Bills training camp is now in its second week and there have been some heartening sights for fans hoping that Buffalo is as good as the hype machine has them on paper.
The defense has been staggering so far, vastly outshining the offense, who are progressing well, but look like the junior varsity against the first-string defenders.
The rebuilt and much vaunted line has been rampaging into the backfield, the linebackers and defensive backs have been causing chaotic fits in the passing game, and overall, Buffalo looks like it could be that deep powerhouse that so many hoped for in the offseason.
Not that the offense has been completely overshadowed, with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick making consistently accurate throws, hitting a reinvigorated and mature Steve Johnson for big plays, as well as finding that rookie T.J. Graham is the weapon that was predicted.
Graham has been making jaw-dropping catches since day one of camp.
The running tandem of Spiller and Jackson look like they could grab 2,000 yards between them this season and even fullback Corey McIntyre has a 65-yard TD (normally not a big part of the Chan Gailey scheme, the fullback has only touched the ball nine times in 32 games).
However, all is not beer and wings, as there are still far too many talents on the team, drawing far too much from the Bills’ salary pool. There is such a deep variety of talent to choose from now, that Buffalo is going to have to make some tough decisions in the near future, sending some names the Bills’ fans have come to know packing.
Here, then, is a quick rundown of some players (two offense, two defense) that may be shuffling off from Buffalo before too long.
DL Dwan Edwards
Brought over from the Ravens in 2010, he was supposed to be one of the anchors of the failed 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator George Edwards. He definitely produced for the Bills, starting in all but three games and amassing 109 tackles and 3.5 sacks the last two years (as well as an INT and a forced fumble), but he’s been pushed to the second string and moved from end to tackle this year.
Granted, he’s looked good playing alongside Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman, but some tough decisions need to be made in Buffalo when they cut down the roster and Edwards’ services may come at too high a price.
Though he’s had experience playing in the 4-3, playing some variation of it both in college and with the Ravens, Edwards is now a vastly overpaid backup, standing to make around $4.2 million this season.
With the rather costly additions of linemates Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, someone’s got to go and Dwan, though immensely talented, is just too expensive to play relief or in the nickel package. It’s too bad, as he’s probably a guaranteed starter on any NFL team that snatches him up.
QB Tyler Thigpen
While Fitzpatrick has looked strong and composed taking snaps thus far, the same can not be said for the backups. Neither Thigpen or Vince Young have looked very strong in training camp, throwing multiple interceptions, but Thigpen has by far looked to be the more… confused of the two.
Easy throws are being missed and are looking wobbly at best. During Buffalo’s first padded 11-on-11, Thigpen just crumbled when subbing in for Fitz, at one point throwing a pick to rookie Ron Brooks, then following it up with a pressured throw that was taken by safety Nick Saenz on the very next play.
Signed in 2011 as a free agent, Thigpen is more in line with Fitzpatrick’s style of play, but he’s never thrown higher than a 50 percent completion rate in his six years in the NFL (he played for the Chiefs and Dolphins previously).
Though Young surely hasn’t risen to the level of play he displayed in college and in his first years in Tennessee, his potential upside is far superior to Thigpen’s and his style should gel with fellow backup Brad Smith’s style of play, making for some nice change of pace plays in the Buffalo offense when he’s on the field.
Thigpen, however, is quickly seeing his window of opportunity shutting and should be on the list of first cuts.
CB Terrence McGee
This one’s a hard one to process for many fans, as McGee has been a standout and known name on the Buffalo defense since being drafted in 2003. However, after a three-year span that has seen injuries force him to sit more and more games (11 games played in 2009, nine in 2010, and just six last season), restructuring his contract may not be enough to keep him in a Bills uniform, especially with young upstarts pushing him further to the back of the line each week.
While rookie Stephon Gilmore is just owning his roster spot and fellow first-year player Ron Brooks is making stellar progress, Terrence is still riding the bike, not yet 100 percent after last season’s knee injury (a torn patellar tendon).
Aaron Williams, now in his second season, looks to be the starter opposite Gilmore come opening day and both Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers are making plays in camps, while McGee stands largely on the sidelines watching.
Sure, he’s been the class of the defense in his nine years with Buffalo and is a local favorite (also a popular jersey), but that won’t be enough to keep him on the team if he can’t find some way to rejuvenate his body -- anyone know where that Fountain of Youth might be?
Too bad, as he’s had a career with Buffalo that amounts to 511 tackles (he was always a vicious hitter), 17 INTs, 87 pass deflections, three sacks, and three forced fumbles.
However, with just 46 tackles and four deflections the last two years, it might be time to wave goodbye to one of the finest, most driven players Buffalo’s seen in the last decade plus (maybe since the Super Bowl runs of the 90s). Out of all the possible cuts, McGee will be the most sorely missed.
WR Derek Hagan
Hagan performed well last season, looking solid when brought in to games as the receiving corps wilted under the harsh light of injuries in 2011. In 10 games last year, Derek grabbed 24 for 252 yards and a TD and looked to be building on that in 2012, but with Buffalo looking to drop to six or maybe even five receivers on the roster this year, he may be out come cut time.
The top four receivers are locked in place (Steve Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones, T.J. Graham), so that probably leaves only one or two spots for the seven remaining wideouts.
If Marcus Easley can stay healthy and can convince the coaching staff he’ll remain that way at least until the season starts, that might mean that the rest of the receiver class will be cleaning out their lockers and Hagan, though perhaps the tops of the departing class, just doesn’t have the body of work to support keeping him above any of the other names.
Even if the Bills keep one more wideout for the practice squad, the odds are that it will be Kamar Aiken, as he can be kept on the cheap and has done more than enough showing in the offseason to remain.
With training camp still chugging along at St. John Fisher College, the chance for any of the above four to impress enough to remain with Buffalo is possible (especially McGee) and who knows what injuries could wipe out a player for the upcoming season (David Nelson already went down for a few days).
Buffalo is, however, a much deeper team than a year ago and trimming the fat from the roster now included cutting some of the meat as well. Terrible, sure, but a sign that Buffalo could make good on their promise to play more like the 5-2 team that started 2011.