With more than 35 new players on the roster, and 16 new members of the coaching staff, the quickest way to get the 2015 Buffalo Bills to bond on the field may be to get them off the field.
At least that seems like the approach taken by Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan. When the entire Bills roster bussed to Batavia for the Jim Kelly Golf Tournament Monday, it marked the second time in two weeks Ryan used a scheduled workout day for off-the-field diversion. And in the case of the Kelly Tournament, the Bills were able to support the charitable work established by the franchise's all-time quarterback.
"With this event that Jim has, Kelly for Kids, it's a great event," Ryan said Monday at the Kelly tournament. "It might be different from other teams, but we want to support Jim and we also want to do it to build our team a little bit."
Before he teed off in the tournament, Quarterback Matt Cassel talked about how important it was for the current Bills roster to be together off the field, and support Jim Kelly. "Kelly for Kids is obviously a great foundation," Cassel said. "It's been here in Buffalo for the last 30-years. They had a great gala last night. Any time we can come out and support one of our own, especially an iconic figure like Jim Kelly who has done so much for this community—it's great for us to all come out."
The Bills burned one of their 10-scheduled OTA days to participate in the tournament. And Ryan's move was saluted around the league as an inspired coaching choice. ESPN Analyst Mark Schlereth, who played 12-years at guard in the NFL, says Ryan made the right call.
"I love it. That's the coolest thing ever," Schlereth said on ESPN Sportscenter. "Camaraderie is so big. Chemistry is so big. And relying on one another is such an important part of football. It's the ultimate team sport. And to be able to create opportunities to do that is worth its weight in gold."
"Jim Kelly is iconic there," Schlereth continued. "We saw his battle with cancer. We've seen what he has been through. It's a way to support one of their iconic players. I love it and I think Rex has done a great thing for that Buffalo Bills organization."
Forging team chemistry would figure to be especially difficult in the current NFL, with frequent roster turnover and multiple coaching moves. When Schlereth played, and when Jim Kelly and his Bills teammates were in the league, they spent multiple years with one NFL franchise. Chemistry and camaraderie were naturally established.
Ryan's Bills team went bowling as a group two weeks ago on the final day of the Phase Two of the offseason conditioning program. That was followed by Monday's golf outing. Without the benefit of many long-term veterans on the 2015 Bills roster, Ryan may be
"If you can build team chemistry as fast as you can, I feel that what's he's doing," free agent TE Charles Clay said Monday. "He's trying to get the team as close as he can as early as he can. I think it's a good thing."
Monday's golf outing also served as a quick introduction to Buffalo Bills culture for the young team. With Kelly surrounded by his former teammates, including Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Bill Polian, the current players had a chance to tap into the history and legacy of the franchise.
"Just getting a chance to meet those guys, those are the guys who laid the foundation, who made Buffalo Bills football what it is," Clay said. "Being a new guy, coming here and getting a chance to meet them—it's a dream come true and I'm just excited to be a part of it."
"We have eighty former Buffalo Bills who live in this community," Ryan said. "I think it's great that our guys get out and get a chance to see it. Also to see that Buffalo is not just about the weather, it's about much more than that, it's about the people in our community. It means a lot to us and for our players to get out here and really be with former players, I think that's huge."
It could be a big step forward in establishing the identity of the 2015 Buffalo Bills. Team building days like the Kelly tournament or the bowling day give players a chance to bond outside the confines of One Bills Drive. And Monday's event puts them front and center with the history and tradition of the franchise, as they try to create their own legacy.