Upgrades along the line set Bills up for offensive success

You might say that everything has been laid at EJ Manuel’s feet for the upcoming season, but that’s what everyone is saying. Mainly because it’s the truth.

The message was made pretty clear at the draft with the trade up to select Sammy Watkins and the additional investment in offensive players like Bryce Brown, Mike Williams and even Anthony Dixon. Albeit, Dixon is more of a special teams addition than anything else. Where Whaley really invested this offseason was along the line. While adding Watkins and Williams adds even more depth and talent to the receiving corps, the line could see major changes take hold. Since the Bills are boosting their offensive line-up, expect that oddsmakers will surely consider them as a contenders with official NFL betting lines moving in their favor this season, having fans and fantasy pickers taking notice.

Between the signing of Chris Williams, the expected return of a healthy Chris Hairston and draft picks Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson, the Bills two-deep could undergo some serious changes. Continue reading

Field goals: Receivers battle down to two spots

The Buffalo Bills have assembled a receiving corps worthy of a cameo in Major League. It is a rag-tag group of former misfit toys that have come together to become a rather formidable group.

Looking at their draft status and pedigree, it would be easy to say “They’re shitty” or “Who the hell are these guys?”, but the group led by Stevie Johnson turned out to be one of the most consistent groups for the Bills last year.

However, while most of the cream has risen to the top, there are a few spots open and a number of players vying for the roster spot. The battle to round out the Bills’ receiving corps is as open of a race as you could find at most NFL camps.

Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, T.J. Graham and Donald Jones are all but assured a spot on the opening day roster. The remaining seven players – Kamar Aiken, David Clowney, Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin, Naaman Roosevelt and Derek Session – are all clawing for a precious roster spot.

An assumed roster breakdown would have the Bills keeping six receivers on the 53-man roster, with Brad Smith filling a versatile WR/QB spot. Continue reading

Field Goals: Bills defensive line set for drastic change

The Buffalo Bills defensive front has undergone a massive transition this season. Both in scheme and regarding personnel. Training camp will provide fans, coaches and media the chance to see the new, deeper Bills defensive line.

When Dave Wannstedt decided to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3, it ensured that the Bills two most dominant lineman would be on the field on nearly every down. While Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus each played a significant role in George Edwards’ porous 3-4 front, they will be able to anchor the defensive interior in an even front.

Think back to the dominance the Bills enjoyed with Pat Williams and Sam Adams or Ted Washington in the middle of their defense. That is what Wannstedt is toying with by allowing those two to line up side-by-side.

Obviously signing Mario Williams galvanized the rest of the front from a talent standpoint. With that one signing, the Bills went from having little pop in terms of pass rushing, to an elite, superstar talent rushing off the edge. Adding Mark Anderson and the speculation that Shawne Merriman has returned to full health provides even more talent on the edge.

In total, the Bills only added two new players. But they represent a 50% change for the defensive front. At the beginning of the year, the Bills were lining up Dwan Edwards, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus with their hands in the dirt with a mix of either Alex Carrington, Spencer Johnson, Chris Kelsay or Merriman mixed in one way or another. Penciling in the 2012 starters would put Anderson, Kyle Williams, Dareus and Mario Williams down on the front four. Obviously, Kelsay will factor into that competition along with a few others. Regardless, that is an impressive turnover for a defense that struggled mightily in 2011.

Training camp is going to provide an interesting for a number of players, specifically those who aren’t penciled in as week one starters. A few – namely Danny Batten and Dwan Edwards – are facing an uphill battle after being specifically acquired to play in a 3-4 scheme. Others, like Torrel Troup, will simply be battling for a roster spot. Continue reading

Field Goals: Backup quaterback battle

Field Goals will be a feature on different Bills topics leading up to and through training camp. If all goes well, I’ll break down the topic before offering three points to the focal point of what I’ve written. Get it? Three points…field goal…

It is the position battle everyone is going to be watching. Ironically, the position battle between Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young could boil down to who ends up holding the clipboard in 2012.

There was no secret that Young was brought in to provide better competition for Thigpen and Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also represents a more viable option as a potential back up. Unlike Thigpen, Young has proven he is capable of winning at the NFL level. In fact, his play could eventually incite a quarterback controversy; that is a fact most came to accept once he was signed.

Considering that the entire team has only been playing in shorts and helmets to this point of the offseason, there isn’t much to be gleaned from how each performed during OTAs and mini-camps. The real battle will begin once the pads are on and the Bills are fully into their preseason schedule.

I’m anticipating that each will see significant time with the first, second and third-team units during the exhibition schedule. Each should get a fair shake with the second unit during practices with that performance having an impact on who has the edge entering preseason games. However, preseason games one, two and four should allow the pair to rotate through with each unit as the coaching staff makes their decision.

Young has to have the slight edge entering camp for a number of reasons. His resume all but speaks for itself , despite his struggles over the past few years. He is capable of winning games and has a versatile skillset that Thigpen just doesn’t possess.

One thing that should give Thigpen an edge is his familiarity with the offense. While Young is still learning most of the offense, this is year number two for Thigpen. While he isn’t as mobile as Young, Thigpen’s been a pupil of Chan Gailey for some time now which favors his ability to perform in this offense. Continue reading