Buffalo Bills: 5 Things We've Learned from Training Camp so Far
The Buffalo Bills will have practiced for two weeks in training camp before their first preseason game kicks off on Sunday night versus the Indianapolis Colts. While the meaningless games will tell us more about formations and personnel packages, there is still plenty to be learned about the Bills' first week in training camp.
News and rumors gathered from various media outlets regarding training camp battles should always be taken with a grain of salt. However, training camp presents a month long window for people from outside the organization to see the preparation for the season. Once the regular season begins, the access to teams becomes severely limited and the newly tight-lipped Bills front office is no exception.
Let's take a look at some observations from the first week of Bills camp at St. John Fisher College.
Starting Gig May Not Be Kevin Kolb's to Lose
Since the April draft ended, many have attempted to predict the share of snaps that Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel would split during the summer months. Kolb's addition to the team in early April was complicated by the somewhat surprising selection of Manuel and no one within the organization has dared to label either player with a specific role.
By default, Kolb was slotted into top quarterback billing on depth charts by sites like Our Lads and Yahoo! Sports—and the Bills released their first depth chart on Monday night with Kolb’s name in parentheses. His experience—albeit not a positive few years—made it easy to assume that he would receive many of the preseason snaps with the first-team until Manuel's learning curve was up to speed.
WGR 550 in Buffalo has described Manuel as the "best quarterback on the field" during the team's first week of camp. They also mentioned that Kolb has done little to prove that he belongs as Buffalo's first-string quarterback in his five days of practice. Peter King visited Bills camp last week and tweeted on Saturday afternoon that Manuel was one of the four best rookies he's seen during his travels.
Kolb went down on Saturday morning while switching between the two practice fields, when he slipped on a wet rubber mat. He has not practiced since, but was labeled day-to-day by Doug Marrone after yesterday's practice.
One would assume that Kolb will at least start the first series or two on Sunday night if his knee feels up to it, otherwise Manuel's heady play could surpass him on the unofficial depth if the veteran remains on the sideline.
Fred Jackson's Role Still in the Air
At age 32 and coming off of a second straight injury-plagued season, Fred Jackson will have to adjust to a secondary role in the Bills offense for the first time in four years. C.J. Spiller emerged as one of the unheralded, but elite rushers in the NFL and will have a bigger role moving forward now that he is free from Chan Gailey's chains.
We do know that Jackson will be coming off the bench to fill in for Spiller after long series or runs. It also would not be surprising to see both players on the field at the same time during passing situations. Both running backs are among the best pass-catching backs in the league, but Spiller presents more of a mismatch out wide should the coaching staff decide to go that route.
Regardless of what unfolds for Jackson, his days as a 1,000-yard running back are likely over—barring a serious injury to Spiller.
Wide Receiver Position Should Have Biggest Turnaround
For what seems like an eternity, the Bills have used a hodgepodge of players at the wide receiver position that were never more than temporary holds at the position. Terrell Owens was a a one-year mainstay and UDFA players like Donald Jones and David Nelson were forced to play slots above their ability.
The quick-tempo offense under Chan Gailey masked the deficiencies of the unit from time to time, but the issues were exposed during long stretches of scoring droughts. Scott Chandler became the second best receiving option last season behind Stevie Johnson, which speaks volumes to the team's inability to find consistent playmakers at the position.
Other than the quarterback spot, wide receiver became the most overhauled position during the offseason. The team cleared house with everyone other than Johnson, T.J. Graham and Brad Smith, while also adding four rookies that should see significant playing time in their first seasons.
Kevin Kolb has labeled second-round selection Robert Woods as "a stud" during the first week of practice and Doug Marrone said after the fourth day of practice that Da'Rick Rogers has "stepped it up" since the spring.
How the Bills receivers line up on Sunday night and which units they are a part of will give us a sneak peak for how the position could unfold in 2013.
Left Guard Is Predictably a Problem
When the Bills front office decided not to overpay for the services of Andy Levitre in March, many assumed that the team had done their due diligence in scouting a replacement. However, the April draft came and went without a single lineman being selected by the boys in Orchard Park.
In house solutions at the start of the offseason were Colin Brown and Chris Scott with Doug Legursky joining the fray only a few weeks after the draft. Nothing exactly awe-inspiring from that group.
It was easy to cautiously trust in the personnel decisions of a new regime, especially with a head coach who has spent much of his career coaching offensive linemen. The results in replacing Levitre thus far have been nothing short of disastrous.
Scott has already been let go after a disappointing offseason and neither Brown nor Legursky has played well with the first-team unit. Doug Marrone was a bit concerned after the first week of practice regarding the position, so the team quietly signed former Houston Texans' center Antoine Caldwell a week ago.
Regardless of who wins the underwhelming camp battle, left guard is going from the strength of the line to the spot in most distress.
Kiko Alonso Looks the Part
Kiko Alonso may not have been the first choice for Bills fans when the team picked up a second second-round selection with a draft-day trade. Inside linebacker was a huge need for the team, but value at other spots on both lines looked too good to pass up.
Instead the Bills ended up with ultra-physical linebacker Alonso from the University of Oregon, a player who was greatly overshadowed by the presence of Dion Jordan on that Ducks defense.
Immediately Alonso is becoming the face of new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's defense and Doug Marrone has already called him an every-down linebacker from the beginning. The keys to the defense have been bestowed upon Alonso since he arrived in Buffalo during the offseason and he will continue to be the quarterback of the defense moving forward.
Early reports about Alonso's play have been positive. The Buffalo Bills official twitter account tweeted out about an impressive play he made reading the eyes of Manuel in a goal-line drill on Sunday afternoon.
Being a standout in practice is certainly different than becoming a prime-time player, but Alonso's early return looks to be a good one in the middle of a multi-look Bills defense.