Postcard from camp: Bills
When on Sunday I arrived in Pittsford, N.Y., where the Bills have held their training camps for 11 years, I picked up the local paper and discovered a columnist who was not pleased that SI.com's
Thirty-first, 27th: the point is that expectations are not exactly high for this largely nationally anonymous team, even after an offseason overhaul that saw them hire a new GM in
1. Buffalo's secondary is second to none.
The Bills' back four was devastated by injury last season -- the current projected starters, cornerbacks
The group's star is probably now Byrd, the second-year man out of Oregon. Byrd gained some attention as a rookie by finishing tied for first with nine interceptions (in 14 games played), and perhaps even more when the AP held a re-vote for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award after winner
Part of the business about which Byrd went was creating a movement called Louder Than Words, in which he encourages people to use social media platforms to inform others of acts of kindness they've either witnessed or themselves performed, however small. "It's trying to get people to do good deeds, pay it forward," he explains. "A lot of stuff you hear about is negative, and I'm just trying to get people to do something positive, give a little of their time to help other people." You can check out Byrd's Twitter page
2. T.O. is gone, but there are plenty in camp who hope to replace him.
The current favorite to win the No. 2 job, however, is
Now, though, Johnson is primed to make an NFL impact. "When I got here last year, I thought Steve was one of the most impressive receivers we had on the team," says backup quarterback
His smoothness extends off the field -- and this is where Stevie Styles comes in. Johnson's father produced hip hop music in San Francisco, he says, and he has a cousin with
Has the 58-year-old Coach Gailey watched Johnson's youtube videos?
"No," he says.
Might he watch them? They're pretty good.
"No. I'll take your word for it."
More concerned about Steve Johnson, football player, than Stevie Styles, rapper?
"Much more. That's right."
3. The offensive line remains a major concern.
It won't matter who ends up starting across from Evans -- or at any of the other skill positions, for that matter -- if the offensive line doesn't improve, and improve markedly, from last season. The line in '09 allowed 103 quarterback hits (the second most in the league) and 46 sacks (tied for fourth most), and was perhaps the central reason quarterback
The Bills, somewhat inexplicably, cut their line's anchor, left tackle
The Bills hope their 3-4 alignment will help shore up a run defense that ranked 30th in 2010, and Fred Jackson says it could also pay dividends for the offense. "Every team in our division is a 3-4 team," he points out. "We're used to see it -- but being able to practice against it every day is just going to make us better."
That will be a difference for the coach, who in his previous NFL stops has liked to rely on a single workhorse, such as with
Jackson, a 1,062 yard rusher a year ago, should be the starter, but insists he's fine with sharing, to a point. "I'll be interesting," he says. "I think that all of us are going to touch the ball. But as long as I can go in and start the game and get us rolling, and those two come in whenever they're asked to and make plays for us, I think we'll do pretty good for ourselves."
"There are a lot of people here," said one observer on the sideline at the Bills' evening practice on Monday, "but you don't hear anyone. It's like a golf tournament."
A very different scene, indeed, from the rock concerts that were last August's evening practices, in which Bills fans screamed for everything that Owens did, however insignificant. "I guess there's less of the flashbulbs going off at night," says Fitzpatrick, "but it's been good. Everybody's working hard."
• The Bill with perhaps the most to prove might be
• That Marshawn Lynch is still here is something of a surprise, given the presence of Fred Jackson and the drafting of Spiller. Lynch, who just two years ago seemed on the verge of becoming one of the league's top backs, will now likely play a complementary role, if he sticks around -- but he's saying all the right things, even if he's not saying very many of them.
He produced what was probably the easiest transcription job ever tackled by an NFL P.R. intern in a meeting with the media on Sunday. In responding to a question about whether he is receiving enough reps in practice, he said, simply, "I'm sweating." He also on Monday exhibited an interesting taste in t-shirts. "FIVE DOLLAR FOOT LONG," his shirt read, leading one to think he has a particular fondness for Subway until one noticed that printed below the words was a downward-pointing arrow. Oh.
• The Bills entered last season with a team-wide guarded optimism, one that quickly eroded after a brutal 25-24 loss to the Patriots on Monday night of Week 1, in which they squandered a late 24-13 lead by allowing two touchdowns in the final 2:06. "That kind of set the tone to the season last year," says Fred Jackson. "If we could have won that game, it probably would have propelled us to do some better things."
It is going to be a difficult task for the Bills to start any better this season, as they face four of what should be the NFL's very best teams -- the Packers, Patriots, Jets and Ravens -- in their first six games. A win in any of those seems highly unlikely, and that should set the stage for a season in which the only thing Bills fans will be talking about will be where, exactly, among the league's bottom six teams their beloved team ranks.