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. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.
The initial concern heading into training camp later this month was whether Scott Chandler would even be ready to participate. Coming off of knee surgery in early January Chandler's initial timetable to return was August with full clearance not happening until possibly the start of the regular season. Fortunately Chandler has had a remarkable recovery with all signs pointing to full participation at St. John Fisher perhaps with just a day off here and there. His expected availability however, leads to another pressing question concerning the offense. How quickly can the tight end be assimilated into a brand new offense?
Buffalo's offense under coordinator Nathaniel Hackett still has a lot of ground to cover in training camp. The majority of installation was completed in the spring practices, practices in which Chandler was not a participant.
That's forced Hackett to evaluate Chandler almost solely off of 2012 game tape. Chandler performed admirably last season posting career highs in receptions (43), receiving yards (571) and matching his career best in touchdown receptions in 2011 with a half dozen.
Chandler is aware he's got a brand new coaching staff to impress.
"The biggest thing for me is I want to get out there and show the coaches I can still do what I can do and show them the things that I can do," Chandler told Buffalobills.com. "I've done almost everything under the sun as far as steps and stuff like that in rehab. I'm really excited to get out there and compete."
In Chandler's absence new tight end talent has emerged like seventh-round pick Chris Gragg, who has displayed some impressive athleticism in the passing game. Mike Caussin looks ready to compete now more than a year removed from an ACL injury of his own. Lee Smith appeared to impress the offensive coaches before missing some time in the spring. Dorin Dickerson has moved back to tight end from receiver, and Mickey Schuler was a late pickup this spring leading to a rather crowded field.
Chandler's abilities are well recognized by Hackett, but how he fits in the new offensive system is something that has to be seen before it's given a check mark on the coordinator's to-do list.
"I think he's done a really nice job being out there at all the practices and being in all the meetings and getting all the installations, working on routes versus air. He's done a nice job," Hackett told Buffalobills.com. "Obviously once he's in there we're going to have to work him in and get him to just kind of feel his way through everything coming off an injury. As fast as he can get out there full time, let's see what he can do. If he's one of those (top) five (skill players) we want him out there."
The veteran tight end is eager to work against defenders in the passing game and feel opponents leaning on him again.
"Getting the mental reps is good for me there. Standing back there it's sometimes easier to see things," he said. "You like to get the real reps though because things seem to happen a little faster when you're actually in there."
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Chandler is establishing a rapport with not just one, but two new quarterbacks who are vying for the starting job.
"I've made no bones about the relationship between a quarterback and receiver needs to be there," Chandler said. "I've been with guys like (Antonio) Gates and (Philip) Rivers and obviously (Jason) Witten and (Tony) Romo and you see those kinds of relationships and that's what it takes.
"You want to build a relationship with these guys. You want them to know when it's man-to-man you're the guy they want to go to. I want to be in there so they can see and the new coaching staff can see what I can do."
A month of training camp and four preseason games sounds like a lot of time to get an offense down and develop chemistry with Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel. How many reps Chandler is afforded in practice from the athletic training staff and a crowded tight end field will both have an impact on his progress.
"I think the biggest thing for me then is going to be how much I can do consecutively," he said. "Is it going to be three days (in a row) or will I be able to go all four days and then have a day off. I was encouraged by what I did during minicamp. I was able to do three hard days in a row of stuff and I still felt good. I think I'll continue to progress. When we get to camp I want to be able to do what I can do at all times. I think that's a plausible goal. I'm going to be ready to go."