Is There a Rabbit in the Hat?

In the early phases of the Bills' training camp several developments have already complicated matters for the team. Although in my last piece I stated that fans should wait on the development of the Mike Williams situation. However, the situation does not appear to be headed in the positive direction.

Anytime a player shows up to camp overweight, in Williams' case by 30-40 lbs., it is not a good sign. In today's NFL camps are not for getting into shape, they are for refining team and individual play, honing mechanics, and for working on the tactical aspects of team play as well as a host of chemistry issues. Players these days are expected to take advantage of a host of resources, events, and facilities offered by their teams during and throughout the offseason in order to keep themselves in a certain minimal level of physical condition and to report to camp in a reasonable physical condition. Apparently that is far from the case in the Mike Williams' situation.

Mike Mularkey has acted appropriately in the best interests of the team by taking a tough love role with the third year former 4th overall selection. Williams' development or lack thereof, may hurt the team. I say may because Williams was not exactly a premier tackle in defending against defensive ends coming on the outside. For this season anyway it may very well turn out that Marcus Price provides that improved level of play originally sought from Williams.

If anyone knows and can put together the optimal line given the talent available, it is line coach Jim McNally. Having seen a few things during his career, McNally knows how to optimize that talent along the line. If Williams does not get more serious however, this development will certainly have its impact on the team down the road from a strategical standpoint in addition to a simple tactical one this season. Again, it is far too early to go into panic mode on that count however.

Mike Pucillo appears to be the favorite at the left guard spot vacated by Ruben Brown. Pucillo, while drawing heat from fans last season for below average play has an excellent chance of benefiting from McNally's coaching more than other options at the position. While fans and media were hard on Pucillo last season, it should be noted that the rushing game improved significantly during the mid-third of games last season due to the improvement in Pucillo's play.

Was Pucillo's play above average last season? No. However, it was more than what could have been expected from a 2nd year 7th round draft pick. He improved nicely with "less than stellar" coaching. Now with McNally's tutelage he stands do benefit perhaps even more than Mike Williams would have had he been in proper pre-camp shape. I expect the 3rd year Pucillo to win the job over 4th year Tucker fairly easily.

If McNally can get the same magnitude of improvement from the time that Pucillo got hurt last season to the start of this season as Pucillo had experienced from game one last season until week 11 when he was injured, then the Bills will have found an above average, young, and up-and-coming starting guard. There is no question that when Pucillo was in the game last season he was a factor, especially in mid-season, in the success of the running game with the team often running his way. Contrast this with Tucker whom the team avoided running behind while he was playing guard.

In another very interesting development, the Bills have been using a "four second clock" to force Bledsoe to get rid of the ball in a timely manner. This is an intriguing development that makes one wonder whether Bills fans can see the top of the rabbit emerging from the hat. I must admit, one cannot possibly be more harshly critical of Bledsoe's play than I have been, yet this approach does raise an eyebrow of interest. My money still goes on the notion that it will not nearly be successful given that this is only addressing Bledsoe's play from a single angle, but the methodology has implanted enough of a doubt to not rule out a remote possibility altogether.

Nevertheless, playing with a buzzer in camp will still be much different than playing each week with 280 lb. defensive ends lunging at the formerly shell-shocked and still highly immobile QB play in and play out. This approach is oversimplified and does not take into account a variety of factors. It is most interesting nonetheless and at least a reasonable approach to an otherwise uncorrectable situation.

Either way, the stakes just went up for the team and the coaches' job has without question now become more difficult as a result of the Mike Williams situation. Whether Williams can lose enough weight to be an effective component of the Bills' opening day line remains to be seen. But on an already thin roster of offensive line talent and given Bledsoe's need for a stellar line, the team will indeed have pulled a rabbit from the hat if they end up "fixing" Bledsoe with the line issues as they now stand.


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