Buffalo’s younger players continue to see as many reps as possible so they can adapt to the speed of the NFL. Meanwhile, veterans are working hard to shake off the rust and prepare for live action.
In addition, position battles and depth chart questions are starting to take shape, as everyone is fighting for one of the coveted 53 final roster spots.
Though there are still many questions left to be answered, here are seven of the biggest takeaways from the Bills’ first week of training camp.
It’s been evident for months now that the Bills have a strong group of defensive linemen heading into 2012. The additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson immediately made this unit stronger on paper.
However, behind these free-agent acquisitions, it’s been exciting to see the depth along the line in action during camp.
Kyle Williams is back at full strength and is back to his usual tricks in the middle. Pairing up with second-year starter Marcell Dareus, the two should have a very successful season plugging up the interior.
Perhaps more impressively, veteran Shawne Merriman has looked great thus far. Merriman’s contributions could be huge if he can stay healthy, and so far he’s been at full strength.
With the switch back to the 4-3, Chris Kelsay is back to his natural defensive end position. In a press conference at the beginning of camp, the 32-year-old expressed excitement about being a part of such a talented rotation, as he believes it will help keep everybody, including himself, fresh.
The news wasn’t so good for Torell Troup recently, who reportedly “had a bad day” on Friday and subsequently was held out on Saturday, according to BuffaloBills.com. Troup has been working hard to get healthy after dealing with multiple injuries the past few seasons, but it appears he’s hit a stumbling block as of late.
Add in names like Spencer Johnson, Kellen Heard, Dwan Edwards and Alex Carrington, and the Bills are going to have some tough decisions to make regarding their final defensive linemen. As head coach Chan Gailey would say, it’s a good problem to have.
Starting right tackle Erik Pears, who has been sidelined following hernia surgery, is still not practicing, which head coach Chan Gailey admitted as being “a concern,” per BuffaloBills.com.
After performing very well for the Bills last season, the team rewarded the journeyman Pears with a three-year, $9.3 million contract extension.
Pears is fully expected to be the starting right tackle in 2012, so his absence has caused a mini shakeup along the offensive line. Second-year player Chris Hairston has been getting reps on the right side, while rookie Cordy Glenn has handled reps on the left side.
Fortunately, there are still several weeks before Week 1 of the regular season, which should hopefully be enough time for Pears to get back on the field.
But consistency along the offensive line is such a huge part of offensive success in the NFL, and every rep that Pears misses is one step further behind he’ll be with his teammates.
Buffalo certainly hopes Pears can return soon as a cohesive thread to the wall of men who will protect Ryan Fitzpatrick.
So far, neither Vince Young nor Tyler Thigpen has done anything to separate himself from the other for the team’s No. 2 quarterback job.
Bills beat writer Joe Buscaglia reported on WGR 550 Buffalo that he’s “not sure that Tyler Thigpen or Vince Young are trying to win the backup job.” Buscaglia went as far as to call their start to camp thus far “atrocious.”
The news is disappointing, considering Young’s athleticism and Thigpen’s experience with Chan Gailey. However, there’s still a lot of time for each player to make strides and demonstrate his value to the offense.
For Young, he’ll need to prove that he can grasp the offense and understand Gailey’s spread system. Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News highlighted Young’s transition from a West Coast system to Buffalo’s “shotgun-oriented attack” as being a major obstacle.
Meanwhile, Thigpen has struggled with accuracy, according to both Buscaglia’s and Gaughan’s reports. He has the advantage of being familiar with Gailey’s system, so hopefully this is just a matter of shaking off the rust early in camp.
The takeaway here is that Ryan Fitzpatrick is clearly out-performing his backups, and that Fitz’s health could be a significant part to Buffalo’s success this upcoming season.
One of the hottest position battles in Bills training camp is the No. 2 wide receiver position opposite Stevie Johnson. Though there are several intriguing candidates for the job, the latest news indicates that Derek Hagan is gaining steam.
The official Twitter account of the Bills reported Gailey’s comments on Hagan. He said that the wideout is “working his tail off and pushing hard to be a big part of this offense.” Gailey went on to say via the Bills’ website that “there is nobody giving better effort out there on our football field right now than Derek Hagan. And that is a great thing for him.”
Hagan certainly fits the part at 6’2” and 210 pounds. He’s been establishing a rapport with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and if he can show he can consistently perform by taking advantage of opportunities, he has a very real chance at winning the job.
But he’ll have to earn it.
Marcus Easley is finally healthy and has also been impressing at camp, reportedly standing out after “making some difficult acrobatic catches,” according to lead journalist Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. The third-year pro hasn’t been able to play the past two years due to health concerns, so it’s safe to say he has a major chip on his shoulder.
In addition, Donald Jones and rookie T.J. Graham have been making plays of their own. Jones has been seeing some time in the slot, while Graham has been flashing his dynamic speed that the Bills fell in love with on draft day.
It’s certainly a situation Bills fans will be monitoring, but thus far Derek Hagan has been making it difficult for the coaching staff to ignore him.
While it’s not necessarily a surprise, Bills fans have to be excited about all the positive news coming out surrounding this year’s first-round pick, cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore continues to impress in camp, and according to ESPN’s AFC East blogger James Walker, he’s been getting “rave reviews.”
Gilmore is a big, long, fast and physical corner who has already earned his teammates’ and coaches’ respect, not to mention the attention of the NFL media.
If he can prove to be the shutdown corner that many are describing him as, then Buffalo’s defense will have a crucial piece to build around for the foreseeable future.
Second-year safety Da’Norris Searcy has been seeing a lot of time with the ones thus far in camp, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. Brown offered Gailey’s explanation for the move:
We are trying to bring his communication level up because George (Wilson) is unbelievable and that. And we have to get him some reps. You do not ever know what grouping is going to be in there, so you have to try to get everybody playing with everybody that needs to get in there. That is for sure.
Buffalo is three deep at safety with Searcy, George Wilson and Jairus Byrd, but after them the depth chart isn’t exceptionally strong. The team brought in veteran safety and former Bill Jimmy Leonhard a few days ago, but he has since signed with the Denver Broncos.
Leonhard’s visit is an indication that the Bills would like another quality, veteran presence at the position.
Either way, it appears that Searcy is already carving out a role for himself in an increasingly talented secondary. Listed at 5’11” and 216 pounds, the 23-year-old out of North Carolina is a physical tackler who is athletic and instinctive. He should see more time in 2012.
Despite being the favorite up until now to win the starting strong-side linebacker job, veteran Kirk Morrison now appears to have a position battle on his hands.
Arthur Moats, who was a sixth-round pick in 2010, has reportedly been “climbing up [the] depth chart,” according to John Murphy of BuffaloBills.com.
Murphy details how Moats has switched between multiple linebacker positions since joining the Bills a couple years ago. Now that he has a regular role, everyone involved thinks Moats will benefit, including Chan Gailey:
“We finally settled him into one role as an outside backer for us […]. I think Arthur’s handled that very well. He’s gotten a lot better, in the OTAs and the minicamp-it made so much difference for him to have that. It’s unbelievable.”
While Morrison is an accomplished veteran with an impressive resume, Moats is an energetic young player who has already proven he can rush the passer. In limited time over two seasons, he’s already posted five sacks and two forced fumbles.
Moats may not ultimately win the starting job, but his time with the ones in training camp will prove to be valuable both for him and the other starters. If nothing else, his growth is a great sign for the team’s depth at linebacker.