The Buffalo Bills are in the midst of their first OTAs (organized team activities) in preparation for the 2012 NFL season, and there are several Bills players on offense that need to step up their games in order for Buffalo to have a successful season.
Despite missing the 2012 NFL playoffs for the 12th consecutive season with a 6-10 record after a hot 5-2 start to the season, the Buffalo Bills made great strides in terms of production and improvement of the young core they are developing.
After a red-hot start to the 2011 season in which Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team to a 4-2 record while throwing for 1,477 yards, 12 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, the Buffalo Bills' quarterback was signed to a six-year, $59 million contract.
However, after he signed the deal everything went downhill, as the Bills finished the season with a 6-10 record. Shortly after the season concluded, it was reported that Fitzpatrick played much of the season with four cracked ribs and a bruised sternum, caused by a devastating hit in a 23-0 victory over the Washington Redskins.
Fitzpatrick finished the season completing 62 percent of his passes, while throwing for 3,832 yards, 24 touchdowns and a league-leading 23 interceptions.
This offseason, he has been working on his throwing mechanics with quarterback coach, David Lee. Fitzpatrick has realized his shortcomings in his footwork, telling BuffaloBills.com
"He’s all about the lower half...The footwork, making sure you’re not getting your feet in the way of your hips when you’re throwing the ball. That’s something we’ve worked on a lot because I have an issue with balls I’m throwing to my left, just making sure everything is open so I’m not closing my hips off and can’t fire with balls dying. There are a lot of things that we have been looking at after he made a bunch of clips from last year of specific throws that I’ve struggled with."
Hopefully with a full offseason to work on his footwork and throwing mechanics, Fitzpatrick will be ready to take the reigns during his third season as the starter for the Bills.
The Buffalo Bills selected Georgia's left tackle, Cordy Glenn, with the No. 41 overall pick in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. While many pundits saw him as a better fit for the guard position, general manager Buddy Nix clearly sees him as a left tackle. Said he:
"We've been trying to get a guy that we thought was good enough to be a starting left tackle in this league, and we thought Cordy Glenn was that guy from the start..."
Glenn played 50 games for the Bulldogs, seeing time across the whole offensive line, with 28 starts at left guard, 18 starts at left tackle and four starts at right guard.
Last year, with Demetress Bell often injured, then-rookie tackle Chris Hairston made seven starts on the blind side and performed fairly well. However, he hasn't seen any first-team reps throughout OTAs, and with right tackle Erik Pears signed to a new deal, Hairston seems like the odd man out.
Coach Chan Gailey has had nothing but praise for the massive 6'6" 346-pounder.
"He’s done a good job. He’s got some things to learn,” said Gailey. ”The speed of this game is so different. So he’s got a lot of learning to do. He’s got physical talent and he’s got ability. He’s got a work ethic that will allow him to get there. He just needs as many reps as he can possibly get between now and the first game of the year.”
Glenn has taken every first-team rep throughout the entire offseason workout program, and the second rounder is the front runner to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Last season, wide receiver Donald Jones earned the No. 2 wide receiver role for the Buffalo Bills. Jones was having a decent year, catching 23 passes for 231 yards and a score, despite being plagued with injuries that caused him to be placed on injured reserve halfway through the season.
This year, he is fully recovered and ready to go. Head coach Chan Gailey says that Jones still has the upper hand over rookie T.J. Graham and Marcus Easley as the No. 2, but isn't making the situation crystal clear, telling BuffaloBills.com
“It’s too early. To be honest with you, you can ask me about the third week in training camp and I’m going to tell you it’s too early. We’ll know exactly where we stand and it all works itself out by the time we get to the first ball game. We’ve got two or three guys that have done a great job. Donald Jones is probably a little bit ahead of everybody at this point.”
Throughout OTAs, he has been working mostly in the slot position, which Jones seems to enjoy. Coach Gailey likes his receivers to know all of the positions and routes in his spread attack, so I don't really think he'll be challenging David Nelson for the slot role. Jones played in the slot for the majority of his rookie season, with Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson on the outside, so the role is familiar to him:
“I love the slot,” said Jones. ”You have a lot more flexibility in the slot. You don’t have guys beating up on you every play, so I definitely like being in there.
“It definitely helps out a lot...You have a lot more room in the slot. You have a two-way go. You’re working a lot more on nickels, but also linebackers and safeties, so we definitely have the edge. When you’re outside the corners have the sideline as their help and then they have the inside help so you have less flexibility.”
Since being selected with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, it hasn’t been easy for Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller. Bills fans were scratching their heads when the pick was made, as the team already had two solid tailbacks in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson.
The Bills traded Lynch to the Seattle Seahawks soon after, with hopes of Spiller getting more touches, but he was a non-factor in his rookie campaign, carrying the ball just 74 times for 283 yards with no scores while adding 24 receptions for 157 yards and a touchdown out of the backfield.
The trend continued last season, as starter Fred Jackson was leading the league in rushing until he suffered a season-ending injury against the Miami Dolphins. Spiller took the opportunity and ran with it, ending the season with 561 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, while catching 39 passes for 269 yards and two more touchdowns.
With the Bills extending Fred Jackson to a two-year, $9 million deal earlier this week, it’s clear that Jackson will be the opening day starter, but that doesn’t mean that Spiller won’t have a breakout season.
The Bills tried utilizing Spiller to the best of their abilities last year, giving him reps at wide receiver and return duties in addition to his running back role.
Chan Gailey admitted that he needs to work on splitting the carries, telling ESPN’s AFC East Blogger, James Walker:
“There is only one football, and you got several guys who can make plays...Everybody is not going to be happy. That’s part of it. So, you do the best you can to try to use C.J. and Fred in different ways to get them the ball, because they’re capable of making big plays when they have the ball in their hands.”"If every guy I have on the team doesn't want to be a starter, I've got the wrong guys...I want everybody to want to be a starter. But everybody's not. There's 11 of 'em. You have to learn to handle that. Whoever it is. You have to learn to handle it."
Gailey also stated that Spiller could be an every-down back.
"He could be an every-down back. I don't see any reason he couldn't carry 20-25 if he needed to...But he’s a valuable, versatile player. He can play wideout. We’re fortunate to have two very good backs. I’m going to try to make sure we keep them fresh and wear ‘em out at the same time. Does that make sense? But you want them to be on the field doing something, running routes, creating a threat for the defense."
Scott Chandler emerged as a red zone threat and was one of the bright spots for the Bills offense this past season. The franchise hasn't had a formidable threat at the tight end position in years, and Chandler brings both receiving and blocking skills to the offense.
He started off the season with a flashy four touchdowns in the first three games, but finished the season with just 36 receptions for 389 yards and six scores.
Chandler is just 26 years old, and was recently re-signed to a two-year contract worth $5.45 million.
Working with Bills' former tight end and now tight ends coach Pete Metzelaars, Chandler has a lot of room to flourish. Metzelaars thinks Chandler can be productive in the Bills' offensive attack, telling BuffaloBills.com's Chris Brown,
“I met with him face-to-face a couple of days ago when he was here speaking with our trainers. I really look forward to seeing where he can go in this offense. He’s a big physical guy who can run as well. He catches the ball great. A lot of people do not give him credit for his blocking, but I think he does that very well and can still get better at it. I think he has a huge upside. I look forward to developing that and helping him become the every down player we would like for him to be.”