Right. Once a glaring weakness, linebacker is suddenly the team's greatest strength. With Paul Posluszny back from his season-ending forearm injury and the acquisition of Kawika Mitchell, the Bills field a solid starting trio and promising reserves. Posluszny, Mitchell and Keith Ellison -- who will replace the injured Angelo Crowell -- can all run and be disruptive at the point of attack. Look for Buffalo to force much more turnovers this season with Posluszny and Mitchell. DiGiorgio, who married his high school sweetheart this offseason, was a pleasant surprise last season (137 tackles). Although undersized, he's a capable starter in the NFL, and the Bills certainly will keep him in the batter's box this season – not to mention as a core player on special teams also. Buffalo lost several key players on its coverage units this offseason. Even with Posluszny back, DiGiorgio will play a key role.
The Buffalo secondary is intriguing -- Donte Whitner is a future star, Leodis McKelvin has incredible speed, and Ashton Youbouty was one of the brightest preseason stars. How will the coaching staff direct all that young, raw talent into a pass defense that makes a difference?
The Bills' secondary is probably one or two years away from being a top-tier grouping. Whitner has quickly become a leader, vocally (he guaranteed the playoffs this offseason) and on the field. The hard-hitting Whitner rarely botches his assignments in coverage. Now the defense needs him to be a difference-maker. In two seasons, Whitner only has two interceptions. McKelvin was electric in the return game during the preseason, but has struggled in pass coverage. He won't be overtaking Jabari Greer anytime soon for the cornerback spot opposite Terrence McGee. Expect more coverage lapses this season from a raw unit, but if Youboty and McKelvin grow up fast, the Bills eventually could have a special bunch in the secondary.
Buffalo's special teams have been among the best ever since Bobby April became the position coach. The return game was already great, and the addition of McKelvin makes it even better. Will this be the best part of the 2008 Bills?
Without a doubt. Terrence McGee, Roscoe Parrish and Leodis McKelvin can each take the ball the distance on any given return. Parrish averaged more than 16 yards per punt return last year, while McGee has five touchdowns in the last four touchdowns? And still, it'll be hard to keep the rookie McKelvin on the sideline. The former record-breaking returner at Troy has the innate ability to run downhill while simultaneously making defenders miss. He doesn't dance, he attacks. The Bills should easily field a top five return unit that gives Trent Edwards favorable field position on a drive-by-drive basis.
With questions about the franchise's financial viability and a pile of players on injured reserve, head coach Dick Jauron did a great job moving the deck chairs in 2007. What is his future with the team, and how ready are the Bills to challenge for a wild-card playoff spot?
Entering his third season with the team, Dick Jauron is safe for now. He isn't flashy. The Bills shy from skill position players and other P.R. stunts. Instead, the fabric of the franchise reflects Jauron's mantra – win in the trenches, limit mistakes, play not-to-lose football. Is that good enough? A 6-10 season could cue the pink-slip calls, but the Bills should be in the playoff hunt into December. Their schedule is favorable, what with playing the NFC West, and the team's core is developing. A lot boils down to Trent Edwards pioneering the offense, but a wild-card campaign is the expectation in Western New York.
How are fans handling the games in Toronto, and what is the overall feeling about the team's future in Buffalo?
Disgusted and paranoid. The writing's on the wall here. Yes, Buffalo's Toronto Series opener was a failure a few weeks ago. Many fans refused to pay the astronomical, $100-plus ticket prices to see an exhibition game. But with no plan to keep the team in Buffalo, when owner Ralph Wilson dies, the future of the team will be in complete limbo. The city of Buffalo is pocket change compared to Toronto. The NFL has trumpeted international expansion with growing zest. And despite some tough talk from locals Tom Golisano and Jim Kelly, it's hard to imagine someone realistically stepping up to the plate and keeping the team in Orchard Park, N.Y. Even though in Toronto, fans aren't allowed to drink alcohol in the parking lot before games - a tad different than the passion outside of old Rich Stadium on Sundays.