Buffalo's long, eventful offseason has concluded and team awaits the start of summer training camp on July 25 at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.
At the conclusion of a mandatory three-day minicamp to wrap up offseason drills, Coach Dick Jauron bid his players a temporary goodbye with the usual message: stay in shape, stay out of trouble.
"They've worked awfully hard and they need to get away, they need some rest, they need some relaxation," Jauron said. "They have to stay on top of everything and that, essentially, was our message to them. Stay fit, stay in your books, you have to know what's going on and you have to come back ready to go. We've made a lot of progress, but we certainly have a long way to go."
For a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 1999 and is coming off three consecutive 7-9 finishes -- the ultimate in mediocrity -- the Bills do indeed have a long ways to go.
After a slow start to the offseason, changes came fast and furious, topped by the circus signing of free agent wide receiver Terrell Owens. Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters was then traded to Philadelphia. The draft brought in a host of potential starters and depth players, led by No. 1 pick Aaron Maybin, a pass rush specialist from Penn State.
"I thought we got a lot of work done this offseason that's going to allow us to hit the ground running when we get to training camp," said wide receiver Lee Evans, a six-year veteran who has experienced a lot of disappointment in his Buffalo career despite his 296 career receptions and 32 touchdowns.
Nothing was more disheartening than last season's finish after the team started out 5-1. Evans remains the optimist, his enthusiasm bolstered by the offensive potential of his skills paired with Owens with third-year quarterback Trent Edwards operating behind a rebuilt line with a solid running game.
"It's very exciting going into training camp and going into the season because this is one of the better teams that I've been on," Evans said. "We've got a chance. We have faith in what we have here because it is significantly better than it has been in the past, so we'll see."
Jauron is on the hot seat, given a one-year reprieve by owner Ralph Wilson to get his team to the playoffs. No coach since Marv Levy retired after the 1997 season has lasted more than three seasons in Buffalo, but Jauron has. Now he's got to reward Wilson's belief that continuity -- not change -- was the answer.
Wilson had a blunt postseason meeting with Jauron, who said he got the message loud and clear that his owner isn't overwhelmed by the job he's done. It's playoffs or bust in 2009.
"Does it affect you? You'd be lying if you said no," said Jauron when asked about how that meeting with Wilson affected him going forward.
"Can you let it affect you, in what ways? If you let it affect you and control you, then it's not a very good thing. You just live with it, like everybody lives with things. I've been very lucky. I love what I do and I love being here, so hopefully we can do what we need to get it done."
With another offseason under their belts, the players should have a better grasp of everything Jauron and his staff wants accomplished.
"We've had a year to study what we did, what we didn't like and what we liked. Hopefully we're a better football team, on the flip side, so is everybody else, probably," Jauron said. "We play in a very tough league and a very, very tough division. It's really exciting when you look at the team and you look at it develop over time and I'm looking forward to this year, looking forward to our preparation and that opening game (Sept. 14 at New England)."