Buffalo Bills preseason is half over and things have been up and down. There have been plenty of highlights as well as lowlights. I still think that having an extra preseason game will in fact benefit such a young team, but at what cost?
Currently sitting out practices, and in some cases games, are names like Terrell Owens (toe), Fred Jackson (wrist), Aaron Schobel (elbow), Demetrius Bell (back), and Drayton Florence (knee).
Many believe that T.O. sitting is merely precautionary and that if this had occurred during the regular season he would have at most missed one game. Aaron Schobel's situation is a little more disturbing. Jauron said after the practice during which the injury occurred that, “We don’t think it’ll be a problem long, long term, but it could be a week or so, maybe more than that.”
I personally don't like the sound of that when it is about a player that missed nearly all of last season.
Drayton Florence may not even make the team even though the injury is not as bad as originally feared. Reggie Corner has impressed though, and many believe that he may supplant Ashton Youboty or Drayton Florence as the starter at nickel.
Looking ahead, though, there are some bright spots to highlight. The following are what I believe to be the five most promising things we've seen thus far in the preseason.
5. Tight End Play
Tight end was a major debate this past off season. A lot of people felt that we needed to draft Brandon Pettigrew with our number 11 pick. I was personally opposed to that idea, not because I didn't feel that Pettigrew would someday be a good tight end, but because of the players that we already had on the roster.
Now, "the Dereks'" numbers haven't been spectacular, but they have shown an ability to catch the ball and make some good blocks while helping in pass protection. Schouman has two catches for 14 yards and Fine has three catches for 18 yards.
The real story is the 2009 4th round draft pick Shawn Nelson, who has five receptions for 18 yards and a touchdown, and second year man Jonathan Stupar, who has 15 receptions for 155 yards and a touchdown. Granted neither of these guys have played with or against starters, their numbers do look good.
The six foot-three inch Stupar was built to play tight end in the NFL. Shawn Nelson is looked at to become the next Pete Metzelaars. Whether or not that is true is left to be seen.
4. First Team Run Defense
The 2009 Bills run defense looks much improved from last year. With a number of tackles for a loss so far in the preseason, the defense looks poised to have a good year.
The pass rush is still struggling. Although with an improved ability to stuff runners, teams may become desperate and pass more often practically forcing the Bills to become better in the pass rush automatically. If Marcus Stroud can continue to be a dominant play on the interior this should continue.
3. Receiving Corps May Be Back Loaded
Everyone and their brother knows that the Bills picked up Terrell Owens in the off season. It was arguably the most shocking signing of the year by any NFL team.
Regardless, the Bills reserve wide outs have thus far impressed. Felton Huggins has hauled in 10 receptions for 84 yards. CJ Hawthorne has caught thee passes for 28 yards and Justin Jenkins has reeled in seven passes for 71 yards. The man who impressed many last year was Steve Johnson who so far has three receptions for 52 yards.
Johnson has the best shot at making an impact this season and his numbers are less than expected this preseason due to being out with an injury for the first two games.
Overall, I have been very impressed with these reserve players and I am looking for one, if not more, of these players to take a roster spot this season.
2. Running Backs That Aren't Named Marshawn or Freddy
If the Bills do not utilize the "running backs by committee" strategy they are fools. They have the hard running Marshawn Lynch starting week four. Fred Jackson is a home run hitter as well as a major receiving threat, but the signing of Dominic Rhodes gives them a look that can be compared to that of the 2008 New York Giants.
Add Xavier Omon, Bruce Hall, and even Corey McIntyre to that mix and you might just have too much talent. Obviously there is no such thing in the NFL as having too much talent, but this is as close as it gets. Bruce Hall and Xavier Omon have impressed me with their styles of running. Corey McIntyre reminded me of Robb Riddick, the big man the Bills once used to ice games back in the late 1980s.
Look for the Bills to use all of these backs especially during the first three games of the season while Lynch sits.
1. Pittsburgh has Linebacker U, Western New York Has Cornerback School
If anyone says the Bills haven't been able to develop cornerbacks in this league you can immediately disregard anything else they say.
Leodis McKelvin will become a premier corner in this league. Terrence McGee is a top 15 corner and Reggie Corner is the man out of nowhere. Add Ellis Lankster and you can say that the Bills have stolen two great corners out of the past two drafts.
If Jarius Byrd works out at free safety I will have to bet that the Bills secondary has the potential to become one of the premier units in this year's season.
Unfortunately for the Bills though, not everything has been good, which is to be expected in the preseason. An NFL team is always a work in progress. There have been plenty of aspects of this team that I'd be most willing to call just that.
The no huddle has shown signs of life so far and the coaching staff seems intent on implementing it throughout the 2009 season. I like that they aren't exactly trying to recreate the K-Gun offense of the early 1990s Bills teams as they just don't have the same talent.
Rather it seems that Turk Schonert simply wants to disrupt defenses and their ability to read a play at the line of scrimmage along with hurry them to get subs on the field. It has had mixed results thus far.
The offensive line has looked inexperienced and why shouldn't it? With two rookies playing two new positions it should look a little confused. I've had people ask me why we didn't just have Eric Wood play center and let Geoff Hangartner, a veteran who has played plenty of guard, do just that.
The only answer I can come up with is that the coaches do not want to put a rookie at center due to the nose tackles that we face two times a year each, Jason Ferguson, Justin Jenkins, and Vince Wilfork. The coaching staff merely wants a little more experience against these monsters, and I personally agree with them.
The Bills pass rush is still pretty nonexistent. Schobel has shown signs that he will be able to return to his all-pro form, but now he is injured again. For how long? Your guess is as good as mine.
With Aaron Maybin finally signing and practicing with the team perhaps he will add the rush necessary to get to the quarterback. Chris Ellis should get more playing time this year than Ryan Denny - just my opinion.
Things to look for/need to happen in the two final preseason games:
The Bills will continue to work on perfecting the no huddle. A lot of it comes down to Trent Edwards knowing when to hurry up and when to settle down.
The Bills need to prove that they can rush the passer in order for their secondary to continue performing the way that it has thus far. Look for Aaron Maybin, Chris Ellis, and Copeland Bryan to get extra reps as the staff needs to find something, someone to get to the quarterback.
Trent Edwards will see extra time during the next game, but the offensive line should see a ton of extra time in hopes that it can "gel".
Watch the safety situation. Bryan Scott looks great in run support, but horrendous in pass coverage. Whitner will start, but will the Bills run more three safety sets? That depends on if Jarius Byrd looks good in the next two games. Ko Simpson will make the team, but this is likely his last chance.