Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 30 and the Sept. 13 opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium against Indianapolis.
It's a goal that has gone unfulfilled the past 15 years. With each new season hope is renewed that the Bills league-long playoff drought will come to an end, and this year is no different. What is different is the collective vibe among the fan base, the players in the locker room and the coaching staff.
With new ownership solidifying the franchise's future in Buffalo, a head coach with a solid playoff history and a personnel department that made big moves to enhance the roster, the Bills may have as good a chance as any of their previous 15 campaigns to advance to the playoffs.
Stacked rosterIt's a roster that contains nine players with at least one Pro Bowl on their resume. Five of those players were offensive additions this past offseason with LeSean McCoy headlining the list. Balance that against a defense with three Pro Bowl talents across Buffalo's defensive line along, with a fourth player on the cusp of reaching Pro Bowl status in Jerry Hughes, and both sides of the ball have their share of top shelf playmakers.
"Just happy to have the talent we have," said defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman. "They were good last year. Our job, for this entire defense, as coaches, from Rex (Ryan) on down is to see if we can get this group from great to elite. One of the defenses that people are talking about for years to come."
"We feel in training camp with everybody in tip top shape and everyone knowing their assignments in this offense up and down we could be a very scary offense," said Percy Harvin. "I feel like with myself coming and just the guys that were here last year who are returning we feel like we can be special. This team can be special on offense, defense and special teams."
Committed ownershipFrom the moment Terry and Kim Pegula were approved as the new owners of the Buffalo Bills it was readily apparent that their goals were nothing short of bringing a championship to the Queen City. They've made it clear very quickly that they want that championship approach to reach every level of the organization. Head coach Rex Ryan saw it right away when he interviewed for the job.
"I think a couple of things jumped out to me, obviously the commitment to winning," Ryan said. "It's huge and they want to bring a winner, a championship to this Buffalo region. They feel a responsibility in this community and take a great deal of pride in this community. The Bills are really part of that heart and soul of this. It was clearly evident when you meet with the Pegulas."
"Our goal as an organization is to build a team that… we want the Buffalo Bills to be a nightmare to play against," said Terry Pegula this past offseason. "So, that's our objective. With the staff that Rex has built, and with his knowledge of the game, we're going to be a tough team defensively, and, I know that Greg Roman used that word, nightmare, and I love it."
Ryan noticed a special drive in both of the co-owners, particularly Mrs. Pegula.
"As Kim Pegula always says, she wants to be best in everything. It shows," said Ryan. "It's the commitment from the Pegulas to the organization and obviously it's their football team, but you see the difference."
Confident and proven staffWith full license to hire a staff he thought could make a championship team out of the Bills, Ryan put together one of the largest collection of coaches for an NFL club. He credited the Pegulas for providing the capital to land Greg Roman as offensive coordinator and landed a handful of other proven veteran coaches to have his team ready for the 2015 campaign.
Roman was probably the most important hire for Ryan, whose specialty is defense.
"Here's a guy that's gone to three championship games in a row as the offensive coordinator for the 49ers," said Ryan of Roman. "Absolutely we'll sign up for it, but we want to win some championships. I went to three being a head coach and defensive coordinator to three in a row myself. We get it. We know what it looks like. Greg had his team one win away from the ultimate prize which was the Super Bowl."
"I think we all know what our goals are and it's very clear in my mind about what we want to ultimately achieve here," said Roman. "I've been very fortunate to go on a nice run there from winning the Orange Bowl to the championship game going to the Super Bowl and again to the championship game. We're going to bring some real energy. There's going to be a real sense of newness this year. I think people are going to see if you put your mind to something that anything is possible. I think that's the message."
The staff is one that is resolutely confident in their abilities to get the best out of their players. So much so that it emboldens Ryan to put that faith in his team on the line.
"I know it's been 15 years since the Bills made the playoffs," said Ryan at his introductory press conference. "Well get ready, man, we're going. We are going. Through hard work, through preparation, and all that, we're going to see how many teams match our work ethic."
As confident as Ryan and his staff is about what this team is capable of this season they don't let it overshadow the reality of what they're facing. They realize they new schemes on both sides of the ball for their players to master. They have a quarterback position to figure out and there are some questions to be answered on the offensive line. All that being said they still feel awfully good about their chances of finally reaching the postseason.
"I think success in this league is more than just one thing and I think you have to have an offensive, defensive and special teams philosophies that work together to be truly successful in this league," said Roman. "I think that's going to happen here with the Bills and I'm looking forward to that."
"I think you sense the confidence that this team has," Ryan said. "Certainly how they played, especially at the end of the year. That's definitely going to help. I still think that we're all chasing the same thing. For me do I take it personally, do they take it personally that they haven't made the playoffs in 15 years? Absolutely. The main thing that's important is not who coached or how we were beforehand, but it's what we do collectively moving forward. That's something I can't wait for. I'm excited about it."