Buffalo Bills: What We've Learned Through Week 2 of Training Camp
The Bills, however, couldn't tie a bow on Andre Reed's enshrinement weekend as the Giants prevailed 17-13. But it was only the first preseason game. It's still too soon to draw any concrete conclusions about either team.
But through two weeks of Bills practices, there have been plenty of interesting developments. Some rookies are standing out. Others are struggling. And the team is currently giving tight end reps to a third-stringer and a fullback.
After watching the Bills play their first game, here's a look at what we've learned (or think we've learned) through the first fortnight of training camp.
There's an Open Offensive Line Competition
By the time the Bills take the field in Chicago to open the season, the offensive line could look vastly different than it did last year.
Head coach Doug Marrone has been working with a number of different offensive line groups throughout camp, and there's at least three starting jobs up for grabs. One is right guard, where Chris Hairston and Kraig Urbik were getting first-team reps.
In later practices, rookie Cyril Richardson got in the mix with some time with the first team. Urbik was the starter Sunday, and one could label him the leader of the pack if he starts the next preseason game as well.
Right tackle is another position that could go in a number of directions. Erik Pears and Cyrus Kouandjio have been the main competitors to start on the right side. Pears struggled in 2013, so the door is open for Kouandjio to take over. But Kouandjio has failed to make his mark yet in camp, and Pears was the starter against the Giants.
One bright spot so far has been seventh-round rookie Seantrel Henderson, who could turn into a steal for the Bills. Henderson started at left tackle for Cordy Glenn, and the rookie held his own. Henderson has also been having a solid camp, and according to Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com, he's been improving daily.
Assuming Glenn makes it back in time for the regular season, which Tim Graham of The Buffalo News expects, he will be the starting left tackle. But Henderson is still making a case for a roster spot and could even get in the mix at right tackle if and when Glenn returns.
The Offense Has a Ways to Go
Generally, a team's offense takes longer to come around than the defense as training camp goes along.
The Bills are no different, as their offense has had its fair share of ups and downs throughout the first couple weeks of practice. It culminated in an underwhelming effort against the Giants that saw EJ Manuel go 2-of-7 for 19 yards in two series.
Manuel's biggest problem was staring down receivers, which led to a few batted passes and near-interceptions. For Manuel to take the next step in his development, he needs to more consistently work through his reads during the play.
The Bills surrounded Manuel with talent this offseason, but it will be up to him to bring it all together. So far, the offense has been subpar in practice, and it hit a low by allowing eight sacks during an 11-on-11 drill last week.
The constant tinkering along the offensive line could be playing a part in the growing pains, but Manuel can alleviate that with better decision-making. There is still plenty of time to get things in order, but the offense has to make the most of the remaining practices and preseason games.
The Defense Can Continue Last Year's Momentum
Even though it's still early in the preseason, there's at least one thing we can be certain of: The Bills have one of the league's best defensive lines.
The Bills' front four consists of three Pro Bowlers and another player who had 10 sacks in 2013. Early training camp returns are showing the defensive line can again be the foundation of a strong defensive unit.
Jerry Hughes, the "other" Bills defensive lineman (the one who didn't go to the Pro Bowl) has been abusing blockers throughout training camp. Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com noted Hughes' strong play early in camp and said Hughes "is starting to become dangerous."
Fairburn also said Kyle Williams has been a "bright spot" up front for the Bills, and Williams showed why Sunday in Canton.
Williams made potentially the best play for the Bills on Sunday when he punched the ball loose on a sack of Eli Manning. The Bills were able to recover and take over in Giants territory.
Williams' highlight marked the end of the starting defense's night, and the first team looked stout against the Giants' starting offense. In two drives, the Bills defense held the Giants to a three-and-out and a five-and-out culminating in the Williams sack fumble.
With an elite front four, the Bills defense should be able to keep the team in games again in 2014.
Sammy Watkins Can Be as Good as Advertised
The Bills paid a steep price to move up and take Sammy Watkins in May's draft, but his performances in training camp practices are showing he might have been worth it.
Watkins was shut out in the Hall of Fame game, but he did manage to get a bit of separation down the sideline on one play only to be overthrown by EJ Manuel. Watkins has made a habit of getting separation in practice, and Manuel has managed to make a few connections.
One such connection resulted in a 99-yard touchdown after Watkins left Stephon Gilmore in the dust.
Watkins was making plays early and often in camp, leaving MMQB head man Peter King thoroughly impressed. King described a four-play stretch in an early practice where Watkins pancaked Leodis McKelvin, got open on a crossing route and won a jump ball over several other defenders.
Of course, playing a game is an entirely different animal, but Watkins is showing he has the skills to be a threatening offensive player. Combine that with an insane work ethic (working on routes by himself at 6:45 in the morning) and Watkins can become a game-changer sooner than later.
This Might Be It for T.J. Graham
Somebody alert T.J. Graham's agent, because Graham might be searching for a job by the end September.
Graham has been competing all summer for one of the last wide receiver roster spots, but he is being outshined by several wideouts. To make the team, Graham will have to make significant strides in the next few weeks.
Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin are virtual locks to make the team. Despite not being much of an offensive threat, special teams ringer Marcus Easley might have punched his ticket to the regular season with his blocked punt against the Giants.
That presumably leaves one more spot to be occupied by a receiver. If the first few weeks of camp are any indicator, Chris Hogan can't even see Graham in his rear-view mirror.
Per Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News, EJ Manuel and Doug Marrone have been "raving" about Hogan's performance. Skurski said besides Watkins, it's been Hogan who has been "turning the most heads."
Since Goodwin sat out against the Giants while he nurses a hamstring injury, Hogan was the first-team slot receiver. Hogan had a quiet game (12 yards on three catches in four targets), but the fact he ran with the first-team offense suggests the coaches are impressed with his work so far.
Favorites Emerging in Quest to Purchase Team
We would be remiss if we didn't discuss the latest in the Bills sale process. The search for a new owner looms like a shadow over the Bills season and can drastically affect the mindset of the fanbase.
Should Jon Bon Jovi and his Toronto cronies succeed in purchasing the team, all signs would point to them looking to eventually relocate the team north of the border. Not surprisingly, Bon Jovi is not a popular choice as a potential owner among Bills fans.
But according to John Kryk of Sun Media, Bon Jovi and Co. think their chances to ultimately land the team are "slim." That's because they are afraid they won't be able to compete financially with Terry Pegula, who owns the Buffalo Sabres and would almost surely keep the team in Western New York.
Kryk said Pegula's initial bid for the team, which is non-binding, could be as much as $400 million more than Bon Jovi's. Kryk also said Team Toronto's max bid is about $1.2 billion, and Pegula's reported first bid was $1.3 billion.
Bucky Gleason of The Buffalo News also expects Pegula to emerge as the Bills' new boss. Gleason said Pegula's willingness to overpay for the team and his ties to Buffalo will give Ralph Wilson's estate every reason to approve the sale to Pegula.
Donald Trump is also still involved in the bidding process, but Gleason said Trump has already acknowledged he doesn't have much of a shot. Kryk did say Trump's right-hand man said Trump would pay for the team in cash without having to finance any of the cost. Imagine being able to cut a check for $1 billion without even breaking a sweat.
There's still a ways to go before the Bills are sold. But Pegula seems to be the popular choice to end up in charge.