It truly is the closest thing to the first day of school. The return of the veterans to One Bills Drive, for the start of the voluntary offseason conditioning program, really does resemble your first day back at school after summer vacation. Especially if your classmates showed up in expensive sedans and tricked-up SUVs.
For new Head Coach Rex Ryan and his coaching staff, it's the first day they can formally work with their new team and interact with them face-to-face. And four months after being hired by the Bills, Ryan was more than eager for the face time.
"As a coach, you sign up because you want to teach and you want to coach these players," he said Monday. "That's what you're really excited about. So the first time you really get a chance to talk to them, and to see them face-to-face…. it's a special time because you get to teach and you get to mold the team and let them know your vision, and that's certainly what I did today."
What follows are 7 observations from the first day of offseason conditioning:
1. THE FIRST STEP OF A LONG JOURNEY
Coach Ryan was quick to point out that Monday's start of offseason workouts is just the first step in a long journey, with training camp still more than three months away. And he stressed to his players that this first step is a critical one as the Bills try to lay down the baseline for physical conditioning.
"The thing that you have to guard from is being overly-excited," he said. "You have to take the proper steps. You can't miss a step. Part of it is being physically in shape. This phase one is about getting in condition to go into phase two and to be on the field and that's kind of where we are."
The Bills have scheduled four day work weeks this week and next as part of phase one of their workout program. It includes activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation.
2. TOUGH FIRST WORKOUT
Most, if not all Bills veterans have been working out on their own for the last few months. But there was huffing and puffing, and considerable sweat pouring out during the morning workout in the AdPro Sports Fieldhouse
Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Eric Ciano and his staff broke the squad down to four groups and worked them through conditioning stations in the Fieldhouse for close to 45-minutes, with exercises involving high hurdles, medicine balls, and stretching bands. Then the players were asked to run a series of sprints across the width of the practice field (53.3 yards).
Veteran corner Leodis McKelvin found himself in a group with several big offensive linemen, and he breezed to easy, comfortable leads in each one of the sprints. "I'm the rabbit," he teased his teammates, "you've gotta catch me."
3. BUFFALO'S GOT TALENT
The Bills offseason trades and signings have been well documented in the media for fans and players to follow. But the influx of NFL high-caliber talent seemed to take some of the veterans by surprise.
"This is a talented group," new running back LeSean McCoy told the media Monday. "When you look around at the guys they brought in and the guys that were already here, especially on the defensive side, I mean—lights out."
Bills defenders who've gone up against the likes of McCoy, Charles Clay and Percy Harvin say those offensive playmakers have been on their radar for several years.
"All of the guys we added are guys we've broken down in our game plans," veteran DT Kyle Williams said. "And every time we've played against those guys, those are guys that we've earmarked. We've said we have to have an eye on them, we have to account for them on every play. I'm excited about it. You can't ever have too many good players, especially for our team."
4. A DIFFERENT LOOK (OR LOOKS) ON OFFENSE
The 2015 Bills put in their first day of work at voluntary offseason conditioning.
EJ Manuel and his fellow quarterbacks get their first look at Greg Roman's playbook now and they like what they see. The new weapons the Bills have added on offense will line up in a variety of looks, which Manuel thinks will make the offense even tougher to defend.
"It's definitely a multiple offense, a lot of formations, a lot of shifts, multiple personnel," Manuel said. "When you have the depth we have at skill positions, you can put any of those guys on the field and make plays. That's why I'm so excited. As a quarterback, it's like this is a perfect situation, a perfect opportunity."
5. OFFSEASON WORK WITH STEVE DEBERG
Going into his third season, Manuel decided to get in some offseason work with a man who had one of the longest quarterback tenures in NFL history. Steve DeBerg played for 21-years in the NFL and was a quarterback coach in the league for five years with the Giants and Falcons. EJ revealed Monday he spent much of the last few months working with DeBerg in Tampa and he's ready to test some of the refinements he's made to his delivery.
"I don't want to say I've changed my throwing motion but I've been working with Steve DeBerg pretty much since January," he said. "We've studied a bunch of the elite passers in the game. They all throw the ball, not necessarily the same exact way, but certain types of ways. I've been working on that since January. I think I have it down now."
6. TWO BACK SYSTEM-EVEN IN THE LOCKER ROOM
LeSean McCoy and Jerome Felton figure to spend a lot of time together in the Buffalo backfield this season. And it looks like they'll spend a lot of time side by side in the locker room as well.
Their lockers are next to each other in the AdPro Sports Training Center, the first two lockers in a line on "Running back row."
7. NEW DEFENSE--NOT SO NEW
As he heads into his 10th season with the Bills, DT Kyle Williams is ready to play under his fifth different Defensive Coordinator in the last five years. But don't try to tell him there will be significant changes in Buffalo's approach on that side of the ball.
"I wish I could stress it enough," he told reporters, almost impatiently. "What we do is not different than what we've always done. We played a traditional ¾ a little bit with George Edwards—zeros, two-fours, that type of deal. Other than that, just because there guys have their hands on the ground, that doesn't mean we're playing a zero, two-fours, two-gapping—Mario is a defensive end. We're going to play one-gap principles, but we're going to be multiple, we're going to give different looks. We're going to give guys an opportunity play. So the scheme change will be nil. We'll have some verbiage change, but it won't be any different than what we've always been asked to do."