Field Goals: Going camping

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. 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

Few positions up for grabs as Bills prep for camp

Training camp is just around the corner for the Buffalo Bills and this marks a camp that should provide a whole different look at the upcoming season.

Until this offseason, the past few years have been quite lean for Bills fans. Offseason signings were a bit more prudent and balanced rather than the type that were geared towards making strides in the win column. With so many names already inked into the starting lineup for 2012 (see: Williams, Mario), camp should serve as a tool to dig up quality depth players for the Bills. With depth being one of the main culprits for last year’s collapse; having the ability to dig up quality back-ups could go a long way for Buffalo’s success.

Training camp is a tool used to find sleepers and back-ups. No matter how strong or weak a team is expected to be, your starters are usually set by the time camp is set to open. What is different for the Bills this year is their starters are truly starters.

There is potential for a few starting spots to be taken away from the incumbent starter but, for the most part, the real battles will be for second-team roles.

Cornerback and wide receiver are the two positions with the most competition and the most room for movement. Figuring out who falls where with the linebacking corps will be an interesting competition to follow along with, along with left tackle.

The rest of the positions are going to see more competition for the second unit, with the ultimate goal of finding some diamonds in the rough for the upcoming season.

Thanks to the acquisition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Bills have the ability to keep an extremely talented group of players on the first and second team. Even the third men through on the defensive line are going to be capable of being contributors for the Bills, this is not a bad problem to have.

The interior offensive line and offensive backfield fall under the same umbrella as the defensive line. There are set starters and talented back-ups who will be vying for playing time. I expect that the players the Bills have brought in to compete to provide the Bills with plenty of options as training camp moves along. Continue reading

Next steps for the Bills

With the two most recent roster moves by the Buffalo Bills, there are a few spots remaining under the current roster limit of 90. Chris Brown of Buffalobills.com points out that the roster can stay at 90 players until August 30.

I would assume the roster will not stay at 90 (or 87 in this case) up until that date. The staff will need to pare down the roster to only include the players they really want to keep a keen eye on for the final regular season games. I fully expect to see more players released in the next few days, probably after the game against Denver.

That being said, the Bills have the opportunity to sign some help for their offensive line. Right now the group of five that is atop the depth chart stinks. They flat-out stink. Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are the only two quality players they have out there. The jury is still out on Erik Pears, but he can’t support Craig Urbik – neither can Wood. Same goes for Demetrius Bell on the left side. He is a turnstile over there. In the bright side there is help out there if the Bills are willing to sign the players.

Among the remaining free agents; Leonard Davis, Nick Kaczur, Bryant McKinnie, Max Starks and Jon Stinchcomb are all relatively attractive options. Starks reminds me too much of Cornell Green ann Davis is way past his prime. I would rule out those two. Stinchcomb has some injury issues and I feel like McKinnie could be a total flake (being from The U and all). Kaczur and McKinnie would be the two tackles I would consider. Both are capable NFL tackles who have seen plenty of success. They would bring much more stability to the Bills’ line and offer Ryan Fitzpatrick much more pass protection. They wouldn’t help in shoring up the perceived weakest spot, right guard, but I feel like Chad Rinehart or Geoff Hangartner offer better skill argue position. Not to mention a more stable tackle on the right or left side makes the entire line better.

The unfortunate part of this situation is the likelihood of the Bills to stand pat. They will sing a chorus of how happy they are with their prospects and about their ability to develop. Sadly, all that will result in are sacks and a poor running game.

Bills trim three from roster – prepare for final preseason game

After a convincing 35-20 win over Cincinnati last Saturday, the Bills head into their final tune-up before the 2010 regular season debut.

Lonnie Harvey (#72) was among the first three players cut by the Bills.

The Bills defense and special teams were still shady but the offense looked impressive in toasting the Bengals for 28 points (Reggie Corner scored the final TD on an interception). Continue reading

Where the Bills go from here

Training camp is over. The preseason is not. However, there isn’t much time left before the cuts are made.

There are numerous darkhorses to make this team among the draft picks and undrafted free agents. Plus, there are numerous position battles still waging as the Bills come back to Orchard Park.

Continue reading