The NFL preseason is almost upon us. It will be lights, cameras, and action in a hot second. Last season, Buffalo was winless against division rivals. Are they ready to do battle in the AFC East and compete for the ultimate war?
Here are some observations from around the division that caught my eye:
The Good: It's All Good and Getting Better
I'm quite taken with rookie Eric Wood. In addition to the tenacity and energy he brings to the table, he also brings an excellent attitude. Wood breaks it down like this: "I've always lived by the thinking there are two things you can control on the football field: attitude and effort."
He continues, "I'm always going to bring my effort, and I'm always going to bring a good attitude. ...Come New England Week One, I should be ready to go." Wood is physically and mentally ready to make an impact for his team.
Langston Walker is on a mission and wearing his swagger on his sleeve. "I’m a prideful person and it is a challenge. And I’m sure there are a lot of detractors out there but I’m here to prove them wrong," he says. Walker is showing great attitude also.
These attitudinal adjustments are just what Buffalo's offensive line needs to improve upon last season.
Citing a lack of team identity, pressure on the coaches to produce, Terrell Owens, and the defense, bookmakers are giving Buffalo 30-1 odds to make it to Super Bowl XLIV. After a great start last season, the Bills slid into mediocrity. Maybe this diss can be the fuel that ignites the team's collective pride and give them the focus they need to win.
If more incentive is needed, many analysts have the Bills finishing the season at the bottom of the division. Granted, the AFC East is competitive. But Buffalo has addressed many of the issues holding them back—offensive line, complement to Lee Evans, and pass rush help. They will do better than expected.
Keeping Trent Edwards on his feet was another issue last year. According to quarterback coach Alex Van Pelt, Buffalo has a good insurance policy in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
"He plays with a lot of confidence on the field and he has the ability to make plays on the run," Van Pelt said. "He wants to help Trent any way he can, but we know when he gets into a game, he can win the game for us." Fitzpatrick demonstrated at Cincinnati that he can make clutch plays.
As for the competition, there are rumblings of a quarterback controversy brewing in Miami between Chad Pennington and Chad Henne. Pennington did a fantastic job for Dolphins last season. Why fix something that's not broken?
Statistically, the Dolphins have the hardest regular schedule and controversy is the last thing they need. Their confusion is a Bill advantage.
New England has unanswered questions in key areas—running back, quarterback, offensive line, and the secondary. Quarterback Tom Brady returns after missing the entire 2008 season. Is he confident his line can protect his knee? Belichick stays prepared. Any knick in the Patriot armor is great for Buffalo.
The Bad: Frustrating but Not the End of the World
Aaron Maybin is still unsigned; therefore, he's not practicing. Maybin needs to be on the field learning the system and jelling with the other players.
Jairus Byrd is signed but he can't practice because he's recuperating from surgery. Eager to get to work, he says he's "going to work hard and go about [his] business as if [he's] competing to start."
Steve Johnson is out indefinitely but says he'll be back in due time. "I’m just frustrated that I can’t be out there, seeing how everybody’s working hard and it’s hot out here, we have receivers going down and I can’t be out there to help them out," said Johnson. "But time’s going to heal me and that’s all I’m waiting for is my time."
There are other players nursing injuries. Nothing serious. They should be able to continue practicing within a few days.
The Ugly: Are the Bills Ready for This?
The Associated Press reported that Coach Belichick was coy when asked about Patriot interest the NFL-homeless Mike Vick. With Brady back, it's obvious Vick's would be a backup. However, Belichick's recent pursuit of wildcat knowledge has me curious.
Tom Brady is back. Is he the Brady of old or a fraction of himself? The consensus is that he is picking up where he left off. Everything's the same except the brace on his left knee.
Miami is taking the steps necessary to rebuild their declining secondary. They signed rookie cornerback Vontae Davis. Davis will be in a three-way competition with Eric Green and rookie Sean Smith. They hope the 6'3 Smith can keep physical receivers like Owens in check.
The Jets are ratcheting up their secondary, too. Looks like the newly acquired Lito Shepherd, Jim Leonhard are shaping up as superb complements Darrelle Revis and Kerry Rhodes. This is a lethal interception grabbing crew.