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 Year 3 under head coach Chan Gailey and veteran player report day at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 24th and Sept. 9th.
Every NFL player aspires to produce statistics worthy enough to allow themselves the opportunity to be selected to the Pro Bowl. The Bills did not send a representative to Hawaii last year following their disappointing finish to the season. With expectations high heading into this year, the Bills hope to be well represented in Honolulu for the 2013 game.
Based on performance history and name recognition, which unfortunately carries just as much weight as production sometimes in Pro Bowl voting, there are a few leading candidates on this team that could be selected to next year's AFC roster.
Nick Barnett had Pro Bowl worthy numbers last season, but the team's second half slide likely cost him any chance of being selected. Barnett has always been a tackling machine and has finished seven of his nine professional seasons with over 100 tackles. The two years he was unable to reach that mark were cut short due to injury.
Last year Barnett chipped in with three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He is a consistent tackler, but is even more valuable because he is a three-down linebacker. Barnett has good cover skills that are rare to see in linebackers as physical as he is.
"A lot of guys play three downs but there's a lot of linebackers that when they're in there on third down you're trying to do some things schematically to compensate for maybe a little lack of quickness or speed or whatever, not with Nick," said Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. "He can cover any back or half the receivers in the league."
Fred Jackson was among the top five Pro Bowl vote getters by the fans last year, but a broken fibula took him off of the ballot. Not only was he on pace to make the Pro Bowl, but he was viewed as an MVP candidate. He averaged over five yards per carry and was only 66 rushing yards shy of the 1,000 yard mark in just 10 games played. That does not account for his 39 receptions for 442 yards in the passing game. Jackson proved to the league last year that he is a versatile playmaking running back and a threat every time he touches the football.
The Bills number one playmaking target at the wide receiver position is without question Stevie Johnson. Johnson has emerged as one of the league's most talented young receivers and has put together back-to-back 1,000 yard receiving seasons. He piled up 158 receptions, averaged over 13 yards per catch, and pulled in 17 touchdowns over that two-year span.
Darrelle Revis is highly regarded as the best cornerback in the NFL. Johnson had the best success among receivers last season against him and that should carry a lot of weight for voters if that success continues this year. In order to take his game to that next level, Johnson believes he needs to spend even more time on opponents in the film room.
"I'm taking more notes of the defensive schemes and what players do in certain situations. That's what most of the great ones did," said Johnson. "Just being more of a student. I think in that part of the game I can improve on that."
When healthy, Kyle Williams proved he is capable of being one of the best defensive tackles in the game. This became apparent when he was selected to the Pro Bowl and placed on Peter King's All-Pro Team following the 2010-11 season. Last year, he was sidelined for the season after just five games due to a lingering injury to his left foot. If healthy, Williams should have no problem being a Pro Bowl caliber player once again.
Moving to a 4-3 scheme will benefit Williams because opposing offenses will not be able to double team both he and Marcell Dareus. The Bills are also very strong and deep at defensive end, which has not always been the case during his tenure with the Bills. Williams consistently has been double teamed in the past and put up Pro Bowl worthy numbers. Now that he will see more one-on-one blocking situations he should thrive this coming season.
The biggest offseason move in Buffalo Bills history did not go unnoticed. The signing of Mario Williams has skyrocketed team expectations and has fans believing that the longest playoff drought currently in the NFL will finally come to an end. The former number one pick developed into one of the league's most dynamic pass rushers in Houston. He was rewarded this offseason with the richest contract ever given to a defensive player.
Buffalo is banking on the fact that Williams will bounce back from a pectoral injury that cut his season short last year. Williams is a proven player that has Pro Bowl experience and is surrounded by playmakers on this defensive front. He should have no problem getting back to Hawaii if he returns to form this coming season, but he feels there is room for even more improvement.
"I want to pick up where I left off and get better," said Williams. "So my biggest thing is to come out here running and pick up where I left off and help put that piece to the puzzle that needs to be here."