Here are just some random thoughts about what I like about what Buffalo has done so far this season. Just for the record, while I am overall happy thus far, I do believe Brian has graded our draft a bit too high. With that intro, here I go:
1.) The Dominic Rhodes signing was one of the most underrated off-season moves that OBD was able to pull off. The front office deserves a serious pat on the back for coming as close as they possibility could to negating the suspension of Marshawn Lynch during the first three games. I remember how well Rhodes played in some of the biggest games in Colts history and he played pretty stellar last year in a limited role as well. I am fully confident that a duo of Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes will not cause a hiccup in our offense for the first three games and that was a major accomplishment. In fact, I truly wouldn't be suprised if after the first three games we are staring at a solid stat line from Jackson and Rhodes, enough so to give us a sense of guilt and reservation about taking carries away from them. Rhodes has come up big in big games and if you listen to his interviews he is determined to prove that he should be in the discussion to start. That means a tough, productive player will be playing with a chip on his shoulder with something to prove. Be prepared to be impressed with Rhodes, maybe more than Jackson, during the first three games of the season.
2.) I like the investment in run blocking lineman. Hangartner, Wood, and Levitre should immediately upgrade our running game, especially with the big three running behind them and with Butler and Walker now manning the bookeneds, two solid run blockers themselves. I won't go so far as to say our line will be better than last year's. Don't go overboard guys, the key word is 'investment'. No matter how you try to frame it we are going into this season with five new starters at all five positions on the offensive line. The good news? All five are big mauling run blockers. The bad news? Teams are going to severly test ouf pass blocking. Expect blitzes, edge pressure, and even interior blitzes against our rookie guards. There is more good news though, but a lot of it rests on Edwards and Schonert. We have an opportunity to turn this bad news into something to take advantage of. Teams are definitely going to attack, attack, attack our offensive line in passing situations. Right now Trent Edwards should be working on making lightning quick reads and on perfecting his instant release of the ball. Turk Schonert should be developing routes for a spectacular receiving corp, including Terrell Owens, Shawn Nelson, Josh Reed, and Lee Evans, which has them running quick, rapidly developing routes. If teams send us everything they got we can make them pay if Edwards can get rid of the ball fast and if Turk Schonert gets prepared for this by putting our receivers in position to make play, quickly and be in position to bail Edwards out. There is a negative to this that is unavoidable; Trent Edwards is going to take a lot of shots, even if he releases the ball for big time completions. I don't have to tell all of you about our QBs fragility. This is a problem which should negatively affect our teams draft grade and off-season grade. For all the things we've done right, we have undoubtably put our injury prone, young QB of the franchise in a terrible position. As Brian has so correctly noted over and over, our seaosn depends on how Trent Edwards plays. OBD should be apologzing to our QB now, if our season depends on Edwards, then we are all going to be holding our breath after each shot he takes behind a line that is not a pass protecting machine.
3.) I love the Aaron Maybin pick. Not just because he's got the physical tools to be elite, not just because he addresses our largest defensive weakness for the last few seasons, and not just because we can finally get pressure on the elite QBs in our division. Call it hokey but I like that a number 11 pick was crying when he was selected by Buffalo. I like that he looked like a kid who couldn't even begin to start thanking God enough that he was blessed enough to be in the position that he was in. I like all of that, because it reeks of a talent who wants to make the city he plays for proud not because he's got something to prove but because he wants to say thank you for making him the #11 pick.
3.) And of course, there is Terrell Owens. Amazingly for all the talk we did have about Terrell Owens after we signed him, most of it was about the non-football impact he was going to have on our ticket sales, on our locker room, on our quarterback, and on our coaching. After that, discussion sort of tapered off. But make no mistake, Terrell Owens biggest impact on this team is going to come on the field. He is by far and away the most impactful addition or subtraction the Buffalo Bills made all off-season. We have a premier weapon in a division of tough competitors. Remember all those close games we lost last year? And the year before? And the year before? Playmakers like Owens help you win some of those games instead of losing them. He is going to open up coverage for Lee Evans in a way that I don't think we are allowing ourselves to get excited about yet. He and Evans are going to open up things for Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and Dominic Rhodes that I don't think we are allowing ourselves to get excited about yet. Shawn Nelson is going to have the room to operate that a rookie tight end with his talent can only dream of; he's going to a team with a young quarterback, great running backs, and great receivers. Can you say breakout rookie season? It's time to appreciate what Terrell Owens is going to do for us, we only have one season to be excited about it anyway, soak it up.
I am very happy with this off-season, make no mistake about it. There are some areas that are distrubing however, including Harris/Ellison/Bowen at OLB and the lack of a true left tackle and a true right tackle starting at either position. In addition, the pick of Jairus Byrd deserves a D in my opinion. Byrd has ball-hawking skills sure, but he is slow and is a bit small for a safety and he won't get on the field this season. That is enough to make the pick a C, but it becomes a D when OBD by passed the opportunity to select Everette Brown and Connor Barwin, both of whom were on the board, for this corner, we want to convert to a safety, but who doesn't really fit entirely in either role. It's not an F because I do have faith that OBD has to have seen something in the kid. But passing on Brown and Barwin, picks that would have given us two pass rushing playmakers in the same draft while giving us creativity in terms of moving Maybin and Barwin/Brown around at DE and OLB was too much to swallow.
All in all, OBD has done a lot right this off-season and we should be satisifed as fans. But things are far from settled at this point.