Many of the moves that impact the product on the field will begin to come into greater focus as OTA practices begin this week. Below we cover the top 10 offseason moves that figure to impact Buffalo’s roster the most.
10 – Special Ops
Doug Marrone and special teams coordinator Danny Crossman are in agreement that their special teams units have to take a sizable step forward from their level of performance last year. Marrone believed adding core special teams players would accentuate the improvement. Re-signing kicker Dan Carpenter, who was coming off a career season was step one. Signing Anthony Dixon and Corey Graham in free agency should also provide the units with a valuable veteran presence.
9 – Safety Dance
With Jairus Byrd now in New Orleans Aaron Williams shifts to free safety with the other safety spot up for grabs. Among the candidates will be Corey Graham, Jonathan Meeks, Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams. With this kind of competition the determining factor might be who plays the best with Williams, the entrenched starter at safety.
8 – Rushing it
The offensive backfield already has a pair of proven backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but both succumbed to injuries last season and never fully recovered in 2013. Enter Bryce Brown via a draft weekend trade with the Eagles and the stable of ball carriers is stocked with improved depth. Anthony Dixon could also be a factor in the run game mix, particularly on short yardage.
7 – No cutting corners
The secondary found themselves shorthanded early last season when they lost starters Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin in the span of four weeks to injury. It left them without a proven boundary corner forcing them to move Aaron Williams out from safety to his old position. Buffalo’s intends to avoid that shortage with the addition of Corey Graham in free agency and Ross Cockrell in the draft. Teamed with Nickell Robey and Ron Brooks there’s true depth now.
6 – Stevie’s slot replacement
Following the trade of Stevie Johnson to San Francisco the Bills must find a suitable replacement in the slot. While a competition will ensue Robert Woods is the favorite to land the role. The second-year wideout figures to be a more valuable weapon to the offense inside.
5 – Schwartz’s scheme
Buffalo’s defensive scheme is going to change under the leadership of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz after Mike Pettine left to become head coach of the Browns. His system will take some getting used to, especially for the likes of Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson who will essentially be full-time rotational defensive ends.
4 – Big men on campus
The Bills offensive line got some sizable additions in the offseason. Free agent Chris Williams (6-6, 326) and draft choices Cyrus Kouandjio (6-7 322), Cyril Richardson (6-4, 343) and Seantrel Henderson (6-8, 345) bring not only immense size and girth to Buffalo’s front line, but a good deal of athleticism as well. The new arrivals could be valuable adds to a line that was already second in the NFL in rushing last season.
3 – Spiking the run front
After finishing 28th in run defense in 2013 the Bills believe the addition of Brandon Spikes will be able to drastically reduce the ground yards against them. It will also take hits off Kiko Alonso’s body and allow him clearer paths to the ball to run and hit from the weak side linebacker position.
2 – Double ‘X’s
Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams could give Buffalo one of the most productive outside receiving combinations since Eric Moulds and Peerless Price. Watkins gives the Bills a true number one receiving threat and Williams provides the passing game with a proven player opposite Watkins to keep defenses honest.
1 – EJ’s special counsel
After a rookie season with limited one-on-one coaching with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett doubling as the quarterbacks coach, EJ Manuel now has three offensive coaches assisting him. Quarterbacks coach Todd Downing will spend every minute of the day at One Bills Drive with Manuel with frequent input from Hackett. Senior offensive assistant Jim Hostler will also provide valuable insight to help Manuel make the jump from year one to year two as a starting NFL quarterback.