THERE ARE a number of proud veterans on the Bills, leaders and warriors who have proved themselves over and over. Now in his 10th year, wideout Eric Moulds has built a career out of making the tough catch. On almost every other team it would be a Hall of Fame career, but Buffalo has been the scene of an endless parade: four coaches, six offensive coordinators and seven starting quarterbacks during Moulds's time there.
As a youngster he caught the final passes of Jim Kelly and the K-Gun offense. Then there was heir apparent Todd Collins. Remember him? Then came the quarterback controversy that wouldn't die--Doug Flutie versus Rob Johnson, the issue finally decided in favor of Alex van Pelt, a career backup. Then there was the giddiness over the trade for Drew Bledsoe. "My friend called to celebrate with me," Moulds says. "I was just so happy." The Bledsoe era ended last year with two fumbles and an interception in the season finale against the Steelers, halting Buffalo's miracle run for a playoff spot.
Standing in the shade after a long, training camp practice, Moulds watches QB number 7, J.P. Losman, and tries to put his career into perspective. "I guess all of this means that I'm just persistent," Moulds says. "I try to fight through it and wish for the best. But sometimes you start thinking, What if? I mean [the Colts'] Marvin Harrison has had the same quarterback for the last eight years."
Someone asks Moulds about Losman's leadership ability. It seems to be topic A concerning this second-year pro whose NFL career consists of five passes. "We've got about 10 leaders on this team already," Moulds says. "J.P. knows that the first thing he's got to do is go out and get respect, and he's got enough weapons around him to help him get it. Respect is the result of a learning process, and after respect comes leadership--maybe."
"The worst mistake coaches can make, and I saw it happen in Philly," says free safety Troy Vincent, who went to Buffalo last year from the Eagles, "is to choose a leader and give him the title even though he's not ready for it."
Vincent is one of the mainstays of a defense that has always been good but played at an even higher level as the Bills won six straight late last season. It's one of the better units in the league. Bobby April's special teams were ranked No. 1 in the NFL by one complex grading system. Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman form one of the league's best kicker-punter combinations. Willis McGahee can run the ball. It's all there for Buffalo except, well, the offensive line is only so-so. And behind a suspect line Losman is expected to light it up the way another novice, the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, did last year?
The Bills thought so highly of Losman that they traded into the first round of the 2004 draft so they could select the 6'2" 217-pounder out of Tulane. He was penciled in as Bledsoe's backup, only to suffer a broken left leg during camp that limited him to mop-up duty in four late-season games. With Bledsoe having been released, the job is Losman's, ready or not. He has a good arm and a quick release, and Buffalo will try to take advantage of his mobility by calling more rollouts and quarterback draws.
Losman is a merry-looking youngster, with a mop of dark hair and a twinkle in his eye. He talks about how much fun it is to run with the ball, "juking guys, making them miss." He talks about the time he met Brett Favre at his farm in Mississippi. "There he was, doing some farming, covered in dirt. Just awesome." And he talks about his experience as an offensive coordinator. "When I was in high school," Losman says, "I was always drawing up plays in class. I tried to show them to my coach, but he'd rarely listen."
What plays? Let's hear them. Losman's face takes on a crafty look.
"There's one that I can't give away," he says. "I told Coach [Mike] Mularkey about it, and he might use it. All I can say is that it involves me not playing quarterback."
That's all Moulds needs to hear. --P.Z.
When wideout Roscoe Parrish, a rookie second-round pick out of Miami with 4.37 speed in the 40, injured his wrist in camp, no one wore a sadder face than special teams coach Bobby April. "He'll be back by the start of the season, and then you'll really see something," April says. "[The other coaches] like him as a third wideout, but I like him as a return man. I know we've got Terrence McGee, but Roscoe is dynamite as a punt returner. I would not want to have to tackle him."
AN OPPOSING SCOUT'S VIEW
They should have made the offensive line their priority, but they didn't. Mike Gandy at left tackle? Come on. He tends to break down late in the season. There's an interesting player behind him, though: Jason Peters. He's a converted tight end, light on his feet and a terrific special-teamer, but sometimes there has been a problem keeping him motivated. I have a feeling, though, that he's so athletic, when they finally put him in the lineup, they'll never get him out of there.... The other new lineman they have, Bennie Anderson, looks fat and out of shape. I'll bet Ross Tucker will be in for him sometime. Tucker's a guy they've always wanted to get rid of, except the team seems to play better with him in there.... I wish we had some of their defensive guys. Takeo Spikes is the best one, just hell on wheels. Nate Clements, their right corner, is another. They squeezed a pretty decent year out of big Sam Adams, but they'll be lucky to get another one.... J.P. Losman? I heard good things and bad about him. The good is that he's got a live arm, and he can run when he has to. The bad is that at Tulane he was a me-me-me guy and not many people liked him. We'll see.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics
MIKE GANDY [NEW ACQUISITION]
BENNIE ANDERSON [NEW ACQUISITION]
GMS. 16 ¬†
XPs ¬†MADE 45
XPs ATT. 45
FG MADE 24
FG ATT. 28
SACKS 3 1/2
SACKS 4 1/2
2004 RECORD: 9--7
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): OFFENSE 13/27/25 DEFENSE 7/3/2
COACH: Mike Mularkey; second season with Buffalo (9--7 in NFL)
NEW ACQUISITION PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)
18 at Tampa Bay
2 at New Orleans
16 N.Y. JETS
23 at Oakland
30 at New England
6 Open date
13 KANSAS CITY
20 at San Diego
4 at Miami
11 NEW ENGLAND
17 DENVER (S)
24 at Cincinnati (S)
1 at N.Y. Jets
NFL rank: T5 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .531 Games against playoff teams: 7