Wednesday July 29th, 2009

SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country for the next 18 days, starting with the Bills today and ending with the 49ers in mid-August.

On the campus of St. John Fisher College in a bucolic Anytown USA suburb a few miles southeast of Rochester. Lots of bike trails and golf courses nearby; you can tell this is where a lot of Kodak and Bausch & Lomb executives settled.

If any team doubts the importance of going to a small college campus for training camp, just come here. The joint is jumping with love for the Bills -- to be fair, interest has shot up 30 to 40 percent because of the presence of Terrell Owens, the first real star here since Drew Bledsoe -- creating an atmosphere that's so good for the fans, and for football. Bleachers and/or tents and picnic tables adorn the field-turf practice field on three sides and the crowd can see everything. It's a vocal crowd, too. Very T.O.-centric. VIDEO: Peter King drops in on the Bills

1. The Bills will go as far as the offensive line takes them. Sounds funny, with Owens here for a year along with game-breakers Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish. But every spot on the offensive line will be manned by a different player than a year ago. Assuming rookie Eric Wood of Louisville, who signed July 29, wins the right guard job, look for the starters to be Brad Butler at right tackle and Langston Walker at left, Wood and Kirk Chambers or rookie Andy Levitre at guard and free-agent Geoff Hangartner anchoring the line at center. "I like what I see,'' coach Dick Jauron said. "But it is a totally new area for us.''

2. I have no idea how Trent Edwards is going to distribute the ball fairly. You'd think he has to get Evans and T.O. 70 catches apiece, minimum. And Parrish is such a dangerous gamebreaker (except for his almost weekly mental lapses, like turning four-yard shallow crosses into nine-yarders) that he has to get the ball more. Then there's slot receiver Josh Reed, who has made a nice comeback from a lousy early career in Buffalo.

Plus, don't forget the crowded backfield, where Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes figure to be adequate subs for Marshawn Lynch during his three-game, season-opening suspension. That's not to mention the tight ends; it's going to be tough to get them enough balls.

Look for Evans' production to slide. He told me earnestly (at least he sounded earnest) that he can live with a drop into the 50s if the Bills are winning, but that's what they all say in July.

3. Get Parrish the ball. It doesn't matter how. The fact is, there's no excuse for Parrish -- as dangerous as Devin Hester with the ball in his hands -- to touch the ball fewer than 150 times a year. Last year he touched it 49 times (24 receptions, 21 punt returns, two rushes and two kickoff returns). That's not nearly enough. There's significant debate among the Buffalo hierarchy about what to do with Parrish. It sounds to me like the scouting staff wants to feature him more in Wildcat-type and field-spreading short receptions, just so he can try to make things happens in the open field. Bottom line: Even though he makes too many mental mistakes, there's no better example of a player who's not being used enough in the NFL today.

Wide receiver Terrell Owens. Other than T.O., the Bills haven't changed much from last year's squad. Rhodes adds a valuable backup option in the backfield and most of the offensive line is brand new, but Owens is the only impact player GM Russ Brandon imported this offseason.

What we can't know now is how Owens and the other offensive weapons on this team will react when fighting for one football. But I do know this: Owens is supremely motivated to be a positive force on this team. He's 35. He's working on a one-year contract. In his first years in Philadelphia (2004) and Dallas (2006), he scored a total of 27 touchdowns in 30 games. I'd argue he's under even more pressure to be a good soldier this year because he wants there to be a next year.

So far, so good. Owens will likely play consistently on the outside of Evans with two accomplished slot players inside. My gut feeling is Edwards will probably throw around 130 balls T.O.'s way this year. How many of those he catches will dictate his happiness.

Tight end Shawn Nelson, fourth round, Southern Mississippi.

This is a position of long-term significant need for the Bills, and until Nelson got kicked in practice early this week and missed several sessions, the 6-5 240-pound kid was on course to be an impact player in his first year.

He put together a highly productive college career -- 157 catches for a 13.1-yard average in 52 college games -- and the Bills plan on giving him every chance to be a major part of their offensive packages this year, particularly when they're not in the no-huddle.

See below for a description of nutty crowds going crazy for a 35-year-old wide receiver.

The cafeteria for players, coaches and staff at Bills camp is one of the finest in the league, and it didn't disappoint at lunch Wednesday.

Went to the stir-fry section with Bills' assistant PR man Dominick Rinelli and SI multi-media coordinator Helin Jung, and Helin, making her first appearance at an NFL training camp, was salivating at the sight of the fresh broccoli, summer squash, carrots, bok choi, mushrooms, shrimp, beef and chicken. She collected her thoughts well enough to order a massive plate of the stir fry with the tangy garlic sauce, as did I.

I know I need to rate several meals over the next few weeks, so I don't want to be too lofty too early, but this dish earned a solid 'A'.

Mixed fresh fruit (raspberries, blackberries, cantaloupe, pineapple) followed along with filtered water.

Before she left the cafeteria, Helin also glommed onto a Choco-Taco in the Bills' plentiful ice cream area. I was good. I stuck with a little of the frozen yogurt.

Total grade: A. What a great way to start the camp trip.

1. The crowds here love Owens like they haven't loved anyone since Bruce Smith. Or Jim Kelly. Or maybe Thurman Thomas. On Saturday, when Owens went out to stretch for his first practice as a Bill, one fan shouted, "Way to stretch, T.O.!" The honeymoon is on. I told Dick Jauron the whole scene reminded me of Mannywood at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where Dodger fans have forgiven Manny Ramirez all past transgressions and are there to worship him whether he homers or strikes out. That's how hungry these fans are for a winner. And for a star.

2. There's no question in my mind the coaching staff, the offense and perhaps some of the front office will be overhauled by impatient owner Ralph Wilson unless this team finishes over .500.

3. Owens, according to one front office source, "was a broken man" when the Cowboys cut him and Buffalo began negotiating with him in the spring. He looked anything but broken in the two practices I saw. He was happy and loving the fan adulation.

4. The Bills' schedule is a killer. They open at New England Monday night, come home to face Tampa on a short week, then get to deal with the Drew Brees passing circus the following week. I do like the Patriots and Colts at home in the last three weeks of the season.

5. With how good the AFC East is, everything is going to have to go right for this team to win 10 or more games. And I mean everything.

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