After Mario Watch, OTAs, mini camps and plenty of water cooler chatter, the Bills are finally at camp. For the first time in a number of years, it is a camp that is opening with quite a bit of promise.
Mario Williams is going to garner most of the attention this summer as fans will be salivating at what he is expected to bring to the Bills defense this season. In addition to Williams, the improvements that have been made to the Bills defense are expected to bring drastic change to a unit that has been largely ineffective the past few years. That change has also turned the spotlight to the offense in some respects.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s up-and-down 2011 season has left some questioning his long-term effectiveness as a starting quarterback. Buffalo’s hodgepodge of free agents, late picks and undrafted wide receivers is also a talking point for many fans as the team heads to Rochester.
Training camp is all about evaluation and preparation. Every player is under a microscope as the coaches are tasked with turning 80+ names into 53. Even players who are expected to fill starting roles are in a position where they need to perform while also setting themselves up for success for the upcoming season. Just ask Peerless Price what happens when you alligator arm your way through camp.
While I have and will continue to run through the various position and individual battles in this space, I want to take the opportunity to run through a few of the marquee topics at this year’s camp. The fight for the starting left tackle position, corner back and the number two wide receiver role are all things I’ll cover at length. Today I’ll just stick to the big names and expected strengths that should continue to grow during camp.
Mario Williams and Mark Anderson represent an explosive duo for the Bills to trot out on just about every down. Should Shawne Merriman do enough to make the team, he will add to the glut of pass rushing talent. I fully expect all three ends to make their fair share of highlight reel plays in practice and the preseason –much like Merriman did last season.
This pass rush front appears to be the most dangerous one the Bills have boasted since Bryce Paup and Bruce Smith were coming off the edge together in the late 90s.
Thunder and Lightning:
When C.J. Spiller was drafted I immediately thought that he and Marshawn Lynch might serve as a very interesting one-two combo. Of course, Lynch was the one who was deemed to be expendable and Fred Jackson took over the starting job.
Jackson’s value to the franchise is immense. When the Buffalo running attack was neutralized, the offense sputtered. When Jackson was running free, the offense was dynamic. Spiller’s arrival as a serious threat last season proved that the Bills have a pair of dangerous backs. Now they will need to make sure to exploit that weapon. Hopefully training camp provides a window as to where the offense may be headed.
Perhaps the most stable positions the Bills have are at DT and the interior of the offensive line. Eric Wood has established himself as a bona fide professional at center. He is physical, plays with a mean streak and is plain old talented. Andy Levitre, Chad Rinehart and Kraig Urbik are also physical specimens who are mainstays on the interior of the offensive line.
On the flipside, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are the easy choices as the week one starters at defensive tackle. Williams has turned into a phenomenal nose tackle since being a mid-round selection and Dareus has a number of star qualities to his game. Being capable of playing over the nose or three technique is just one of them.
There is no position battle at any of those three positions (C, G or DT) but it sure will be fun to watch those six players battle once the pads go on.
Early Returns on Gilmore:
Stephon Gilmore was the safe pick at the draft. He wasn’t a reach and he wasn’t flashy. He was just safe. However, all reports from spring practices indicate that he has a chance to serve as a difference maker as a rookie. There are plenty of talented corners battling for a starting role, but it would seem that Gilmore may have an inside track on one of the two spots already.
Creative Options for Gailey:
There are a few names on the roster who are probably long shots to make the 53-man squad. However, those names might also give the Bills some interesting weapons should they earn a spot. For example, Dorin Dickerson. He is a fast, talented hybrid fullback/h-back/tight end who will have an uphill battle to make the roster. However, his versatility could turn him into a weapon in Gailey’s offense. I’m thinking of something similar to a big, fast TE who can be split out wide – think Aaron Hernandez.
Vince Young and Brad Smith also fall into this category for me because of their wildcat quarterback traits. Smith was used in the wildcat last season with some limited success. I see Young as a more dangerous run-pass option who can be used in wildcat packages, just with a real threat to throw the football. Maybe Smith and Young aren’t long shots to make the team, but what kind of role they fill this season is certainly up in the air.