5 Tuesday Takes on the Bills
- A Rex Camp is a Happy Camp
This was one of the more obvious changes that we knew we’d see coming in to the 2015 edition of training camp with new head coach Rex Ryan in the fold, but it is still an important and refreshing one.
Under Doug Marrone, the aura surrounding the facilities at St. John Fisher College (SJFC) was quite different than what has taken place the past couple of weeks. It seemed as though players were constantly walking on eggshells; doing their best to not cross the ever-irritable Marrone before, during and after practice. It was a team with plenty of strong personalities – yet Marrone essentially locked those personalities in a vault and refused to let them come out. It is not easy to go to work every day when that is happening. Members of the media also felt the brunt of this forced culture. It just wasn’t a very fun time at SJFC.
Fast forward to this year – Rex Ryan is being Rex Ryan and everything out of Bills camp suggests that his players, as they almost always do, are taking very well to the new culture. With each passing day, you hear another player raving about how things are going at camp under Ryan. There is plenty of football being taught, but there is also plenty of fun being had. Players are allowed to be themselves, let loose a bit and have some fun once in a while – with the support of the new coaching staff. They’re going to lay it on the line for Rex and this staff – because he gives them every reason to do so.
- The Quarterback Competition is Over – For One of Them
If you follow me at all on Twitter (@716sportsguy), you know by now that I am not exactly team E.J. Manuel. I jumped off that train last season when it became incredibly obvious that his flaws (accuracy, pocket presence, overrated athleticism, etc.) would be very difficult to fix. Almost a month into camp, things don’t seem to be changing much at all for him. If anything, they’re getting worse.
Almost every day, reports come in from St. John Fisher College, and almost every day, the quarterback position is at the center of that report. Thus far, these reports almost unanimously suggest that Manuel has had far more bad days than good. Meanwhile, Matt Cassel has been stringing together solid practices as of late and Tyrod Taylor is displaying his unique athleticism and surprising (to some) throwing skills that had Rex coveting him for a couple of years now.
After losing more and more reps in the prior practices, Manuel was the third quarterback to get work in the first pre-season game against Carolina. While he played pretty well against the 3rd string defenders of the Panthers, both Cassel and Taylor were even better on Friday night, playing against guys that will be seeing the field this season. Now, this week, Manuel is working almost exclusively with the third team as Taylor has been named the starter against Cleveland.
The writing is on the wall, folks. Barring injuries to both Taylor and Cassel, Manuel is not going to win this starting job. In fact, I’m quite confident that Rex, Roman and co. have already determined that at this point – but of course they’ll never come out and say so. Manuel simply has not done enough to fix his considerable flaws that he’s displayed since day one in Buffalo. With Cassel, you get the steadiness/floor of a veteran who has successfully directed talented offenses in the past. With Taylor, you have an explosive athlete who can make game-changing plays on a pretty regular basis. With Manuel, you have neither, and that is becoming abundantly clear. This has become a two-man race.
- Depth and a Hat Tip to Doug Whaley
Since the last few days have seen season-ending injuries to Jarius Wynn and one of my personal favorites, Ty Powell, now is a good time to touch upon the incredible depth the Bills have on both sides of the football that can help them overcome injuries like these.
First, a disclaimer – I’m a Doug Whaley guy. I think he’s done a fantastic job since coming over to the Bills personnel department after years in Pittsburgh. I think he is quickly becoming one of the league’s best general managers, and soon, I think it’s going to be tough for anyone to argue with that notion. He’s made almost all the right moves. A big part of the proof for this can be found in the pudding of the depth that the team has accumulated at almost every position.
Here are some names for you: Cyril Richardson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Kraig Urbik, Karlos Williams, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, Marquise Goodwin, Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, Randell Johnson, Ron Brooks, Duke Williams and Bacarri Rambo. What do all of these guys have in common? They’re all probably not going to be week one starters on this team – aside from Bryant filling in for the suspended Marcell Dareus – but I believe they’re all talented enough to come in and produce admirably if called upon. And those were just names off the top of my head. Some are proven veterans who have played and started many games, others, like Karlos Williams and Randell Johnson, are young players with little experience but obvious talent. The Bills are a deep, talented roster these days and that is essential in a league where the injury report can read like a novel at times.
- Tossing Away the Training Wheels
Now I want to touch on something that Rex Ryan did on Friday night against the Panthers that I loved. He threw 2nd round pick Ronald Darby onto an island on the first snap of his NFL career and left him on that island for the rest of Darby’s night. It didn’t matter that Darby had never stepped foot onto an NFL field before, nor played against a Pro Bowl quarterback like Cam Newton. Rex threw him out there to let him know that he practices what he preaches. That being that his cornerbacks will be playing man-to-man coverage with very little or no help most of the time. I loved that.
Was Darby burned a handful of times – mostly by the California Redtree that is Kelvin Benjamin? Sure was. He was in good position for the most part but failed to get his head turned around in time and to make a competitive play on the ball. That was part of his MO coming out of Florida St. and what better way to test it than sending him out there from day one like Ryan did and has done with him throughout camp.
You don’t get better by doing it any other way. And the Bills need Darby to get better quickly since it is looking more and more like Leodis McKelvin isn’t going to be playing anytime soon. Rex threw Darby directly into the fire and though his play wasn’t pretty at times, it’s the only way that he is going to be ready to go against guys like T.Y. Hilton and Andre Johnson on September 13.
- What to Look for on Thursday
Tyrod Taylor is the easy one. This is a very, very important game for him. He has been starving for a real opportunity to start in the NFL. Buffalo has finally given him that, and starting the game on Thursday in Cleveland, on national television nonetheless, is the chance that he has been waiting for. I expect him to rise to the challenge.
The running back situation is going to be an interesting one on Thursday. With the mysterious Karlos Williams injury, the Bills will probably have only three healthy running backs going into the game – LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Bronson Hill. The coaching staff probably won’t want to give Shady all that much run, so this becomes a big time opportunity for Bryce Brown. He has been squarely on the bubble due to his everlasting fumbling issues. He will get the ball early and often on Thursday and needs to produce in the same fashion that he did this past Friday.
The wide receivers and tight ends not named Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Charles Clay need to do a better job catching the football. Way too many balls hit the turf on Friday night. And many of them were good balls from Taylor and Manuel. The three guys I mentioned were sure-handed as usual, but the depth guys – particularly Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan, MarQueis Gray and Nick O’Leary – need to be better.
There are opportunities at defensive end and inside linebacker now that Jarius Wynn and Ty Powell have gone down with injuries. Guys like Michael Buchanan, Cedric Reed, IK Enemkpali, A.J. Tarpley and newly-signed vet Quentin Groves have an opportunity to secure a roster spot and take some of the playing time that would have been garnered by Wynn and Powell.