PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Despite owning the AFC's longest active playoff drought -- eight long years and counting -- the Buffalo Bills have some legitimate buzz surrounding them this preseason.
I'm not the only NFL pundit tabbing Buffalo as the surprise team in the AFC, but the most important thing I discovered at Bills training camp is
In the NFL, it's seldom wise to believe the hype. But it can be useful for a team to once in awhile acknowledge the raised bar of expectation, if only to ensure its reach extends beyond its grasp. That's the direction Buffalo leans these days, where ticket sales are way up, a playoff guarantee has been issued, and the selling of fresh hope starts with a quarterback entering his first full season as a starter. The Bills believe their time is now.
"The increased expectations, they're definitely worth something as a player,'' veteran Bills receiver
By far, the biggest cause for the optimism in Buffalo's camp at St. John Fisher College is the Bills' belief they've got their longstanding quarterback problem solved. Second-year man
"Trent wants to be good, and he wants to take us where we've been trying to go for a long time now,'' said Schonert, Buffalo's ex-quarterbacks coach who was elevated to coordinator this offseason after
The Bills began finding out what they had in Edwards -- who Schonert confidently told me was the steal of the 2007 draft as far back as May of that year -- early in their Week 3 game at New England. That's when he was forced to replace the injured
"I was still in shock at seeing
The Bills lost big that day, 38-7, to fall to 0-3, but they went 7-3 over their next 10 games, and even a three-game losing streak to end the season hasn't dulled the enthusiasm. This spring, Bills safety
Adding to the excitement over the Bills is the up-tempo, aggressive-minded offense Schonert has installed. Under Fairchild, Buffalo was painfully predictable, but Schonert believes in constantly challenging a defense and making it as uncomfortable as possible with the use of multiple looks and different formations. The Bills in camp are working on a no-huddle, shotgun formation that somewhat harkens back to the
"We're going to do some of the things we did in Cincinnati, but it's more just about keeping the defense off balance,'' Schonert told me. "We didn't do a lot of up tempo last year. I think they're excited about doing a little no-huddle, and those type of things. Formation-wise, I like putting people in different spots and making the defense adjust. Not just lining up the same all the time. We're going to move people around and be disruptive.''
The Bills recognize Peters, one of the game's best left tackles, is underpaid. He's set to earn $3.3 million this season, which doesn't sound bad, but actually makes him just the third-highest paid offensive lineman on his own team. But Buffalo's front office counters that he has
Furthermore, the club is baffled by the almost total lack of communication coming from Peters. As of last weekend, neither Jauron nor chief operating officer
"I love the guy, and he's a tremendous player,'' Jauron said. "But he's not communicating with us. He's not talking to us. We have to move on and deal with the players who are here in camp.''
While the Bills have struck contract extensions with many of their key veterans in recent years, team owner
"No doubt, he's very important to this team,'' Evans said of Peters. "You hope he's here when it matters, because he's a big cog on our offense. Right now, we're moving on. We've got to do what we've got to do. He's still our teammate and we've got his back. We hope it all works out for him and for us.''
"He's handled it OK,'' Schonert said. "Obviously it's a huge disappointment for anybody. He's a competitive guy and he wants to play. But there's a time where you've got to put it aside, because he's one play away from being on the field and everybody's counting on him.
"He's had some ups and downs. He gets into a funk and you've got to kick him in the butt and say, 'It's not might, we
Losman is in a contract year, and no one is under any illusion he'll remain in Buffalo past 2008. When he takes the field this season, his performance will help determine the rest of his career.
"There's two ways he could go,'' Schonert said of Losman's '08 season. "He could prepare like he's a starter and be ready when called upon and produce. If so, he's going to make a lot of money for himself. Probably with some other team. But if he falters, he could ruin his career and make it hard for anyone to want him. But he's competitive and he'll be all right. He'll pull out of it. It's got to happen sooner than later that he gets focused.''
"He's definitely ready for it,'' Jauron told me. "He's a very talented player and we've got to use him. He's a guy who understands that the game is to get the ball in the end zone, and he can do it from almost anywhere. So we've got to give him a lot of chances.''
I'm thinking Lynch could hang up some monster numbers this season. Maybe 1,300 yards on the ground, and another 700 through the air.
"A big receiver can be open even when he's covered,'' said Jauron, adding he loves Hardy's work ethic and dedicated approach to the game. "You can throw him the ball high, and he can shield the defender with his body, and hold people off. And then in the red zone, which is really the only place on the field where the so-called jump ball comes into effect, I think he's got a chance to win some jump balls. We haven't had that.''
Royal is returning from a knee injury that required surgery, and Schonert is eager to see someone make a clear-cut case for the first-team role.
"That's the area of our offense we've got to find out about, because we've got so many young guys there,'' Schonert said. "Of all the positions, that's the one that's the biggest question mark in my mind.''
"I'm thrilled he's our offensive coordinator,'' said Evans, of Schonert, a longtime NFL assistant getting his first chance to coordinate an offense. "You know Turk's played the game, so it's not like somebody telling you something they've never done before. He has a confidence about him. He knows the game and that rubs off on you. He knows how to relate to players, how to communicate, and how to get things going. And his offense, it's very dynamic.''