Bills training camp preview
The Buffalo Bills reported to St. John Fisher College on Friday for 2013 training camp, and they begin their summer practice schedule Sunday evening with the first public night practice of this year's camp. This marks the fourteenth straight year that the Bills have held camp on the quaint college campus in Pittsford.
Dates, times and ticketing information for those practices (i.e. night practices) that require free tickets for admission.
Our very own Matt Warren, a Bills training camp veteran, gives you a feel for the camp experience and offers advice on travel, where and how to watch practice, and more. This is a must-read if you're planning on attending camp for the first time this year.
The big stories
Though they went about it in slightly unorthodox fashion, the Bills undertook a massive organizational overhaul this off-season. Russ Brandon is now in charge of the entire operation as team president and CEO, Doug Whaley has replaced Buddy Nix as GM (though that didn't happen until after the 2013 NFL Draft), and a brand new coaching staff was hired.
As new head coach Doug Marrone - the former head coach at Syracuse, and once the offensive coordinator in New Orleans - was hired and began adding assistants, we meticulously tracked and discussed each new hire. From the high-profile coordinators to the obscure position coaches, there's information on just about everyone in that StoryStream.
Buffalo enters training camp with three brand new quarterbacks on the roster, and two of them - veteran Kevin Kolb and rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel - are expected to compete for the team's starting job. The scene is set for that battle in the link above, but the gist of it is this: even if Kolb is the team's Week 1 starter against New England, it's far more likely than not that we'll see Manuel starting for the team at some point in his rookie season.
The Bills' best defender was denied the opportunity to test the open market this off-season when the Bills put the franchise tag on him. He and agent Eugene Parker did very little negotiating on a long-term deal, reportedly asking the team to make him the league's highest-paid free safety. When a July 15 deadline for a long-term deal came and went, it became apparent that Byrd would sit out of some or all of training camp in protest - and that's exactly what will happen. If you can stomach it, we cover the entire saga in the above StoryStream.
Position battles galore
Aside from the aforementioned quarterback battle, the Bills will have a lot of starting jobs and prominent roles up for grabs this summer, as the new coaching staff comes in looking to put the best players on the field, with few biases towards inherited personnel and off-season acquisitions. We spent a lot of time discussing the major battles this summer; they are:
Both of the Bills' chief right tackle candidates wound up on Injured Reserve last season, but while Erik Pears returned to the practice field during a June mini-camp, Chris Hairston will begin camp on the Active/PUP list. That might be enough to give Pears a leg up in this race, but if Hairston can return to the field in short order, this could end up being a photo finish.
Four-year starter Andy Levitre signed a six-year, $46.8 million contract with Tennessee in March, leaving a gaping hole at the Bills' starting left guard position. It's anyone's guess who will open training camp running with the ones at that position, much less who will emerge as the full-time starter entering the regular season. The four most noteworthy contenders for the job are incumbent reserves Colin Brown and Sam Young, free agent addition Doug Legursky and little-known guard/tackle Chris Scott.
It's rightfully assumed that rookie second-round pick Kiko Alonso will man one starting inside linebacker position, and perhaps even lock down a three-down role. What happens beside him? Can a player like second-year pro Nigel Bradham lock down a three-down role as well, or will a sub-package specialist like Bryan Scott steal reps once again?
Buffalo's new defense, coordinated by Mike Pettine, is expected to lean heavily on the use of defensive backs, meaning that the nickel cornerback job could essentially be viewed as a starting job. Second-year pro Ron Brooks appears to have an early lead in that race, but don't count out third-year pro Justin Rogers or undrafted rookie free agent Nickell Robey just yet.
With Byrd staying away from the team, third-year pro and converted cornerback Aaron Williams is expected to run with the first team at safety following a strong spring performance at the position. Competing for a starting job beside him (assuming Byrd doesn't report quickly enough to learn the defense in time for the regular season) will be 2011 fourth-round pick Da'Norris Searcy, an in-the-box type safety, and rookie fourth-round pick Duke Williams, a corner/safety hybrid more in the mold of his surnamesake teammate.
Rian Lindell has been Buffalo's placekicker for a decade, but he may have a very difficult time beating out rookie sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins for the job he's held for so long. Meanwhile, second-year punter Shawn Powell will try to follow up an up-and-down rookie season by beating out strong-legged street free agent Brian Stahovich for his job. If Hopkins and Powell are able to win these jobs, the two former Florida State stars will team up with long snapper Garrison Sanborn to give the Bills an all-ex-Seminoles special teams core.
Beyond just those specific position battles, there will, of course, be plenty of jobs up for grabs at the back end of the Bills' 53-man roster. In the post linked above, we take a look at which Bills players are locks for the roster, the minimum number of players required for each positional group, and which names on the team's roster will be competing for those limited number of spots.
Rumblings' camp coverage
In addition to doing what we do, we're looking to incorporate our outstanding community into our training camp coverage this season.
If you're a photog-in-training or a mere hobbyist with an affinity for the Bills, we're interested in crowdsourcing some photo galleries from training camp. We did this during last year's Thursday Night Football game between the Bills and Miami, with fans emailing in photos they took during the game and the pre-game tailgate for the very cool (if relatively small) photo gallery seen here. If you're interested, simply send us some of your favorite practice snapshots via email, and we'll credit your work in a gallery like the one linked above. This is a great tool for out-of-staters that don't have the opportunity to attend camp, so please help your fellow Bills fan out!
Finally: if you follow the Bills obsessively like we do, then keep on keepin' on. If, however, you (or anyone you know) are looking for a more curated experience with the "big news" up top and the extra stuff stashed away elsewhere, make our dedicated Bills training camp hub part of your daily Internet surfing (see link below).
Following Bills camp elsewhere
We here at Buffalo Rumblings will work hard to serve your every training camp need this summer. If, however, you're interested in following Bills camp from every single angle possible, you'll want to check out Matt Warren's media guide, which offers a comprehensive and selective take on which news outlets are the prime choices for consuming as much Bills football as possible. Take a look!