While it is easy for many pundits and fans to predict doom and gloom for the 2010 Buffalo Bills, I am choosing to go in a different direction.
I will work to keep my expectations reasonable in making some generalizations about this year's team. Here it goes...
The Buffalo defense will be recognized as a bright spot during the 2010 season. Yes, the team is making a switch to the 3-4, but there are a number of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. The Defensive line offers a nice mix of veteran leadership (Stround, Williams, Edwards) and youth (Troup, Carrington, Harvey). I feel that the Troup/Williams combo will be a success, and allow both players to stay fresh late in games. The linebacking corps may lack experience in a 3-4 setting, but there is a solid combination of vets and youth that this group can be successful at stopping the run and pressuring the QB. I like what Poz, Davis, and Mitchell bring to the table as far as ability, leadership and experience. Kelsay is a bit of a question mark, but can provide depth and veteran leadership in spots. Reggie Torbor adds to that experience leadership, and Maybin needs to show some dynamic plays early and often (which we know he can do, but we need to see it). The defensive backfield is deep, with a strong group coming back this year - specifically Mcgee, Mckelvin, Florence, Scott, Wilson, and Whitner. Throw in Ellis Lankster, who has been impressive in camp so far, and a deep group just got deeper. And while I don't expect a repeat season from Byrd, he will continue to develop as a player and grow as an all-around playmaker and Pro Bowl caliber player.
The projections might not be as optimistic for the offense, but things will be more stable than they were during 2009. While the losses to the receiving corp will impact the team early, new playmakers will have the opportunity to shine on offense. With Lynch, Jackson, and Spiller the team has a wealth of talent in the backfield. Sets with multiple backs can frustrate opposing D-Coordinators, and Coach Gailey will take advantage of CJ's speed by using him in different sets as well. A number of receivers will have a "step up or step out" season to show if they have the ability to be successful in the NFL. This includes Parrish, Hardy, Johnson, and Jackson. Some of these guys are relatively young, but they will never have a better opportunity than this to show if they can make the jump. Easley has shown promise early in camp, and is a darkhorse to spread the field this year. Shawn Nelson is another weapon that will be given every opportunity to succeed. I also expect more from Lee Evans. There have been enough excuses made (not by him, but by everyone else) including the QB, coaching line, etc. I expect to see him command the ball on more occasions, and retunr to form as a top-15 WR.
The QB spot and O-Line are a bit different, but the expectations are in check this year. Promises of a no-huddle offense last year provided a vision of the 'golden years" - which never made any sense. Coach Gailey has past success in putting young QB's in a position to succeed, and I expect him to do the same with Trent Edwards (who many of us believe will win/keep the job). The running game will be the strength of the offense, and Trent will fill a role similar to QB's such as Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson - smart, nothing fancy, and be accurate in reaching your wideouts.
Yes, the offensive line has some question marks, but I am still optimistic that this group can 1) stay healthy, and 2) provide stability for the run game. Experts have noted that line excels at run-blocking, so I expect to see this continue this season. The increased stability across the line will help to limit foolish penalties (I'm talking to you Mr. Bell), to prevent us from ever seeing another 1st and 15 again. I would like to see Buddy add some depth to the line over the next week or two, as our current reserves lack experience or pedigree.
While I was not in love with the hiring of Coach Gailey, I like what I have seen to date. At the end of the day, I expect him to be a candidate for Coach of the Year. No one has expected this team to do anything, and a respectable season should put him in the running.
I'm not going to predict what the wins and losses will be, but I can predict that the 2010 Bills will be a competitive football team, and that no NFL team should label them as a "gimme". The team will show promise and the young players will continue to develop. I like what I see so far, and I hope you feel the same.