Buffalo Bills: 5 Biggest Questions for the 2011 NFL Preseason
NFL preseason has finally arrived. No more lockouts, no more boring CBA coverage—professional football is back.
Some casual fans may not be too excited for the preseason, but any diehard football fan cannot wait for their team to play. There are position battles, new schemes, new plays and, of course, new players that you are dying to see.
The Buffalo Bills are a team a lot of people are interested in seeing play, especially now that Lee Evans has been traded to Baltimore. While they only won four games last season, they certainly do not look like a four-win team. They have new uniforms, a new field, new players and some interesting position battles.
Let's take a look at five burning questions we want to see, at least partially, answered in the 2011 NFL preseason.
5. How Will the Rookies Contribute?
This is a lot of people's favorite part of preseason: rookies.
Buffalo certainly has some interesting rookies to watch this preseason. Marcell Dareus is the rookie Bills fans want to see the most. Buffalo drafted Dareus third overall to help fix the worst run defense in the NFL. He is sure to be a starter from day one and will line up next to underrated Pro Bowler Kyle Williams on the defensive line.
Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard was drafted in the third round by Buffalo and has been a fan favorite ever since. Bills fans are more than excited to see him on the field and think he can contribute right away as a starter.
Cornerback Aaron Williams, a second-round pick by the Bills, has been nothing short of extremely impressive in training camp. He's big, athletic and smart. Buffalo could definitely use help at the corner position with Terrence McGee's injury history and the inconsistent play of Leodis McKelvin and Drayton Florence.
Another rookie who has been impressive in training camp has been running back Johnny White. He does not have a chance at starting over Fred Jackson, but if he impresses in preseason, there is no reason why he cannot get a few touches a game. Even behind Jackson and Spiller.
Other interesting rookies to watch: Danoris Searcy and Michael Jasper.
4. Will Fitzpatrick Be Even More Impressive with More Experience?
For the first time since Drew Bledsoe, Buffalo has a serviceable quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick opened up a lot of eyes last season when he took over for Trent Edwards.
The big question is: Can he do it again? Without Lee Evans?
We will have to find out, but preseason games should give us a glimpse of what Fitzpatrick can do with the confidence of knowing he is the starter and having a year of experience under head coach Chan Gailey's system.
Preseason should help give us a clue as to whether or not Fitzpatrick really is the Bills' franchise quarterback, or just a bridge to the future.
3. Who Will Back Up Fitzpatrick?
Buffalo had a huge, gaping hole at backup quarterback. When Fitzpatrick went down last season, Brian Brohm looked clueless and not confident. He is no longer on the roster.
Buffalo signed Tyler Thigpen to compete with Levi Brown to be the No. 2 quarterback. Thigpen is the favorite as of right now, seeing as how he has performed well in NFL games and has played under Gailey before.
Buffalo also signed QB/WR/RB/KR Brad Smith and he may also make some noise in the backup QB competition. Especially after Gailey compared Smith to Kordell Stewart, who Gailey liked very much when he coached him.
2. Is Shawne Merriman Back to His Old Self?
Shawne Merriman has been plagued with bad injuries over the last few years. He was released by the Chargers midseason last year and Buffalo scooped him off of the waiver wire in a low-risk/high-reward move.
There have been many reports saying Merriman looks like his old self and has been absolutely dominant in training camp. If he truly is back to the old Shawne Merriman, Buffalo could be in for a serious improvement with their pass rush.
Buffalo's pass rush was almost non-existent last season. With a healthy Merriman, they would not have to worry about that problem again.
We will see whether or not Merriman is really back to his olds elf this preseason.
Merriman could be a strong candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, as long as his legs hold up.
1. Who Will Step Up and Replace Lee Evans Opposite Stevie Johnson?
Buffalo has a lot of depth at wide receiver with Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Roscoe Parrish, Donald Jones, Naaman Roosevelt and Marcus Easley. With so much youth and depth at wide receiver, trading Evans will not necessarily kill Buffalo's passing game, but it does not help.
While Evans had a down year statistically, he is still a huge deep threat who demands double coverage. Now, Stevie Johnson will be facing more double coverage than ever before.
So the biggest question facing Buffalo: Who is going to step up? Who is going to help draw some attention away from Stevie Johnson?
Roscoe Parrish is the perfect slot WR for Buffalo so it most likely will not be him to start opposite Stevie. David Nelson seems to have the slight edge as of right now to start. He is big, smart and has great hands.
Preseason will definitely help Buffalo decide who will be the new No. 2 WR. Fan favorite Marcus Easley is a sleeper to get the starting gig. Ryan Fitzpatrick referred to Easley as "a beast" and fans really like him because of his resemblance to Bills all-time great Eric Moulds.