Bills camp preview: Is Edwards the real deal?
The New England Patriots seemingly received all the attention in the AFC East a season ago, because most fans figured the other teams in the division were horrible and not worth watching. Well, two of them were. The Buffalo Bills weren't bad at all, flirting with the postseason until losing their final three games. Yes, the Jets and Dolphins have issues, but how far away is this Bills team?
Marshawn Lynch hasn't had a positive offseason off the field, dealing with repercussions from a hit and run accident. But on the field, Lynch had a successful rookie campaign, and there's no reason to expect he will regress. The draft brought exceptional talent on both sides of the ball, and while the Bills have to realize they aren't on par with Tom Brady's Patriots, they do think Trent Edwards can get them to the postseason for the first time this decade. Yes, it has been a while.
The Bills need Edwards to step up and lead the team. With Lynch, the Bills know what they have: a young, hungry running back who is already a top-10 fantasy pick and capable of bigger things. He rushed for 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but also missed three games. Edwards and J.P. Losman went back and forth sharing the starting quarterback job last season, for whatever confusing reason, but now it's clearly Edwards' job, and they hope he takes advantage of his opportunity. The Bills have finished among the bottom seven in the league in total yards each of the past five seasons, and quarterback play has been a big part of that. New offensive coordinator Turk Schonert might try to throw more and open things up, but head coach Dick Jauron is a running man who preaches ball control. The play calling will be something to watch for its level of conservatism.What to look for in campKey position battles: Assuming quarterback is set, and Lynch is healthy, the main position battle will be at wide receiver opposite Lee Evans. While Evans remains an enigmatic wide receiver, and frustrating to own in fantasy football, he is very talented. Even in his breakout season of 2006, Evans would seemingly save his best for a scant few games, and big numbers there would make his season totals look more attractive. In 2006, it was the 11-catch, 265-yard, two-touchdown game at Houston that skewed a fine but misleading season. Last year, Evans broke 100 yards in only two games, coming in Weeks 8 and 9.
Marshawn Lynch has proven he can carry the load, but what about Trent Edwards and whoever lines up opposite Lee Evans?
Key Additions LB Kawika Mitchell DT Marcus Stroud CB William James TE Courtney Anderson CB Leodis McKelvin WR James Hardy Key Losses TE Michael Gaines CB Jason Webster Probable Lineup QB1 Trent Edwards RB1 Marshawn Lynch RB2 Fred Jackson WR1 Lee Evans WR2 Josh Reed WR3 James Hardy TE1 Robert Royal K Rian Lindell Preseason Schedule @ WAS Aug. 9, 7 p.m. PIT Aug. 14, 7:30 p.m. @ IND Aug. 24, 8 p.m. DET Aug. 28, 6:30 p.m. All times ET
Surely part of the problem was the quarterback play, but also a lack of help on the opposite side. So fantasy owners will eagerly be watching to see who helps Evans. Josh Reed nearly matched Evans for receptions last season but was hardly a big-play threat, and he caught as many touchdown passes as Andre Reed and Willis Reed: zero. Roscoe Parrish is the team's punt returner. And then there's hotshot rookie James Hardy, who's half a foot taller than Evans, Reed and Parrish. The second-round pick from Indiana isn't guaranteed playing time, but having someone that size sure would make Evans look better on the other side. If Hardy has a good camp, move Evans up your lists a few spots, and consider Hardy late in drafts.
Fitting in: Lynch is the lynchpin of the offense, so to speak, but we can't simply forget the three games he missed as a rookie due to a left ankle problem, as well as the off-field issues this summer. Hey, he's a first-rounder, and liable to get more carries per game than just about any other player, but every team needs depth at running back. Fred Jackson gained 5.2 yards per carry in limited action, getting 115 of his 300 yards in one game against Miami, and he's the obvious handcuff for Lynch. Anthony Thomas is gone, Dwayne Wright still remains, but the Bills added a bruising running back in the sixth round: Xavier Omon from Northwest Missouri State. The chances of him being fantasy relevant anytime soon aren't good, but he is built like a truck and scored 37 touchdowns in 14 games as a senior, while becoming the first back in NCAA history to top 1,500 rushing yards in all four years. He could fit in if Jackson and others let him.
On the line: Derrick Dockery and Jason Peters are formidable on the left side of the line, and Lynch is a strong running back who doesn't need the best line in this league. This isn't it, by the way, but it's good enough to protect Edwards. Derek Fine was a fourth-round pick from Kansas and should work alongside Robert Royal and Courtney Anderson as the Bills concentrate on run blocking and running clock.The bottom line
Lynch will continue to be in the news all summer due to some bad decisions he allegedly made in his car, but the player to watch in camp would be the quarterback. The Bills can be a .500 team with current personnel duplicating 2007 and an underrated defense that can keep scores low, but Edwards needs to improve. He's Schonert's pet project, and while it might just be coincidence Losman is still around after requesting a trade, the fact is Edwards might always be looking over his shoulder.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.
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