This year, however, is different. My co-workers and friends and I- and, hell, seemingly ALL of Buffalo- have been talking about the Bills since the Mario Williams signing occurred in mid-March. Not only that, but the Bills re-signed Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson, and then signed Mark Anderson, who had 10.5 sacks last year. That gives the Buffalo Bills three players who have had more than ten sacks in a season before, with Shawne Merriman joining Anderson and Williams.
Five important questions I have heading into training camp (which I will reflect on when camp is complete)-
1. How are the rookies going to perform?
Stephon Gilmore was very impressive at rookie camp. Between making picks and breaking up plays, this guy is almost a lock to make the Bills’ opening roster in my opinion. I don’t need to say anymore amazing things about this guy because if you Google search his name, you automatically get a ton of praise for the 10th overall pick from South Carolina. This guy is going to do big, great things for our Defense here in Buffalo.
Oh, and we also drafted a player whose first name is Tank.
Don’t ask him how he got that nickname, lest you wish to be one with the turf. (Associated Press)
My questions lie with two players- OT Cordy Glenn, and WR T.J. Graham. Glenn has incredible reach, and great strength. However, my issue- and if you read around, it’s not just MY issue- is with his footwork. His missteps and slow footwork could be a problem down the road, but I believe with some work he should be a solid OT or a Guard, a position he also played (and well, I might add) at Georgia.
Graham is also tricky. He’s great on returns, and he is also incredibly fast. However, he has to work on his receiving skills a little bit. It’s the one thing that most chastised him on- having seen some clips of him in college (bless you, internet) I think he could be a solid no. 2 or 3 receiver.
2. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick finally lead this team to glory?
I hope this answer is yes, I really do. I am lucky enough to remember the last time we were in the playoffs. Albeit, I as a freshman in high school back then, and I’m now four weeks shy of 27… but who’s counting? The answer lies with our QB. Can Fitz start games as well as he finished? We can not always rely on the insane 18-point comebacks to beat teams (ask the Bills how well that worked when they went 1-8 in their last nine games). Sometimes, we have to strike early and often.
Our WR core should be interesting too. I think Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones are a great 1-2, but don’t count out Marcus Easley or Derek Hagan to come in and compete in training camp. And as long as TE Scott Chandler builds on his impressive run next year, the Bills offense should be solid. Here’s hoping Fitz has an entire season like his first seven games last year.
3. How much does the signing of Mario Williams improve our team?
Immensely. I focused on this a lot on my last (and first) blog entry, but I think this signing will do a hell of a lot of good for not only our Defensive Line, but for the Buffalo Bills as a whole. Not only are fans excited, not only are the PLAYERS excited, but the league is taking notice that the Buffalo Bills are no longer a team to be trifled with. This will be a team that teams don’t just come in looking for an easy W against. No sir. I believe this new Buffalo Bills team is one that, finally, sees a coach and a GM who is willing to do whatever it takes to win. I mean, guys, how many of you thought we would even get Mario Williams to COME SEE the city of Buffalo, let alone tour the city, dine with Jim Kelly, and sign a six year $100 million contract? Not me. It almost seems like a new era in Buffalo Bills history, one that can hopefully end our painful twelve years without football past Week 17.
4. Can Shawne Merriman stay healthy an entire season?
This seems to be the question a lot of my friends and I have been throwing around, especially after last pre-season’s promising start and dreadful five-plus games he played before finishing the season with six games played, nine tackles and a sack. This is not the same Shawne Merriman from his San Diego days, I understand. But can he possibly get back to rare form- especially with an improved Defense, and a young batch of defensive stalwarts coming into camp? Or is this finally the year where the team decides to head in a different direction? I believe if he stays healthy, you might just see shades of the old Merriman returning sooner than later.
5. Based on everything going into camp, and assuming the top players can remain healthy, is this the year the Bills FINALLY MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
Yes- as long as we can beat our AFC East opponents. It’s no secret we flat-out tanked against our AFC East opponents, going 1-5 and getting outscored 200-121- an average of just around 14 points. Something has to give, and I believe it starts with the Defense. With our improved D this year, along with a healthy WR core, I believe the Bills should be a playoff contender, as we also play against a weak (other than last years surprise in the San Francisco 49ers) NFC West. They also play Kansas City, who they beat handily in Week 1 last season, and Indianapolis, who is in the midst of a massive rebuild. The one sticking point to me is Cleveland, who seemingly has our number the last few years. Be it the Monday Night game, or the game where Derek Anderson completed two passes against us AND WON, Cleveland just seems to get to us. I believe, though, that this is our year. Defensive Tackle Kyle Williams said it best.
This is our time. This is our year.
Gotta be an optimist, right? It’s the Buffalo in me.