On the whole, NFL fans hate pre-season football. After enduring months without football - months punctuated with the NFL Draft, free agency, and an unnecessary amount of hope - fans are generally ecstatic when training camps open. That excitement dwindles during the first couple weeks of practice, and is re-ignited instantly when teams don uniforms for their first pre-season game of the season.
The excitement of the pre-season lasts a quarter, maybe two; from that point on, pre-season football is month-long torture. With the regular season so close, fans typically grow tired of pre-season games very quickly; speaking from personal experience, I find everything beyond the first home pre-season game (which I attend at the stadium; that gets the juices flowing, to be sure) abusive to the soul.
While the NFL continues to mull over a scheduling change that would lengthen the regular season by two games and cut two from the pre-season slate - a development the vast majority of football fans would whole-heartedly endorse - Buffalo Bills fans are dealing with the unfortunate reality of watching not four, but five pre-season games this year. What cruelty! Yet in the case of these Bills, a lengthened pre-season may be extremely beneficial, especially in four key areas. Get ready to take five for the team, Bills fans.
As mentioned, four people (or, in most cases, groups of people) stand to benefit from five pre-season games and the demise of our sanity.
The rookies. As Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News notes, first-round pick DE Aaron Maybin might miss a week or more of training camp due to contractual holdout. As we mentioned a little over a week ago, the Bills have never had a top draft pick make the team's first practice in the Dick Jauron era - and with the Bills reporting their full squad a week prior to nearly every other NFL team, the chances of Maybin (as well as first-round OG Eric Wood) being in camp on time are small. (As it stands right now, only two first-round picks have signed deals.)
The prevailing opinion of the day is that Buffalo's remaining unsigned rookies - Wood, Jairus Byrd, Andy Levitre and Shawn Nelson - will be in camp on time or, at worst, miss only a handful of practices. Maybin is the real wild card based on his draft status. The upside is that even if Maybin misses two weeks of camp (an uncomfortable, yet not unrealistic possibility) and therefore the first pre-season game, he'll have four more to catch up. That's as many as every other non-Titans rookie, folks.
The offensive line. If you're listening to out-of-work NFL scouts at this point, Buffalo's re-tooled offensive line is looking pretty poor. (Then again, having never participated in a training camp practice together, we feel that that's a tough determination to make right now.) It's not exactly a secret, however, that the Bills are taking a major risk in starting new players at all five line positions. With two rookies (that might not be in camp at time) projected to start at guard, the team will likely open camp with veterans Seth McKinney and Kirk Chambers as the first-unit guards. The more time the coaching staff has to iron out a starting five and let them play together, the better.
Trent Edwards. Without a strong season from Edwards, the Bills are going nowhere. It's that simple. Edwards has more on his plate this year, as he's now responsible for pre-snap adjustments and play calls (according to BuffaloBills.com); he's also learning the no-huddle offense (something Turk Schonert has been promising for over a year now). No matter what your confidence level currently is in Buffalo's third-year quarterback, there's no denying that he's still young, still has a lot to learn, and the extra time will be beneficial to him, even if only in a small way.
The coaching staff. One of Dick Jauron's biggest gripes over the past three seasons has been the speed at which he's had to prepare his troops before the regular season opener. That sentiment is generally shared by most other NFL head coaches, who'd like as much time as possible to iron out all the kinks before the games count. Clearly, the longer pre-season gives Bills coaches precisely that opportunity. It also affords them an extra 60 minutes of pre-season game film with which to evaluate their younger players. This coaching staff has a lot of important decisions to make over the next couple of months. Optimistically, the Hall of Fame game will give them more time to get it right.