The Buffalo Bills are now nine practices deep into 2009 training camp, and after eight full days of hard work, the entire team is getting Sunday off to rest and recuperate. The pads go back on on Monday as the team prepares for its first pre-season game of the year, which takes place a week from today in the Hall of Fame Game.
A lot has happened to this point - in terms of players performing (or not), in terms of lineup surprises, and in terms of who is not in camp. We were fortunate to have representation at camp seven days, and have recaps here for those in the reviewing mood: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7. (You'll have to rely on bigger-name sources for Day 8 coverage; we'll be back camping next week.)
This post is not intended to recap every significant development; you'd be reading for the rest of the afternoon if that was the case. Instead, we'll focus on each position after the jump, giving you some of our general impressions based on what we've seen and heard, with a specific focus on the big story lines for the Bills heading into the regular season.
Quarterback. Trent Edwards is looking pretty comfortable. Not all of his throws have been pretty - defensive backs have made a lot of plays on his passes, actually - but the encouraging sign is that he's making many more big plays himself. He and Terrell Owens have quickly established a good on-field rapport, though, as with Edwards and any other player, the rest of the relationship is a work in progress. Trent's also looking more comfortable making his reads and with his footwork. Signs are encouraging. Meanwhile, steady improvement has been the name of the game for backup Ryan Fitzpatrick. He was awful when camp opened, but has leveled off to the point where we don't have to have nightmares about our backup QB situation every night.
Running Back. Marshawn Lynch looks great. He is his usual explosive (in the short area), difficult-to-tackle self. Fred Jackson has been pulling off his best Swiss Army knife impression, running the Wildcat and catching passes as a receiver in addition to his running back duties. Veteran free agent signee Dominic Rhodes is in great shape, running hard, and looks quick with the ball in his hands. He is easily the best receiver of this group; even when Lynch returns, Rhodes will get playing time.
Fullback. Nothing to see here. The position has been completely eradicated from Buffalo's offense as they transition to the no-huddle, and if Corey McIntyre wants to make the team, he'll have to do it as a specialist.
Wide Receiver. Terrell Owens has been outstanding. The man, quite simply, is a freak. His skills don't look diminished a bit, no matter what the "experts" tell you. As long as he's happy this season, the man will produce. Lee Evans is his usual self. Josh Reed is going to have a monster year, folks, provided Owens and Evans are on the field. He might lead the team in catches. Seriously. Before injuring his ribs, Steve Johnson was off to a great start as well. He's got a bright future. Roscoe Parrish has been running the Wildcat in an effort to find ways to get the ball in his hands offensively. One young receiver has been impressing as well - Shaine Smith might be just a street free agent, but he's been making plays, and is very long and athletic. Keep your eye on him.
Tight End. Derek Schouman currently has the inside track to start over the more talented, yet slightly less polished Derek Fine. Schouman looks quite impressive - he's a reliable short-area receiver, and his blocking has been outstanding thus far in camp. He routinely handles defensive ends with ease. Jonathan Stupar is a similar player, and he's been very solid throughout the first week as well. He might find a way to sneak onto the roster. Shawn Nelson is currently dealing with a foot injury, but his outstanding athleticism is apparent when he's on the field. He's easily got the softest pair of hands of this group, and he's a willing, yet highly unpolished blocker. His impact might not be immediate, but Nelson will be a player in this league.
Offensive Tackle. Outside of quarterback, this area has easily been the biggest worry for the fan base, but Langston Walker and Brad Butler are playing well. Butler has struggled some with bull rushes, but he's still re-learning tackle techniques, so that's to be expected. Once he fixes pad level issues, he'll be fine. These two are known commodities and play consistently, so as long as their shortcomings aren't anything more than physical - and thus far, they haven't been - the Bills should be alright offensively. Demetrius Bell has shown tremendous improvement in his second year; you're going to see him on the field a ton in the pre-season. Jonathan Scott has been solid as well, and has a shot to make the roster.
Offensive Guard. Eric Wood is a freaking monster. He's huge, athlhetic, strong, and tenacious. He's a leader. Buffalo's offensive line has been physically talented over the past few years, but there wasn't any leadership up front. Wood is that player. He might be an offensive captain next year; the kid oozes leadership. Andy Levitre has been impressive as well, though not anywhere near the level Wood has; Levitre is improving, but don't be surprised if he's beaten out for the starting left guard job by Kirk Chambers, a dependable veteran who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Levitre has some growing up to do. Seth McKinney doesn't stand a chance to beat out Wood at right guard, but he's been solid as well, and he'll be a valuable reserve this season.
Center. Geoff Hangartner, unsurprisingly, has picked up the intricacies of Buffalo's no-huddle offense quickly. There isn't an awful lot to report here, as we've had a tough time keeping an eye on him, but no news isn't necessarily bad news. Brandon Rodd has been getting second-team reps at center; he's a big, thick kid that in all likelihood will end up back on the practice squad. He has some talent.
Defensive End. Chris Kelsay, surprisingly, has been the bright spot. Chalk it up to going up against Butler in practice if you'd like, but Kelsay has recorded numerous sacks and pressures, and his run defense has always been solid (when he's not getting faked out on a misdirection play, that is). Aaron Schobel is showing no ill effects of his Lisfranc foot injury, though he hasn't been particularly effective rushing against Walker in practice. Chris Ellis is looking great as a reserve; his upper body strength has improved tremendously, and he looks pretty quick out on the field. He might be ready to make an impact. Still, Aaron Maybin cannot get here fast enough - this is not an athletic group of people.
Defensive Tackle. Marcus Stroud is Marcus Stroud. Nothing to worry about here - the guy can play. Kyle Williams has been borderline dominant to this point; he might now take the crown as the Bills' best pure run defender. John McCargo was putting together some nice work before a hamstring injury sidelined him. This group isn't particularly deep (Spencer Johnson helps, of course), but all four of these guys can play. If there's a young player to be stashed on the practice squad for depth in the event of an injury, it's David Lindquist.
Outside Linebacker. Kawika Mitchell has looked solid on the weak side, and Keith Ellison has found himself making plays in the backfield on more than one occasion on the strong side. No one has come close to unseating Ellison for his starting job. Nic Harris has flashed some promise as a reserve, but his technique work currently leaves a lot to be desired. Alvin Bowen and Ashlee Palmer are easily the best athletes at this position; they're quite fast, and both have a chance to make the roster as reserves and specialists. Don't count out Jon Corto, either - he's revered by Bobby April, and he's not a bad linebacker, either.
Inside Linebacker. Paul Posluszny has been outstanding against the run, and he looks far more comfortable defending the pass and blitzing than he did a year ago. He's much, much less tentative. Pat Thomas and Marcus Buggs have been splitting second-team reps at the position, with Thomas looking a hair better. We're going to miss John DiGiorgio, however; he's a much more physical defender than either Thomas or Buggs.
Cornerback. Just like with any veteran, you can safely say that Terrence McGee has been his usual self. Not many big plays, but a lot of pass break-ups and few big plays given up. Leodis McKelvin, on the other hand, has been far more up-and-down, and he's spent a lot more time down than up. Owens and Evans are brutalizing this kid. Here's to hoping it doesn't ruin his confidence. On the other hand, he's also made some beautiful plays, including a couple of gorgeous interceptions. Once Leo gets himself consistent, he's going to be quite the ball player. The battle at nickel corner rages on, but only technically - Drayton Florence has distanced himself early from Reggie Corner and Ashton Youboty (and right now, we'd place Corner slightly ahead of Youboty as well, but that should change quickly once the team starts playing games). Ellis Lankster continues to surprise; he's a great athlete.
Free Safety. Donte Whitner has seen every first-team rep here, and that's not likely to change for a long, long time. Buffalo's coaching staff is very anxious to get Jairus Byrd onto the field, but as he's currently on the PUP list recovering from sports hernia surgery, the idea that he'd line up next to Whitner as a starter is borderline absurd. Ko Simpson has been dependable as the second-team safety, though his climb to a roster spot is still an uphill one. Antwain Spann, recently signed from the Patriots, will be watched with interest over the next couple of weeks - he's got some talent, but his role has yet to be clearly defined.
Strong Safety. Bryan Scott has been excellent, recording a few interceptions and taking one back for a score. He's even gotten some reps here and there at linebacker, in the event that the Bills have to deal with a bunch of injuries there. George Wilson has made some nice plays running with the twos at this position. John Wendling appears to be nothing more than a solid run defender and specialist; we still maintain that he, too, should make a move to linebacker.
Specialists. Rian Lindell is Rian Lindell. Brian Moorman is Brian Moorman - but circa a few years ago, when he was awesome, and not last year, when he was just very good. Ryan Neill and Garrison Sanborn will duke it out for the long-snapping duties, but let's be honest, we're not at camp to watch long snappers. We'll chart them both during pre-season games. One last note - Leodis McKelvin has looked absolutely fantastic returning kicks. He's in line for a possible Pro Bowl season in that department.