It is the Fourth of July weekend. Will head over to the Rose Bowl this weekend to watch the big fireworks show. That led me to start thinking; which Buffalo Bills players will be creating their own fireworks in 2010?
This slideshow is devoted to five Bills offensive players and five Bills defensive players that I believe will step up in the 2010 and have a breakout season. By breaking out, I am talking about having a substantially productive season, which would be much more than any of these players have contributed in their careers to date.
Pictured is Jairus Byrd, who with his team high nine interceptions and being named to the Pro-Bowl as a rookie, already had his breakout season last year. Opposing QBs will be much more aware of him from here on out, but due to his athleticism and natural instincts for the ball, he will continue to generate strong interception totals.
James Hardy's career to date has been constantly stalled due to injuries. Even though he missed the majority of last season, he still was not able to come in to mini-camp and OTA's completely healthy this year. He showed some flashes in his rookie campaign but has not done that much yet to justify his high draft selection.
With very few roadblocks in his path, if he is ever going to make his mark as a NFL caliber wide receiver, this would be the year. Time to breakout, James. But then again, seeing is believing.
Demetrius Bell, son of NBA legend Karl Malone, is a big, strong raw tackle. He took his bumps and bruises last year, had a bunch of penalties, and had to overcome a very steep learning curve. He suffered a season ending injury and still is trying to complete his rehab to be allowed to compete all out at training camp.
He might recover in time to secure the starting left tackle job. If that happens, and he manages to complete the season without injury, he could well be on his way towards becoming a solid NFL caliber starting left tackle. If that potential pans out, it would help to explain why the Bills didn't use a high pick on any other left tackles in the prior draft class. If he doesn't, that is another story.
Stolen from the Green Bay Packers practice squad in his 2009 rookie campaign, Jamon Meredith found himself being thrust in to the Bills starting offensive line shortly upon arriving in Buffalo.
Without much preparation time, Meredith held his own and delivered pretty strong play for such short preparation.
With a full training camp ahead of him, and logging plenty of snaps with the first team in OTAs I look for Meredith to have a very solid campaign. It is too early to tell which tackle role he will be asked to take on in 2010, as there are questions regarding Demetrius Bell's health, and Cornell Green may now be on the downside of his career.
Either way, expect Meredith to see lots of action in 2010, and establishing himself as a strong starting lineman for years to come.
Coming off of a promising rookie campaign, big things were expected last year from Bills cornerback and kick returner Leodis McKelvin. Those expectations were quickly dashed when he fumbled the kickoff on the opening MNF game that New England recovered and turned a Bills victory in to an opening defeat. Soon after, McKelvin suffered a season-ending injury and just like that his season was history.
2010 promises to be an exciting season for McKelvin. He is healthy and looking forward to joining in the parade. The parade I am referring to was the Bills secondary ball hawkers, which led the AFC in interceptions in 2009. McKelvin will have a chance to add to those numbers this season, in addition to bringing back some kicks this year.
You can be assured he learned his lesson from the New England game, and will be a trusted return man this season.
Coming in to the off-season, it was widely assumed that James Hardy would emerge as the odds on favorite to become the No. 2 starting wide receiver opposite of Lee Evans.
With mini-camp and OTAs completed, the receiver that continues to impress in practice and look good is Steve Johnson. Johnson is a third year player out of the University of Kentucky and he has a growing fan base that have been patiently waiting to see his playing time increase and turn his potential in to some positive production on the field.
The various draft experts panned the Bills for taking Torell Troup in the second round, especially when there were still quarterbacks and offensive tackles of supposed high quality still sitting there for the taking.
But the Bills needed a stud to plug up the middle of the line in the new 3-4 defensive alignment and Torell Troup is the new nose tackle for the Bills. The Bills had one of the most porous running game defenses in the NFL last year, so if the unit improves drastically this year, one of the keys will be the play of the nose tackle, which is why we selected Troup to be a breakout player.
At 6'3" and 314 pounds at the draft, he has the ability to get down in the line and take up multiple bodies to try to keep linemen occupied, and free up the inside linebackers like Paul Posluszny and Andra Davis to stuff the run. He will probably continue to put up on more bulk as he ages, but he can make a name for himself this year with strong play at the nose.
Dwan Edwards has been toiling for the past six seasons in Baltimore. Anybody that is up on the Ravens has seen a steady stream of either All-Pros and other stars on the defensive side of the ball like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Adalius Thomas, Bart Scott and Haloti Ngata.
Playing next to that kind of talent has helped Edwards, but at the same time it has been difficult for him to gain any kind of mention much less national attention. Of course, he has never recorded more than one sack in a season, which has something to do with it.
Now signed to a multi-year deal with the Bills, Edwards has the chance to see more reps and as a result have his own breakout campaign. I expect the Bills to rely heavily on him to exert pressure on the QB and generate plays that result in a loss of yardage. This is Edwards' chance to step up and be noticed.
Shawn Nelson has a ton of potential but so far has been kind of an enigma. He has suffered from playing behind a (take your pick): poor offensive line, quarterback, head coach, offensive coordinator; but hasn't really contributed much yet to the Bills in regards to performance.
So far Nelson has played in 12 games and generated 17 catches for 156 yards and one touchdown. Not very impressive.
And yet, here we are coming in to the new look Bills offense, and Chan Gailey has an athletic strong tight end at his disposal that can get down the field and used as an asset in the passing game. Using play fakes based on a strong running game, and finding a wide open tight end in the flat to rumble down the field could happen often for Nelson this year.
Will Gailey put Nelson to use? I am saying that he will, which is why he is on this breakout list.
To show you how badly Alex Carrington was off of the radar screen, this is the best picture I was able to find of him via the internet. Being selected in the third round to cause havoc from the defensive end position, Carrington can create lots of problems for offenses due to his size, speed and athletic skills.
Carrington is 6'5", 285 pounds and will be seen playing the edge for the Bills this year. I am expecting big things from Carrington, and if so, will have his breakout year as a rookie, just like Jairus Byrd did.
We have not yet heard who Chan Gailey has tabbed as his number one quarterback, and that announcement probably won't come until well into the start of training camp. Brian Brohm is just one of the three most logical choices for Gailey to tab, as he rotates for reps with Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
But when the dust settles and the 2010 season has been laid to rest, I am expecting that it will be Brian Brohm that stepped up at some point and was given a real chance to run the team. If that happens, I think he will prove that he was worth all of the hype he received coming out of Louisville.
Brohm did have one start last year, but as we all know, he didn't have much preparation time with the first team, and was playing behind an offensive line made up of second, third and fourth team guys.
Given a real shot at training camp and being able to start under Chan Gailey with a clean slate is allowing Brohm the chance to impress Gailey with what he can do. If he does not break out this year, then it is very likely he will never break out, as the Bills will probably look to draft their franchise quarterback in the first round of the 2011 draft.
It is safe to say that Aaron Maybin did not have a stellar rookie season. Being selected in the first round with a high draft pick usually means that player is supposed to be an immediate impact player, but Maybin has been viewed more as a project type all along.
Well, that year of waiting has come and gone. Maybin has been the beneficiary of a new defensive scheme that allows him to showcase his speed rush, athleticism and strength by coming in from the outside linebacker spot to create as many problems as he possibly can.
If Maybin does not come up with close to double digit sack total, assuming he is healthy and plays all year, we would probably consider it a disappointing season for him. But, he will be afforded the chance to learn the new defense with the rest of his team mates, and you can bet that George Edwards will find a way to turn Maybin loose on long passing downs.
We are going to go ahead and put it down for the record right now - C.J. Spiller win be the NFL Rookie of the Year.
By the time the Bills first round pick has finished his rookie season, Spiller will have found multiple ways to score through the running game, as a receiver and as a returner. If he is able to utilize his speed and score from long range in runs, returns and catches, he will clearly have justified his selection and will be hands down winner of the Rookie of the Year award.
Spiller is a versatile exciting player and the Bills fans will embrace his breakout campaign, just as they did with Jairus Byrd last year. It will be fun to watch defenses chasing after Spiller only to see his continually racing away from them.
This is year one of the Bills rebuilding effort, but if most of the Bills highlighted in this slideshow are able to have a significant uptick in their personal production, the Bills are well on their way towards rebuilding a winning team again.
Because this is being written during the 4th of July holiday weekend, I felt it was appropriate to have a salute to the troops to thank them for keeping our way of life safe and for allowing to have our freedom. My son just graduated from West Point Academy in May and this picture is one I took when Army won a Homecoming Game in overtime against Vanderbilt. Quite an exciting moment to see all the cadets streaming on to the field. Go Army, Beat Navy!!
Happy 4th of July to all.