2006 AFC East Preview: Buffalo Bills
The following is an article written by Real Football Services. They are a frequent contributor on newyorkjets.com. Over the next three weeks, Real Football Services will provide an in-depth look at the Jets competition in the AFC East. Second installment: the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills have had one winning season in the 21st century.
That statement, more than any other, explains why the Bills are where they are right now. Two seasons removed from a 9-7 stint, the team's only winning campaign in the last six years, folks in Buffalo are in year one of a complete and major overhaul that reaches nearly every corner of the Bills' football operation. Former head coach Marv Levy has returned as the General Manager/Director of Football Operations, and he and new head coach Dick Jauron have set a new course for the organization, one that has already included a great deal of change in Buffalo, and Jauron knows the coming months may not be easy.
"We have a long way to go, obviously," Jauron said after a recent mini-camp. And with all the questions facing this team on both sides of the ball, it's easy to see why.
There are serious questions about whether JP Losman is the quarterback of the future, and the 2004 first-round pick will once again battle it out in camp with journeyman Kelly Holcomb for the starting job. The new regime is not sold on Losman, who has been very streaky and undisciplined in his time with the Bills, and Holcomb, though a smart game manager and capable of giving the team quality snaps, is not the QB to carry the Bills to the playoffs and beyond. Levy is standing in his office in Orchard Park, NY saying, "Where is my Jim Kelly?" The answer as of today is, "Not here."
With the loss of Eric Moulds, the closest thing the Bills have to a proven receiver is Lee Evans, another 2004 first-round pick. Evans is a polished receiver with strong hands and elite speed that allows him to get behind defenders in man coverage, but without a proven QB who can get him the ball deep, his best skills become limited. Peerless Price returns for his second stint with the Bills, but no player went from boom to bust faster than him. Much like Losman, Price is inconsistent, showing the ability to make the big play, but also capable of taking plays off and sulking when he doesn't get the ball early in games. The rest of the group includes the disappointing Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish who is primarily a returner, and free agent Andre Davis who is a third receiver at best. The team won't get a lot of receiving production out of the TE position either. Buffalo signed Robert Royal from Washington in the offseason, but he is primarily a blocker who lacks speed and receiving skills and is really better suited as a 2nd TE.
The strength of the Bills offense the past two seasons has been the running game led by Willis McGahee. Though he has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, he has averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in that time playing behind a weak offensive line and without a viable passing attack, which has allowed opposing defenses to load up the tackle box and make a priority of shutting down McGahee. With his skills limited by a weak supporting cast, McGahee has bristled and is gaining a reputation as a pouter. He raised some concerns by choosing to workout in Miami this offseason instead of with his teammates as part of the Bills offseason program. He showed up to the team's recent mini-camp in good condition, but with a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and offensive system in place, it's hard to believe that he isn't behind the eight ball already.
The Bills added OC Melvin Fowler and OF Tutan Reyes through free agency, which will give the unit some needed size and toughness on the interior, but overall this is still a group that lacks size, bulk, and experience, and gave up over 40 sacks a year ago while paving the way for a rushing attack that barely averaged 100 yards per game.
The Bills defense is a good unit led by a solid group of linebackers. But Jauron and his staff are switching to a Tampa Two defense, which has necessitated the signing of new players who will fit that defense. They lost experience by letting safety Lawyer Milloy and defensive tackle Sam Adams go. But they got a good defensive tackle in Larry Tripplett and wrapped up arguably the best player on the team, cornerback Nate Clements, with their franchise tag.
The big question will be the health of LB Takeo Spikes who is still recovering from a torn Achilles injury he suffered in week three of the 205 season. Reports are that he will be ready for the season opener, but he could be slow to return to his Pro Bowl form. Tripplett and first round DT John McCargo are a good fit for the Bills new attacking scheme, and should create enough of a push to free up edge pass rushers Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel.
The linebackers, with a healthy Spikes, could be the strength of this unit. London Fletcher is a playmaker in the middle, and Jeff Posey has the ability to rush the passer, pursue and tackle in the running game and drop into coverage. Angelo Crowell is a strong fourth who started in Spikes' place last year, but beyond him, depth will be a concern if injuries hit the unit again.
The secondary has also been a strength in recent seasons and should continue to be one. Clements returns along with Terrence McGee, and the drafting of Ashton Youboty gives Buffalo a strong group of corners for the nickel package, where the rookie will contribute right away. Safeties Matt Bowen and Coy Wire are limited, and Troy Vincent is on the downside of his career. But, they should be able to hold the fort while rookie draft picks Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson develop into starters. Both players have excellent speed and range, and playing with a group of talented corners, will have the freedom to roam the field and use their outstanding athletic ability to make plays on the ball.
There is a good chance that the defense may start slowly as they adjust to the new personnel and new scheme. But this group will keep the Bills in games, and with improved play from the upgraded offensive line and just enough production from the passing game, McGahee could thrive, giving the Bills a chance to return to the positive side of the ledger.