Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan tries once again to put his results where his mouth is when full training camp begins July 29 with the experience of 20 returning starters who helped the team to an 8-8 record, third in the AFC East last year.
Bolstering the defense will be the team's three top draft choices -- defensive end Shaq Lawson, whose presence should help offset the loss of disgruntled Mario Williams depending on when he is fully healthy; inside linebacker Reggie Ragland and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington -- as well as at least nine veteran defenders acquired in free agency.
Here is a closer look at the newcomers and key players and how they should factor into the 2016 Bills team:
TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
SITE, LOCATION, ROOKIES, VETERANS
St. John Fisher College, Pittsford, NY, 7/28, 7/29
COACH: Rex Ryan
2nd season with Bills
8th season as NFL head coach
58-60 overall; 4-2 postseason
2015 RECORD: 8-8
DIVISIONAL RECORD: 4-2
20; 11 offense, 9 defense, kicker, punter
OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Wide receiver Dezmin Lewis.
--The 2015 seventh-round draft pick out of Central Arkansas dressed for only one game as a rookie, the season finale against the Jets. He spent the rest of the year on the practice squad trying to learn how to compete at the NFL level. He made progress, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore -- who often covered him in practice -- took notice. So did Robert Woods, the Bills' No. 2 receiver, who said Lewis has been making plays all over the field. That has continued in the minicamp as Lewis has made several impressive catches. The Bills have a wide-open competition behind Woods and Sammy Watkins, and Lewis -- the tallest receiver on the roster at 6-foot-4 -- will go into training camp positioned for an excellent chance to make a run at the No. 3 spot.
The Draft -- A closer look at the Bills' picks (7):
--Round 1/19 -- Shaq Lawson, DE, 6-3, 270, Clemson
The Bills had a very clear need at edge rusher, and Lawson fell into their lap when only three defensive linemen were selected ahead of him. However, Lawson had a lingering shoulder issue that the Bills were aware of when they picked him, and when he tweaked it during the rookie minicamp, the team decided to go ahead and send Lawson for surgery. Thus, he will be unavailable until probably November, and even then, having missed so much time, it seems improbable that he will be able to contribute much this season.
--Round 2/41 -- Reggie Ragland, ILB, 6-1, 247, Alabama
General manager Doug Whaley claimed he would have taken Ragland in the first round if Lawson had not been there. The Bills traded up eight spots with Chicago to make sure they could get Ragland in the second round. A big-body thumper who was strong against the run, Ragland was immediately inserted into the first-team defense next to Preston Brown and he enjoyed a solid offseason program. It would be a shock if he doesn't start on opening day.
--Round 3/80 -- Adolphus Washington, DT, 6-3, 301, Ohio State
The Bills are looking for Kyle Williams' replacement and Washington fits the bill as a wide-bodied run stuffer who can also push the pocket. He was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl because he solicited an undercover cop, but the Bills believe the incident is a one-time transgression. He had 4.5 sacks in 2014 when Ohio State won the national championship.
--Round 4/139 -- Cardale Jones, QB, 6-5, 253, Ohio State
The Bills had to draft a quarterback, and when a few names started coming off the board, they took Jones with the final pick of the fourth round, one of the compensatory picks they had been awarded. Jones started only 11 games at Ohio State, but he won all 11 including the 2014 national title game. He was benched in 2015, and that caused several teams to back off because his resume was so thin. The Bills see him as a developmental player who could become their backup in 2017 when EJ Manuel is gone.
--Round 5/156 -- Jonathan Williams, RB, 6-0, 223, Arkansas
Given Karlos Williams' injury history, the Bills decided to take Jonathan Williams to provide depth, and perhaps bump Mike Gillislee off the roster. Williams missed all of 2015 becasue of a foot injury after rushing for 2,090 yards in his previous two seasons at Arkansas, scoring 16 touchdowns. He will contribute right away on special teams.
--Round 6/192 -- Kolby Listenbee, WR, 6-0, 197, Texas Christian
He played in a high-powered passing attack at TCU and started 22 of the 40 games he played for the Horned Frogs. In 2015, he averaged 19.9 yards on his 30 receptions and scored five touchdowns. He's one of the fastest receivers in the draft as he ran a 4.34 at the Combine, and was projected in some circles as a third-round talent. But no one was able to see that in offseason workouts because Listenbee was sidelined with a sports hernia. The Bills think he'll be ready to start training camp.
--Round 6/218 -- Kevon Seymour, CB, 6-0, 185, Southern Cal
He was a three-year starter for the Trojans who played in zone and man coverage schemes equally well. He finished his career with 126 tackles, 19 pass breakups, and three interceptions. Seymour has great speed as he ran a 4.37 at the Combine, and because of that he could be asked to be a return man despite limited experience in that role in college.
--LB Lorenzo Alexander: Best chance for him to make team is having an impact on special teams.
--S Colt Anderson: Has the experience and skills to help provide an upgrade on special teams.
--RB/KR Dri Archer: Best path to a roster spot is as a kick returner, where he has seen most of his action.
--CB Javier Arenas: Has a shot at helping as a returner and might provide depth in the secondary.
--S Robert Blanton: After the departure of Bacarri Rambo; can step into key backup role at safety.
--LB Zach Brown: With four solid years of experience, he provides good inside depth.
--DT Leger Douzable: Could supply depth in a rotational role.
--TE Jim Dray: Gives the Bills a solid blocking tight end and knows coordinator Greg Roman's system well.
--WR Greg Little: Has bounced around the NFL mainly because he drops too many passes.
--CB Sterling Moore:
--S Phillip Thomas: Has just enough experience to give him a shot at providing much-needed safety depth.
--C Fernando Velasco: Provides a solid backup to Wood at center and can also add depth at guard.
--CB Corey White: Having played corner in Rob Ryan's defense in New Orleans helps his chances.
KEY LOSS: DE Mario Williams (15/15)*
--Even though he hated the defense and seemed to quit at times, he still can play at a fairly high level. The fact he's back to a more familiar role gives him at least two chances this season to show
the Bills what they're missing.
--LB Nigel Bradham (11/11), CB Ron Brooks (13/0), DT Alex Carrington (9/2), DT Stefan Charles (16/2), RB Boobie Dixon (16/1), TE MarQueis Gray (4/0), WR Percy Harvin (5/5), WR Chris Hogan (16/4), QB John Johnson (0/0), CB Leodis McKelvin (9/5), LB Tony Steward (9/0), LB A.J. Tarpley (13/2), G Kraig Urbik (16/2), DE Jarius Wynn (0/0)*
*Number in parentheses is games played/games started in 2015
Total games played/started lost: 152/49
-- Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX's network of NFL insiders provided information for this report.