AFC East: Buffalo Bills

Spiller Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesC.J. Spiller and the Bills are an NFL anomaly: a run-heavy offense that likes to push the tempo.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Last season, the Buffalo Bills' offense only hurried up to get off the field faster.

Preaching an up-tempo pace, the Bills had the NFL's second-quickest offense, averaging 24.7 seconds of possession per play. Only the Philadelphia Eagles were faster.

Yet the Bills' speed didn't translate into points. They had the NFL's most offensive drives (214) but ranked 25th in points per drive. Moreover, the Bills had the NFL's seventh-highest percentage of drives that ended without a first down or touchdown.

It's a problem that put stress on the defense. The Bills' defense played the seventh-most snaps in the NFL, while opposing offenses possessed the ball for an average of 31 minutes, 59 seconds per game, fourth-most in the league.

The sputtering offense and overworked defense were two key ingredients in the Bills' 6-10 record and fourth-place finish in the AFC East.

Despite their issues last season, the Bills still intend on pushing the tempo this summer -- but will also stick with their run-first philosophy. In doing so, the team risks the same fate.

Teams found success at either extreme of offensive pace last season. Six of the eight clubs that advanced to the divisional playoffs were either in the top five or bottom five in seconds of possession per offensive play, a measure of the speed at which offenses operate.

At one fringe were the NFL's up-tempo, no huddle attacks: the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, who squared off in the AFC Championship Game. At the other end of the spectrum were the ground-and-pound styles of the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and San Diego Chargers.

The Seahawks and 49ers met in the NFC Championship Game, with the Seahawks then knocking off the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Both offensive approaches, then, have been proven to work in the modern NFL.

What didn't work last season was the Bills' offense. Much of its inability to convert drives into points traced back to failures on third down. Only three teams had a worse conversion rate on third down than the Bills last season, while only one NFL quarterback -- Oakland's Matt McGloin -- had a lower third-down completion percentage than Buffalo's EJ Manuel (47.5 percent).

The Bills' hope is that a second year in the system for Manuel, plus the additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams at wide receiver, will allow for an offense that can move the ball through the air and put up points.

"[Watkins] is a dynamic playmaker. That's what this game is all about," general manager Doug Whaley told ESPN in May. "We got to score touchdowns."

The Bills aren't backing down from their vow to hasten their offensive pace, either. Coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett brought a no-huddle system from Syracuse, and they are sticking with it this season.

"It needs to be moving a lot faster," Marrone said Wednesday of the offense's pace. "Obviously we’re installing again, so we’re reinstalling, and in the back of my mind that might tend to slow things down a little bit, but my expectation is to be right on the money with it, so we need to be faster."

In an ideal world, the Bills' 2014 offense would be a carbon copy of their early 1990s attack: a quick pace with both explosive receivers (e.g., Andre Reed, James Lofton) and a more than capable running game (Thurman Thomas).

Last season, however, showed the danger of falling short of that goal: the offense was efficient -- but efficiently bad. The Bills gained the NFL's second most rushing yards, but the offensive pace only served to negate the ball-controlling effects of a good ground game.

Whaley comes from a run-first background with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has brought in maulers across his offensive line in Buffalo. When we gathered data in May, the Bills' offensive line had an average weight of 325 pounds, by far the heaviest in the NFL.

This offseason, Whaley added two running backs to his backfield: Bryce Brown, who he long coveted in Philadelphia, and Anthony Dixon, who was lost in the 49ers' crowded backfield. Added to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, the Bills have stocked their shelves to ground-and-pound their way through opposing defenses.

"The sky is the limit for that group. You have four true guys who I think can start or play for any other team in the league," Manuel said Tuesday. "When you have great talent like that on the backfield, it’s always a huge friend to the quarterback. If the running game is great, the passing game should open up as well."

Yes, the enhanced backfield should benefit the passing game. But there is no requirement that the Bills must try to maintain their breakneck offensive pace.

In fact, the Bills were a somewhat of an anomaly last season among teams that ran an up-tempo offense. They gained 42.6 percent of their offensive yards by running, the highest percentage in the NFL. The 49ers (42.5 percent), Seahawks (40.3 percent), and Panthers (40 percent) ranked second, fourth, and fifth, respectively.

Yet those three NFC juggernauts were among the four slowest offenses in the NFL last season. They didn't try to be the high-flying Broncos. Instead, all three of those teams controlled the ball, shortened games, played quality defense, and advanced deep into the playoffs.

That is not to say the Bills' up-tempo, run-first offense can't work this season. If everything clicks, it will be a thing of beauty.

But is that realistic, and are the two approaches truly compatible? Or will the Bills simply run into the same problems their offense created last season?

Bills Camp Report: Day 3

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • After weather-related delays kept him in Alabama through Monday night, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus returned to St. John Fisher College on Tuesday afternoon. Coach Doug Marrone said earlier in the day that Dareus would immediately begin working with the strength and conditioning staff. It's unclear when Dareus will re-take his conditioning test. The Bills practice at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and it's highly unlikely Dareus will join his teammates on the field at that time. They have a day off Thursday before returning to practice Friday evening.
  • Tuesday was the Bills' first padded practice, and it proved problematic for the offensive line. They allowed at least five sacks, while EJ Manuel had several other throw-aways and scrambles. Moreover, Manuel struggled with his accuracy as the Bills transitioned into third-down situations during team drills. Manuel was first to the podium after practice and was immediately asked to sum up what a reporter called a "rough" day. "No, it was a good day," Manuel responded. "I thought we had a good day." Minutes later, Marrone came to the podium and was asked a similar question. "Yeah in the beginning [it was sloppy]," he said. "They finished strong, but it was not what we wanted." I don't think the difference in assessments represents as much a disconnect between head coach and quarterback as much as it does a difference in approaches. Manuel has been even-keeled with the media since arriving last season and tends to present hiccups as part of a process in getting better. Marrone, especially after some losses last season, typically expresses a greater sense of urgency. It's better if both are on the same page, but both leadership philosophies have their benefits.
  • We've seen both Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel take reps with the second team in team drills through the first few days of training camp. Lewis was the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback last season, but his status his now in doubt. "We have a battle for the second team quarterback," Marrone said Tuesday. "We’re trying to find out who it’s going to be, and Jeff did a nice job in OTAs and he’s earned himself some more reps." This could be more important than the backup battle on most teams. Manuel missed six games last season, allowing Lewis to start five games and Tuel to start one. The Bills decided not to bring in another experienced quarterback to compete this offseason, so it will be either Lewis or Tuel again this season if Manuel suffers another injury.
  • Rookie offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson left the field with trainers following practice and looked to be dealing with heat-related issues. Alone that's not a major problem; several players have cramped up over the past few days. But Henderson is under increased scrutiny given his issues at the University of Miami. He cut short his pro day because he was "overheated," while he also had some issues with the heat at one point during OTAs. He passed the conditioning test, but is Henderson in his best possible shape? If the Bills offense wants to up the tempo, they'll need their offensive linemen to be mobile. Any long-term absence from Cordy Glenn could thrust Henderson into the starting lineup and bring his physical condition into further focus.
  • The Bills made a pair of minor roster moves Tuesday. They signed undrafted rookie linebacker Xavius Boyd out of Western Kentucky, who was in spring camps with the Baltimore Ravens. To make room for Boyd on the 90-man roster they waived/injured rookie linebacker Darrin Kitchens, who was carted off the field Monday with a "lower body" injury.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- In his prime, Randy Moss made it look easy.

With long arms, big strides and blazing speed, Moss both towered over defenders and blew past them. He had a way of making downfield catches seem effortless, the football equivalent of Yao Ming grabbing a rebound.

Through three training camp practices, I can't help but think of Moss when I watch Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Physically, Moss had the edge. He's 6-foot-4, while Watkins is 6-foot-1. Moss ran a 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds; Watkins checked in at 4.46 seconds.

But when Watkins cut through three defenders with the stride of a gazelle during Monday's practice, I saw Moss. When Watkins had three steps on cornerback Leodis McKelvin on a fly pattern Monday -- and again Tuesday -- and reached out, snagged the ball and walked into the end zone, I saw Moss.

If Watkins keeps that up, it will be a much-needed shot in the arm for an offense that scored just 16 passing touchdowns last season, tied for second-worst in the NFL.

One of many culprits of the offense's ineptitude last season, quarterback EJ Manuel has looked his best when throwing to Watkins this week. It's not quite Moss catching passes from Daunte Culpepper, but the potential is there.

The rookie receiver and second-year quarterback were shaky at the end of spring practices, but Manuel has been nearly perfect on passes intended for Watkins this week, whether they've been short, deep or anywhere in between.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Bill WippertThrough three training camp practices, Buffalo Bills first-round pick Sammy Watkins has excelled on the field.
That's been a high point of Watkins' performance thus far. He doesn't just excel at catching flashy deep balls. The Bills have sent Watkins across the middle and he's executed in that part of the field, using his long arms and soft hands to reel in one pass over a linebacker on Monday.

"He's made a very good career for himself, in college, being able to go over the middle. That's always a big test when you get to this level to make sure you can come over the middle," coach Doug Marrone said. "He’s a fearless player and, again, at the same time you have to be smart when you do that."

Later on Monday, Watkins came over the middle again, leaping to grab a tipped pass and coming down hard. He was slow to get up, and teammates quickly surrounded him. He came off the field with a trainer and was down on one knee on the sideline.

As it turned out, he was poked in the eye. Crisis averted.

But for those few minutes, the crowd at St. John Fisher College was silent. Twitter was buzzing. Marrone walked over to check on his first-round pick.

That's the impact Watkins has brought to the Bills. Losing him to an injury would be catastrophic.

"He's made plays in this camp," Marrone said Monday. "I think a lot of people are excited."

While Watkins' play early in camp has been reminiscent of Moss, his persona off the field hasn't. Moss was one of the more quotable players in recent NFL history, drawing attention for often the wrong reasons.

Watkins' approach has been different.

"There's a gentleman on that (Clemson) staff that I worked with that I have a great amount of respect for," Marrone said Monday. "He said to me that, '[Watkins] is one of the most humble superstars that I've been around.' "

There is a long way to go -- most teams haven't even started training camp yet -- but the early returns on Watkins have been decidedly positive.

He's been making it look easy.

Bills Camp Report: Day 2

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • There has been a throng of national media watching Bills camp through two days and they've seen Sammy Watkins put on a show. After catching every pass thrown his way in Sunday night's practice, Watkins continued to impress on Monday. He strode past Leodis McKelvin for a would-be touchdown grab early in practice and made a catch over three defenders look effortless later on. It's not just the deep game, either: he used his long arms to snag a pass on a crossing pattern, through traffic at one point as well. Watkins has that rare size and speed combination that can make him a dangerous weapon against opposing defenses. His height, long arms, and make-it-look-easy strides remind me of Randy Moss.
  • Speaking of height and speed, I've been impressed with Bryce Brown thus far in camp. The 6-foot running back has long legs and shows some burst getting into the second level. The Bills coveted Brown for more than a year before acquiring him in May. It remains to be seen how many carries the Bills can siphon from C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to Brown, but he adds depth to a backfield that didn't have much of it last season.
  • Nigel Bradham continues to see first-team reps at linebacker, a surprise given how his role virtually evaporated under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last season. Even coach Doug Marrone has noticed a change in Bradham's work ethic. "Honestly, I think last year Nigel struggled at times with us," Marrone said Monday. "I saw a change, more of a commitment from him when we came back, which I give him a lot of credit for." The Bills are giving Bradham the first crack at replacing Kiko Alonso and he seems to have impressed the coaching staff. The issue with Bradham may be his abilities in stopping the run: The Bills turned to Arthur Moats last season against heavier offenses and rookie Preston Brown is knocking on the door for playing time on defense. It's a battle we'll continue to monitor closely.
  • After missing all of organized team activities and minicamp, T.J. Graham is back practicing this week. The results have been up-and-down. He made the play of Sunday's practice when he caught a deep bomb from Jeff Tuel, but in one of his first routes Monday he had a pass fall right through his hands after beating a defender on a similar deep route. Graham is the top "bubble" player for the Bills and can't afford those sort of plays.
  • Cordy Glenn remained out of practice Monday and the Bills are still mum on what landed him on the non-football illness list. "It’s a medical condition. I’m preparing to go on as if he’s not playing, which he’s not," Marrone said. "I’m just waiting for the doctors and I can’t speak about the condition because it’s something that happened outside of football. I’m planning on playing and right now he’s not there, so I have to play with him not being there. When they tell me he’s there then obviously we’ll plug him back in."
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A hush went over the crowd.

After jumping up to catch a pass and coming down hard, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins was slow to get up following a play late in Monday's practice.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Bill Wippert/AP PhotoBills trainer Bud Carpenter tends to receiver Sammy Watkins during Monday's practice.
Watkins' teammates called for trainers, who escorted him to the sidelines. Coach Doug Marrone even went over to check on his first-round pick.

As it turned out, Watkins simply had his eye poked.

He was back into practice soon after but it was the sort of moment that captured fans' attention both at St. John Fisher College and across social media.

Watkins' scare was the highlight of Monday's practice, one that also included linebacker Brandon Spikes leaving for apparent heat-related issues. Spikes removed his gear and was placed in a cooling tent about halfway through practice.

Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Darrin Kitchens was carted off during a special teams drill, while cornerback Brandon Smith limped off the field in a subsequent drill.

The back-to-back injuries are a reminder that the Bills, with the NFL's longest training camp, will have to endure the summer. An injury to Watkins -- or second-year quarterback EJ Manuel -- will be a major setback. The Bills dodged a bullet with Watkins on Monday.

Fortunately for the team, they had two more players avoid serious problems after leaving Sunday's practice. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, who dealt with complications from sickle cell anemia on Sunday, was back practicing Monday, as was Seantrel Henderson, who left Sunday's session with a hip injury.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- When the Buffalo Bills take the field for their second practice of training camp Monday, there will be a familiar face back in the mix.

Naaman Roosevelt, who played in 16 games with the Bills in 2010 and 2011, was re-signed Monday. Roosevelt is a Buffalo native who played at the University at Buffalo. He was released by the Detroit Lions last week.

The Bills also signed well-traveled defensive tackle Landon Cohen. A seventh-round pick of the Lions in 2008, Cohen played in 40 career games, making eight starts. He was most recently with the Chicago Bears but has also spent time in Dallas, Philadelphia, Arizona, New England, Seattle, and Jacksonville.

To make room for both players, the Bills waived wide receiver Ramses Barden and linebacker Nathan Williams, who were both long shots to make the final roster.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- With several potential buyers lining up to bid on the Buffalo Bills, the price tag for the NFL's latest team to hit the market is coming into focus.

A league source tells ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that the sale is expected to fetch at least $1.1 billion when it is completed, which should be later this year.

Forbes valued the franchise at $870 million last year. That ranks 30th of 32 NFL teams, according to the publication.

As for whether a new ownership would consider relocating the team, Paolantonio was firm that would not happen.

"I don't think the team's moving," he told WGR 550 on Monday. "I would stake my professional reputation on it. I think people in ownership want to see the team stay here. I think they want to continue the legacy of Ralph Wilson. I think Roger Goodell is convinced."
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills will become the first team to open training camp Sunday, holding a practice at St. John Fisher College at 6 p.m. ET.

Per NFL rules, the team isn't allowed to be in full pads until its third practice (on Tuesday). That means players will be in "shells," or lighter shoulder pads, and there will be more of a focus on the passing game.

Don't expect fans to complain about that. Tickets are sold out for Sunday night's practice, which will be the first time the public can see EJ Manuel and first-round pick Sammy Watkins together on the field.

That will be the main attraction, but there will be other areas to watch. Here's what else you can expect:

Players not participating: Barring any late changes, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus isn't expected to practice Sunday. He remains on the active/non-football injury list along with linebacker Kiko Alonso, who is out for the season and isn't with the team in Pittsford. In addition, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn and defensive tackle Alan Branch both remain on the active/non-football illness list and aren't likely to practice Sunday night. Rookie linebacker Randell Johnson should also be sidelined, as he remains on the active/physically unable to perform list.

Changes on O-line: With Glenn out, seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson is expected to take first-team reps at left tackle. Henderson had an up-and-down minicamp in that role and could be going against defensive end Mario Williams in 11-on-11 drills. We'll keep a close eye on that battle. There are also questions on the right side of the line. Does Chris Hairston take first-team reps at right guard over Kraig Urbik? Does Erik Pears or Cyrus Kouandjio get the first crack at right tackle? Sunday's practice should give a good indication of how the coaching staff views those four players fitting in.

Rookie replacement for Alonso: On Friday, general manager Doug Whaley mentioned third-round pick Preston Brown and third-year linebacker Nigel Bradham as possible replacements for Alonso. We expect Brown to get the initial reps with the first team, but it wouldn't surprise if defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz shifts some of his pieces around as camp unfolds. If fans want to get a feel for the new-look Bills defense, linebacker is a good place to start. Between Brown, Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers, it will be an entirely different group.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- As the Buffalo Bills are set to hold their first training camp practice Sunday, the wheels continue to turn on the sale of the franchise.

The latest update came Saturday evening from the Toronto Sun, which reported that a Toronto-based bidding group that includes rock star Jon Bon Jovi will tell the trust handling the sale that it intends to keep the team in Western New York.

The overwhelming response from Bills fans has been, "Should we believe them?"

Bon Jovi and Larry Tanenbaum, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, have never publicly declared any of their intentions. However, the assumption has been that MLSE, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, would have its sights set on moving the Bills to Toronto.

Yet, as has been mentioned repetitively since the early stages of the sale process, relocating the Bills before 2020 would require clearing extraordinary legal hurdles, and even then NFL owners would have to approve the uprooting of one of their clubs.

If Bon Jovi's group wins the bidding, it knows it will have to stay in the Buffalo area through at least the 2019 season. Even hinting at relocation at this point would be a public relations disaster for the Toronto-based group.

That's why Bills fans should take this latest report with a grain of salt.

Much can change between now and 2020, when there is a one-time out clause in the Bills' stadium lease. At that point, any owner -- whether it's Bon Jovi, Terry Pegula, Donald Trump or anyone else -- can move the team by paying a $28 million penalty and gaining the NFL's stamp of approval.

What is said in 2014 won't matter.

Again, Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum deserve some benefit of the doubt, as they have never said they want to move the team; that's simply been an assumption. But if they want to truly convince Bills fans that they're here to stay, it will take more than this.

Should the Toronto-based group win the bidding and eventually own the team, a rock-solid commitment to Western New York would come through cooperating with Erie County and New York state on a new stadium or significant renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Just as the Bills' most recent stadium lease has protected the team's short-term future, a new or upgraded venue -- with a new lease -- will be the key to their long-term standing in the region.

Until then, Bills fans shouldn't believe everything they're told.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills added defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to the active/non-football injury list Saturday.

It's not immediately clear why Dareus was placed on the list. The Bills held their conditioning test Saturday and will open training camp with a public practice Sunday night.

Dareus, who still counts against the 90-man roster limit, may be removed from the list at any time. He may not practice while under the active/non-football injury designation and cannot return to the list once he is removed from it.

The Pro Bowl defender has been under the spotlight this offseason following two arrests that led to him sitting out the final two weeks of organized team activities. He returned to the practice field for mandatory minicamp last month.

In addition, the Bills removed cornerback Leodis McKelvin from the active/physically unable to perform list Saturday. General manager Doug Whaley said the team was easing him back from offseason hip surgery but he is apparently ready to practice Sunday.

The Bills also added guard J.J. Unga to the active/non-football injury list Saturday.

After waiving two players Friday, the Bills signed wide receiver Tori Gurley and cornerback Kamaal McIlwain on Saturday. Both tried out for the team during minicamp.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills will begin life without linebacker Kiko Alonso when they start training camp Sunday night.

As players reported to St. John Fisher College on Friday, general manager Doug Whaley put the absence of Alonso, who underwent surgery this week, in perspective.

"It's a tremendous loss, but no one's crying for us," Whaley said. "Next man up. We think we've built a roster that can sustain a loss like this. But our expectations aren't going to drop."

As expected, Whaley mentioned rookie Preston Brown and third-year 'backer Nigel Bradham as possible replacements for Whaley. The second-year general manager added that each of those players have already practiced with the first team, as Alonso was out for most of OTAs recovering from hip surgery.

Other tidbits from Whaley:

Philosophy on EJ Manuel: There will be pressure on quarterback EJ Manuel to perform this season, but Whaley said the team has tried to give Manuel as much help on the field as they can. "He doesn't have the weight of the world on his shoulders, that he has to go out and win it," Whaley said. "We've surrounded him with some people where if he does his job, he should be OK." As far as how Manuel will need to improve, Whaley said: "I want to see him have more control of the huddle, of the offense. A command and a presence out there that we saw in college."

No word on Marcell Dareus: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has two pending legal situations from incidents this offseason, something that could make him subject to an NFL suspension. Whaley said Friday that he hasn't heard from the league on that front. Dareus wasn't among the players who moved into the dorm while reporters were present Friday.

Cordy Glenn status bears watching: Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, considered the Bills' best offensive lineman last season, missed minicamp with what was called an illness. Glenn was placed on the active/non-football illness list this week and can be removed from the list at any time. Whaley was cautious Friday when talking about Glenn's status. "We're still waiting on some reports on him, but it looks like it's going to be one of those day-to-day things and we'll see how it progresses." Asked a follow-up question if Glenn's illness could threaten his season, Whaley said: "We don't think so, at this time. But again, we'll just have to see how it progresses. We hope not." Glenn is present at camp. "He'll be doing some light exercises and stuff like that," Whaley said.

Other injury updates: Whaley said the team is still easing cornerback Leodis McKelvin back into action after offseason surgery. He is on the active/physically unable to perform list. Defensive tackle Alan Branch, meanwhile, is on the non-football illness list. Whaley said there were tests that came back during his check-in physical that require further scrutiny before he can practice.

Roster moves: The Bills released two players -- cornerback Darius Robinson and wide receiver Cordell Roberson -- on Friday. Whaley said the team is "upgrading" the roster and is in the process of signing two players to replace them. They are expected to be younger players, not veterans.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills players arrived at St. John Fisher College for training camp Friday, the first NFL team to report this summer.

Bills players will hold their conditioning run Saturday before holding their first public practice at 6 p.m. Sunday.

The team made two minor roster moves Friday, waiving cornerback Darius Robinson and wide receiver Cordell Roberson. The roster is now at 88 players, two shy of the minimum.

As far as the players who moved into the dorm Friday in front of cameras, running back Fred Jackson arrived in style:


Buffalo Bills' projected roster

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
Examining the Buffalo Bills' roster:

No surprises here. The Bills will need Manuel to stay healthy after he missed time with three knee injuries last season. If he goes down again, the Bills' playoff hopes could ride on Lewis' shoulders.


The addition of Brown during the draft may reduce Dixon's role, at least on offense. Still, the Bills are deeper at this position than they were last season. Spiller enters a critical contract year and must stay healthy.


The Bills carried two fullbacks -- Summers and Evan Rodriguez -- at the end of last season but may not have that luxury if they carry four tailbacks this year. Although Rodriguez is more versatile, Summers is a thumping lead blocker who could play a role in the Bills' red zone offense.


No room for T.J. Graham, who slid down the depth chart with the additions of Watkins and Williams this offseason. This is an improved group from last season, but it must stay healthy. Manuel needs continuity with his passing targets, so injuries to any of the top three receivers would cause problems.


Ho-hum here, as the Bills didn't make any additions this offseason. If Moeaki stays healthy, he could be an improvement in the passing game over Chandler. Either way, the Bills need more red zone production out of this unit. Chris Gragg misses the cut.


The Bills could go in one of several directions at this position. With this lineup, 32-year-old Erik Pears loses his starting job to Kouandjio in training camp and is released. Hairston and Legursky would be active on game days as reserves, while Richardson wouldn't crack the 46-man roster but sticks as a future prospect. Henderson misses the cut in this case.


There isn't a whole lot of intrigue at this position, other than the possibility of Dareus facing an NFL-imposed suspension for two arrests this offseason. Lawson and Wynn fill out the depth chart at defensive end, while Branch, Charles and Bryant stick as big bodies on the interior.


This group took a big hit from the loss of Kiko Alonso. The Bills will likely fill that gap with a combination of Brown and Bradham, with special-teams contributions from Powell and Johnson.


The Bills have some depth here and might go one player heavier. In this case, Brooks earns the nod. There are questions about how playing time will be distributed between the players at this position, but that's what some would call a "high-class" problem.


The Bills carried as many as six safeties last season, but that was more a product of Mike Pettine's defense, which typically puts more importance on safeties than linebackers. The Bills have three undrafted rookies who could push for a roster spot, but ultimately they would all be better served on the practice squad.


I'll go out on a little bit of a limb here and say that Dombrowski makes the cut over 38-year-old punter Brian Moorman. The Bills can afford to make the move; if Dombrowski struggles early in the season, Moorman (or any other punter) would be on the market and the switching costs would be low. At kicker, Dustin Hopkins doesn't make the cut. He has a stronger leg than Carpenter for kickoffs, but it's tough to see the Bills carrying two players at the position when there are needs elsewhere on the roster.

Camp preview: Buffalo Bills

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Mike Rodak examines the three biggest issues facing the Buffalo Bills heading into training camp.

Spotlight shines bright: The Bills essentially spent three first-round picks to acquire quarterback EJ Manuel and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. In fact, general manager Doug Whaley said immediately after drafting Watkins that "we thought this guy was going to get us to the playoffs." Naturally, that directs a bright light on the fourth overall pick, and on the quarterback throwing him passes. Manuel and Watkins had a chance to get acclimated during OTAs and minicamp, but now the two young players' every move will be dissected by fans and reporters at open training camp practices. How will they perform? How will they handle the pressure? Those easily are the biggest questions facing the Bills.

Recouping defensive losses: Much attention has been paid in recent weeks to the ACL injury of linebacker Kiko Alonso, who is likely lost for the entire season. Yet another loss -- the departure of safety Jairus Byrd in free agency -- has flown under the radar as the Bills have been evaluated heading into training camp. Byrd steadied the back end of the defense when he returned from a foot injury last season, while Alonso was a rock in the middle of the field. What will be the impact of not having those two players? It's not something that can be deduced easily from watching training camp practices, but we'll start to see how offenses attack any potential holes in the Bills' defense when preseason games begin.

Scheme shifts in second year: All offseason the Bills have talked about the value of Manuel being in the system a full year as he enters his second season in the league. That also holds true for Doug Marrone, who was adjusting to life as a first-year NFL head coach last training camp. He has dealt with a change at defensive coordinator, with Jim Schwartz replacing Mike Pettine, but how much will continuity help his offensive staff? The Bills need a big jump in their passing game, and much of that responsibility falls on offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. Training camp will be a chance to see how the Bills have tweaked their playbook. How are they aiming to improve in the red zone? Are they incorporating Watkins into the deep game or targeting him mainly on shorter passes and allowing him to use his abilities after the catch? How much will the Bills lean on Manuel's legs and the option game? These are some of the burning questions from a coaching and scheme standpoint.
The Buffalo Bills signed linebacker Stevenson Sylvester on Wednesday, adding another player to compete at the position following the loss of Kiko Alonso to a season-ending knee injury.

Sylvester, who turns 26 on Friday, was a fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He played in 50 games in four seasons with the Steelers, making two starts. He should compete with Ty Powell and rookie Randell Johnson for a role on special teams.

To make room for Sylvester on the 90-man roster, the Bills waived tight end Mike Caussin, who missed each of the past two seasons with injuries. Caussin had been with the Bills since 2010.

In a procedural move, the Bills placed Alonso on the active/non-football injury list. Alonso remains on the 90-man roster and can be taken off the list at any time. The Bills may later choose to place Alonso on the reserve/non-football injury list, which would keep him out of at least the first six weeks of the regular season. He isn't expected to play this season.

The Bills also placed Johnson and cornerback Leodis McKelvin on the active/physically unable to perform list. Johnson participated fully in spring practices while McKelvin was recovering from hip surgery. Either player can come off the list at any time.

In addition, the Bills placed offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and defensive tackle Alan Branch on the active/non-football illness list. Either player can return at any time during training camp.