Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With a new regime and practices at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and Sept. 12th.
The Buffalo Bills offense should have a whole new look under head coach Chan Gailey. With the quarterback situation still to be sorted out by the conclusion of training camp at St. John Fisher in August, the squad boasts a talented young offensive line, tight end group, and arguably one of the deepest backfields in the NFL. For all of the potential the Bills have in the running game, playmakers at wide receiver will be a crucial piece in the offensive synergy.
A game breaker since he joined the team in 2004,
Johnson was part of the main rotation opposite Evans during the spring, and he did not disappoint, showing a great release off the ball, running smart routes, and of course, catching the football. The skill set he displayed illustrated why the Bills coveted him out of the University of Kentucky when he was drafted in 2008.
Regardless of where he ultimately lines up on the field, Johnson is looking forward to gaining experience at various spots on the field with the Bills offense.
“It’s all opportunity. I’m getting an opportunity to play on the outside and on the inside and I just want to show the coaches I can do both,” he said. “Whenever it goes down on the inside I can go there, if somebody goes down on the outside, I can be there. Just show(ing) my versatility in this offense.”
After a relatively pedestrian first two professional seasons, the result of a serious knee injury, Hardy looks to be back and better than ever this upcoming year. At the outset of spring practice, he seemed to be getting back to game speed, and progressed as OTAs went along. By the end of mandatory offseason sessions in June, Hardy was running crisp, precise routes, and used his tremendous size to his advantage, winning the battle for jump balls more often than not in the defensive secondary.
Being off the field an extended period of time, Hardy said, impacted him when he first returned to practice last season, but his main focus since then has been on self-improvement.
“Everything is getting better. I feel like the more that I’m out there, I haven’t been able to do all the things that I wanted to do this offseason, but now that I’m back into it I just feel better each and every week,” he said. “The coaches are telling me I’m getting better each and every week and I just want to continue to do that so by the time training camp comes I’m going to definitely be ready.”
After coming on in the second half of 2009 for the University of Connecticut Huskies,
As the fourth-round pick (107th overall) of the Bills in April’s draft, the expectations for Easley are very high. Like Johnson and Hardy, he too was part of the rotation for reps with the first team, making a number of impressive catches during spring practice. While he may be a rookie, Easley was hard at work to impress the Bills coaching staff to earn a share of playing time.
Even after spring workouts concluded, Easley said that there is no real downtime in between practice sessions. To remain at peak performance, a player cannot take a vacation, and must remain focused when position battles really begin at training camp.
“We’re still just getting started, so you don’t want to take much time off. I still have a playbook to stay on top of so when training camp rolls around I’m mentally prepared,” Easley said. “I know the physical aspect and it’s going to be very demanding on our bodies physically. Just try to stay ahead of the game and just be as prepared as I can be come training camp.”
The veteran wildcard in the equation is former University of Florida and New England Patriots receiver
During spring workouts, Jackson worked to emerge from the veteran contingent of Bills wide outs, but his rep count was far from numerous. He made a number of sure-handed grabs in the time he was afforded, and he’s no doubt hoping his veteran experience is considered an asset.
Playing for a third team already in his young career, Jackson said that learning a new offensive system played out nicely during the offseason.
“It’s coming along pretty well. This offense is kind of like the past few teams I’ve been with, it’s just different terminology,” he said. “It’s just memorizing the plays and stuff like that. Different play calling, but kind of like the same offense that I’ve been in before.”
The remaining wide receivers, second-year man
In talking highly about the veteran corps in the wide receiver competition, quarterback
“…And the four young guys we’ve brought in, you’re going to see in the preseason, those guys are going to make some plays,” Fitzpatrick said. “All four of them bring different things to the table and they’re all very talented.”
All position battles are still in progress heading into the opening of training camp July 29 at St. John Fisher and the number two receiver role will be among the more competitive ones. Johnson, Hardy and Easley are thought by outside observers to be the frontrunners in the race to start as the second wide receiver on the field, but the veteran leadership of Jackson, the youth of Huggins, Nelson and Jones, and a local connection in the talented Roosevelt will leave all eyes on the pass catchers in Pittsford.
That’s why Buffalo’s head coach wasn’t even going to place odds on the candidates for the prominent offensive role.
“We’re waiting to see who is going to step up,” said Gailey. “It can be any of those guys out there. I don’t know who it’s going to be right now, and I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve been amazed before so it’s not smart on my part to make predictions.”