truly attack that KC moment? He needed some tough love.
Once last season ended, there was no sugarcoating it. The numbers didn’t lie. Only three of Devin Singletary’s 156 runs went longer than 20 yards last season. Three.
Backs like this do not last long in the NFL.
Change was needed.
So when the running back’s agent, Tony Richardson, got in touch with trainer Nick Hicks and Hicks — the Running Back Whisperer of this generation — started hammering him with tough love? Damn right Singletary was all for it. Singletary didn’t hide from that KC drop so he sure wasn’t going to hide from any hard truths Hicks uncovered breaking his film down to a science. Hicks, who has worked magic with backs like Dalvin Cook, J.K. Dobbins and Jerick McKinnon, supplied what he calls a “humbling assessment” of Singletary’s game: Too much dancing, too slow, no explosion.
And Singletary embraced it all.
Singletary — 2 ½ months later — is now a different running back.
“He has completely dominated the offseason,” Hicks says. “He’s so much faster, so much more explosive. He’s got all the shakes. He’s got all the agilities. He’s got all of the jukes. But he didn’t have the burst. He was lacking that.”
Four days a week, two hours a day at PER4ORM, they hit the lab. On Mondays, they’ll drive the sled to feed explosion. Throughout the week, Singletary masters every type of cut imaginable: the sweep cut, jump cut, skinny cut and hesi-burst. The emphasis, always, is to get north and south so every drill is timed. On Thursdays, they’ll fine-tune “back-end speed.” That is, Hicks taught Singletary how to run because, frankly, Hicks says Singletary never was before. His mechanics were shot.
“It’s just been, ‘Hey, Motor, here’s this football. I want you to run as fast as you can to the other side of the field,’” Hicks says. “And that’s about as much technique he’s ever been taught. That’s what we’ve been really plugging — speed, speed, speed.”
Which all sounds too good to be true, right? The NFL player going full Rocky with his own Mick is not a new tale. Explosion and speed sure seem more nature than nurture, too. Traits a human being either possesses or does not. You’d think Singletary essentially is what he is at this point physically.
Not so, Hicks says.
He’s adamant that everything is “trainable.”
Start with explosion. Singletary’s greatest gift is elusiveness but, too often, he overplayed his hand. Too often, he juked himself right out of the frame. All of those dancin’ numbers — while perfect for any wedding, any Saturday night — muddy explosion.
“Motor’s got all the tools to just break one guy down in the open field and make him look like he’s never played football before,” Hicks says. “But sometimes, you don’t have to do that. It’s all about explosive plays. I look at Motor’s explosive plays, man, and there’s not many. I think he has one carry over 30 yards for his career. That speaks volumes. We’re not getting explosive plays. Why? Because we’re doing too much when all we need to do is just enough and then, also, you’re not accelerating through your cut. You need to put your foot in the ground and just go.”
So, this was No. 1: Harnessing what Singletary does as well as any back in the league.
Because this brake system, Hicks says, is “elite.” He’ll plant a foot and embarrass DBs.
“That old-school, Reggie Bush dead leg,” Hicks says, “where he would just throw his foot in the ground and the guy would get wiped off the screen. Motor has a lot of disgusting breaks. He can be full speed to the corner, slam his right leg into the ground and cut right back on you on a dime. Now it’s understanding that, as soon as I put that foot in the ground, I need to accelerate full speed back across the field as opposed to just lulling out of that break and perusing down field. More of a sense of urgency.
“That is what you’re going to see this year with him running the football: A sense of urgency.”
As for raw speed? Even a running back at this stage of life — one with 1,021 carries through college and the pros — can get faster.
Hicks emphasizes the “angles” of the body. Hicks taught Singletary how to strike behind his pelvic region to drive downfield, instead of popping straight up. Instead of instantly losing all RPMs. He often cites Adrian Peterson with all of his backs because when AP was AP, Hicks says, he’d hit a crease, “throw his shoulders to the ground” and violently pump his arms to leave defenders in the dust.
Now, Singletary is running lower to the ground and gradually climbing. Like an airplane taking off.
With those arms chopping.
“If you’re actually having a slow arm pump,” Hicks says, “your legs aren’t going to turn over fast. He had a lethargic arm pump. He’d kind of just throw the hands back as opposed to really hammering back and being explosive — driving the elbow backward. Once that happens, man, you really do find another gear.”
There’s good reason to believe in this transformation. Look no further than the QB right in Buffalo’s backfield. Exactly one year ago, Josh Allen was correcting something else we all believed to be inherent: accuracy. After finishing dead-last in completion percentage, Allen worked with a positional guru (Jordan Palmer), changed his throwing motion and saw his completion percentage jump from 58.8 to 69.2 percent.
If Allen can magically find accuracy, why can’t Singletary find speed?
Mid-convo, Hicks starts sending clip after clip to prove it’s possible.
Back in Buffalo, Singletary was doing far too much “hopping,” he explains. Right here, he needs to make one cut and go.
He shows another clip. This time, it’s Dalvin Cook. What he loves about Cook is his decisiveness, how he’ll almost rub shoulders with defenders. That can be the difference between a 5-yard run and a 50-yard run.
Next comes that “hesi” burst. One quick jump, one “hesi,” and he’s out.
“There’s no wasted movement,” Hicks says. “It’s just understanding that we need to make the guy miss and then we need to move on.”
This methodology works. Cook is obviously one of the best backs in the NFL. Different drills are tailored to different backs, too. Dobbins had the requisite burst but ran out of gas downfield out of Ohio State. He’d just… die. So, Hicks drilled “sprint endurance” with Dobbins last offseason and Dobbins was so good his rookie season that one of his college teammates (corner Jeff Okudah) started training at PER4ORM.
No, Singletary isn’t doing the same old “bullshit running back drills” here, Hicks promises.
Now, the kid who doesn’t say much, who hasn’t come close to making a bold proclamation in Buffalo, vows to bring a “Stephen Curry” mentality in 2021. He’ll fly around, nonstop. If he doesn’t have the ball, Singletary doesn’t want to be a spectator. He’ll sprint toward the ball every play.
He’ll chase greatness. He wants to be one of the best ever. Really.
Says Singletary: “Why not? Why else am I doing it? Just to be out here? ‘I’m here, in the NFL, that’s cool.’ No! I’m working. That’s what I’m working for. I’m not going to speak for everybody but if you’re that type of dude — let’s say a Diggs, with what he’s been through — that’s what his mindset was. If I don’t believe it first. Nobody else will.”
Nobody should confuse Singletary’s mellow demeanor for apathy. He believes he has that same manic desire everyone knows Diggs possesses.
“I’m about action,” Singletary says. “That’s always been my mindset, my mentality.
“I’m going to show you.”
Bring on Etienne. Bring on Harris. Singletary couldn’t care less. He’s going to show everyone what’s up in 2021. He will be a completely different running back — Hicks is sure of it. That jukin’ juker doing far too much “tippy-toeing” around the hole is long gone.
The emphasis at PER4ORM, Hicks adds, is to make quick decisions quickly.
“That’s what they’re going to see,” Hicks says, “Which sucks because I’m a Dolphins fan and I know he’s going to tear us up. He is going to have a career year. One-hundred percent.”
Throw a number at Hicks, ask if he’ll hit 1,200 yards and Hicks starts running the math equation in his head. That 4.66 in the 40-yard dash out of college was deceiving, he says, because Singletary didn’t even train for the 40 at his previous training complex. And he’s way faster than he was then. And he dropped 5 percent body fat. And he’s strong as an ox. Hicks shoots another video over. On this one, the 205-pound Singletary is squatting 550 pounds.
So, no question, 1,200 yards is “very, very, very feasible,” Hicks says. He fully expects Singletary to bust free for six runs of 30 yards, four runs of 40 yards, two of 50 yards.
Hicks sees a daily sense of urgency out of Singletary, too, like Singletary knows the Bills’ patience is running thin.
Like he knows he must produce in Year 3.
“They’re going to see a different Motor,” Hicks says. “They’re going to see, literally, a different motor from Motor.
“That’s for damn sure.”
He still thinks about KC. When temps rise into the 90s with Hicks or when he’s getting another life lesson from Witty, his mind inevitably drifts back to that second quarter.
Not in a bad way. The Drop never haunts him.
He invites this memory.
“I know what the hurt feels like,” he says. “I’m not scared of the hurt anymore. Let’s go.”
Because if the AFC Championship felt like a blowout to you, if you believe that drop was inconsequential, Singletary disagrees. Singletary believes that if he catches that swing pass, everything changes.
“I’m bringing juice now!” Singletary says. “I could’ve sparked something in somebody else. Now, we’re going for six. Damn sure, I’m thinking like that.”
That’s how he’s always been, too. One year prior, Singletary felt the same way out of Buffalo’s playoff collapse in Houston. That 38-yard reception with four minutes left took up residency inside his mind all offseason because he knew he could’ve cut against the grain for more.
So you better believe the chance at this play in this moment in Year 3 is what’s driving him daily in Florida. It’s time to put all of this work to use. Singletary knows he can be the ultimate counterpunch that catapults Buffalo into a Super Bowl.
Take this to the bank: Every single defense Buffalo faces in 2021 will sit back to defend the pass.
Allen’s Year 3 was sublime. Allen’s Year 3 — 4,965 total yards, 45 touchdowns — was MVP-worthy. As a result, defensive coordinators will now perch both of their safeties back in coverage. Because, also, these Bills displayed zero interest in running the ball. Why should anyone respect the run when the Bills haven’t respected it much themselves? Such logic worked just fine through November and December but then the playoffs arrived. Buffalo kept throwing…and throwing…and throwing… and its juggernaut offense completely broke down against Baltimore and Kansas City.
Quite possibly, the only way to slay Patrick Mahomes is to keep him on the sideline. As Singletary politely points out, that’s what Tampa Bay did in the Super Bowl. Now that Allen and Diggs and Beasley have given the entire football world a year’s worth of film terrorizing defenses through the air and now that the Bills themselves saw firsthand how neglecting the ground game can backfire, you have to think there will at least be an effort in 2021 to run, to let these linemen move forward instead of backwards, to let Singletary find that Florida Atlantic rhythm.
Last postseason, he carried the ball just six, seven and six times.
Next postseason, he could be the Mahomes antidote.
“Of course, as a running back, you kind of want to get in a rhythm,” Singletary says. “But some games it was easy, some games it was harder to do that. My thing was — my mindset always was — I’m staying ready. When the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to be ready for the opportunity. When you got that mindset, there’s nothing else that can knock you off your pivot. That’s the mindset to have.
“When you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
“Big things are coming. That’s been my mindset.”
He left his final meeting with coaches feeling optimistic, like the run game would play a larger role in the offense moving forward. Soon, Singletary will get to reintroduce himself to the world and he cannot wait.
Hicks can picture it now. Hicks sees rushing lanes parting like the sea and Singletary hitting that new gear.
Witty does, too. Witty first needs to get something off his chest. When Singletary told him last season the Bills’ system simply did not feature the run game, he lost it.
“I was like, ‘Do they not understand what a motor does?’” Witty says. “In order for a motor to be used at his best ability, he’s got to be running. He can’t just be stalling. That’s how he works, that’s how he operates. You’ve got to feed him, feed him, feed him. I asked him about it and he said he had a nice little talk with the coach at the end of the season. Going into this year, he was saying things should shift a little bit.
“Let the guy run. He didn’t excel at FAU like that because they ran the ball twice. No. They fed, fed, fed, fed. It might not be the first one. It might be the seventh one he goes. That’s what I don’t understand. C’mon! Keep feeding. Keep feeding. Keep feeding.”
Then, Witty assures that Singletary is more driven now than ever.
“He definitely has a chip on his shoulder,” Witty says. “I can tell you that.”
You sure can sense that chip in conversation with Singletary. He vows to do everything he possibly can in 2021, be it crush a blitzing safety, plow ahead for one yard on third and 1 or, of course, take that swing pass to the house.
He’ll be the game-changer. He’ll make things happen.
It’s true he has fans in high places. The owner of the team has been watching Singletary longer than anybody else at One Bills Drive — Terry Pegula’s kids attended the same high school. A year after missing Mahomes, Pegula got his guy in Singletary. And when the running back was a rookie, he says Pegula even gave him a few pointers, that he’d tell him to be quicker out of his routes.
“That’s amazing when the owner likes you,” Singletary says, “but when it comes to business, it kind of doesn’t matter.”
So, he’ll stay fueled up. He’ll think of his 1-year-old son. He knows Myles is already looking up to him every second of every day and that has completely changed his purpose in life.
He’s talking to Brooks and Witty and following their wisdom.
He’s saying his prayers to Bryant.
He says he’s blessed with a “gift” and — in 2021 and beyond — he does not intend to waste it.
The draft begins Thursday night.
Chances are, Devin Singletary won’t catch a second of it, either.
Miss any of our past Bills features at Go Long?