Monday, July 22, 2013

Five tasks Bills must complete at camp


The Buffalo Bills officially report to training camp today, with rookies beginning their workouts this week and veterans starting July 28.

Here are five tasks the Bills will look to complete by the start of the regular season:

Absorb Mike Pettine's defensive scheme. The Buffalo defense under Dave Wannstedt was anything but electric last season, failing miserably in the run game and in the turnover department. More importantly, the main complaint of the system was its simplicity, a factor the team hopes to have solved with its new coordinator. Pettine's game plan is based on a mix of formations and is geared toward creating mismatches and confusion across the line. The result is hopefully more pressure on the opposing backfield, but success will rely on whether the team's defensive playmakers (particularly its veterans) can adjust to such a fluid, active system.

Pick a starting quarterback. With the battle for the starting signal-caller position down to two, E.J. Manuel and Kevin Kolb should see a pretty equal amount of snaps early on. Kolb has shown a consistent veteran presence so far, while the rookie's performance has unsurprisingly ebbed and flowed. It's no secret that Manuel is the future for the Bills behind center, but Kolb may be the present. While Manuel looks to progress quickly, cut down on his mistakes and show he can handle the pressure of the starting role at a young age, Kolb will need to stay healthy, continue to show he's reliable and stay near-perfect if he does gain the starting role. If not, calls for Manuel to take over will be fast and furious.  

Get Jairus Byrd on the field. The Bills' front office held its ground as the deadline for an extended contract with the safety came and went. The main task now will be to ink a one-year deal with the playmaker and get him some reps before opening day. While Pettine's schematic doesn't necessarily rely on Byrd's presence, his addition would certainly bolster its effectiveness. The 26-year-old led the team in turnovers last year, and the more reps he can get in the system prior to the regular season opener, the better. As reported by Tim Graham earlier this month, the next date to watch out for in the Byrd saga is Sept. 8, the team's home opener against the Patriots. He will not be paid after that date if he hasn't come to a contract agreement. If he wants to play at all this season and avoid ineligibility next season, he must sign by Nov. 12. 

Establish the starting receiving corps. Buffalo currently has 12 wideouts on the roster. After Stevie Johnson, however, the depth chart is a big question mark. The team took on a complete restoration at the position this offseason, bringing in four rookies and picking up a couple of second-year players off waivers. As Mark Armstrong of noted, a few familiar faces have emerged as front-runners for the No. 2 role; the winner of that battle may dictate the team's choice for the slot role. The Bills look much better at the position than they did a year ago, and given the young talent going in, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team keep six receivers. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, on the other hand, has made it clear that he's willing to incorporate just about anyone into the passing game if they prove worthy, so the team could keep its roster small at the position and utilize the skills of its running backs and versatile tight ends. 

Finish healthy. The Bills have been plagued with injuries the past few seasons, near the top of the league each year when tallying the number of season-ending designations. There's a number of players returning from rehab and hoping to make an appearance at camp, with notable losses last season that include Mark Anderson, Scott Chandler, Torell Troup, Zebrie Sanders and Colin Brown. A number of players are also coming of offseason surgery, and it will be important for the Bills to be as injury-free as possible come Week 1. The big focal point will be on the offensive line, where the team relied on Andy Levitre in the past to provide support and versatility in injury situations. 

Follow Dan @DanBegnoche
Follow AFC East Daily @AFCEastDaily