Buffalo Bills' Training Camp To-Do List
Don't look now, but Buffalo Bills football is back.
They still haven't put pads on yet, but the Bills are back at work at St. John Fisher College for training camp. Somehow we are just two weeks away from tackle football, as the Bills will play the Giants in the Hall of Fame game on August 3. Seriously, where did the summer go?
There is a lot of work to be done between now and then as the Bills descend on Pittsford, New York, for training camp. Let's take a look at what the Bills want to accomplish between now and the start of the season.
Sort out Offensive Line
The position group that the Bills focused on more than any other in the offseason was the offensive line.
General manager Doug Whaley brought in Chris Williams during free agency and Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson in the draft. Now the goal is to sort out the starters and get them comfortable with playing with one another.
We already knew the right tackle job was up for grabs. But both guard spots also need to be filled. And keep an eye on the other tackle spot as camp moves along.
While Cordy Glenn is penciled in as the starter on the blind side, he has yet to take the field during training camp. Glenn was placed on the Active/Non-football illness list last week. Per Matthew Fairburn at Syracuse.com, Whaley said Glenn was day-to-day with the illness.
"We're still waiting on some reports on him but it looks like it's going to be one of those day-to-day things and we'll see how it progresses," Whaley told Fairburn.
Glenn's status doesn't seem too concerning at first glance until you remember that Chris Hairston was on the same list last year heading into training camp and then ended up sitting out the whole season. While it's too early to speculate that is the case with Glenn, the situation is still worth monitoring.
So for now it seems the only solidified position up front is Eric Wood at center. Joe Buscaglia of WGR said Hairston has been working at guard, which opens up even more possibilities since Hairston also worked at tackle when Henderson left Sunday's practice early.
The Bills won't go anywhere in 2014 if they can't protect the quarterback. Finding the best combination of players in the trenches should be one of the team's main camp priorities.
Find Kiko Alonso's Replacement
This has been covered ad nauseam, but it is still a vital piece of the Bills' camp plans. They need to find a replacement for Kiko Alonso.
Bills insider Chris Brown said Nigel Bradham and Keith Rivers were the starting outside linebackers (along with Brandon Spikes in the middle) during the team's first camp practice. During sub-packages, Bradham was paired with rookie Preston Brown and Spikes was teamed with Rivers.
Per Brown, Rivers applauded the coaches for "cross training" the players so they are ready to fill multiple roles. Rivers also said that that training means they "don't miss a beat" when filling in for Alonso.
It won't just be one player who replaces Alonso. The platoon of Rivers, Bradham and Brown all have to step up and do their part. At least the Bills knew going into camp Alonso would be out so they could work the new players in.
And who knows? The Bills are excited about Brown, so he could have an impactful rookie year just like Alonso did.
Find a Starting Safety
Perhaps the most exciting camp battle to watch will be for the starting safety spot next to Aaron Williams.
Williams is sliding over to fill Jairus Byrd's vacated spot, leaving Da'Norris Searcy, Jonathan Meeks and Duke Williams to compete for the other starting gig.
Searcy is the favorite to land the job, as he has the most experience and spent most of OTAs with the first team. A.J. Devine of BuffaloBills.com said Searcy "was comfortable in the role of ball-hawking and made his fair share of big plays" during minicamp.
Searcy also has the added value of the experience playing in what Devine called a "hybrid nickel/linebacker" role, which Searcy told Devine he'd like to continue. Even if he doesn't win the starting job, Searcy has the versatility to be an impactful player for the Bills.
Get Marcell Dareus on Track
The hits just keep on coming for Marcell Dareus.
The latest came Saturday when the Bills put Dareus on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. It was later revealed that Dareus found himself out of practice because he failed the team's conditioning test, per Chris Brown at BuffaloBills.com.
This is continuing a disturbing trend of behavior for Dareus after he had multiple run-ins with the law during the offseason. You'd think he would be determined to put it all behind him and get back to football, yet he can't even show up to training camp in good enough shape to get on the field.
Doug Marrone doesn't seem too concerned about Dareus' status, telling Brown "he'll be in shape ready to play." Marrone also said he has been having "frequent dialogue" with Dareus since the spring. That dialogue needs to continue so Dareus can get back on the field.
A suspension could already be looming for Dareus once his legal troubles are resolved. The Bills need to do everything they can to ensure that is the only time their Pro Bowl defensive tackle misses.
Develop Offensive Chemistry
EJ Manuel has a lot of new weapons at his disposal, and he will have to find a rapport with them as training camp progresses.
There are four newcomers at the skill positions including Mike Williams, Sammy Watkins, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon. All of them are expected to be contributors on offense, so they will have to work closely with the quarterbacks and coaches to develop a comfort level by the time they lace it up for real.
If the first two practices are any indication, Manuel and Watkins are building something special. Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com said Watkins had four catches during the team portion of practice, and all of them came from Manuel. Watkins continued to make plays during the team's second practice, per Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com.
But it's not all going to be on Watkins. Williams, with his high-point catching ability, will also be relied on in the red zone and down the sidelines. Brown and Dixon will be used to take some of the pressure off C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
It is going to take time for all of these players to find a comfort level with each other. The receivers have to get the timing down with the quarterbacks and in turn the QBs have to get comfortable with how the receivers run their routes.
If the playmakers jell during training camp, the Bills could have a potentially explosive offense in 2014.