A lot has changed for the Buffalo Bills heading into the 2013 NFL regular season. The team has a new president and a new general manager. There's a brand new coaching staff in place, with new ideas and schemes in every phase of the game. Perhaps most important of all, there's a new first-round draft pick in town that happens to play quarterback.
Doug Whaley, Doug Marrone and EJ Manuel are stealing most of the ink this pre-season, but there's one thing that has not changed from the 2012 version of the Bills: running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are the strength of this team.
Spiller, who just turned 26, made his first Pro Bowl last season (albeit as an injury fill-in) after a break-out campaign in which he accumulated 1,703 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns on offense despite a fairly low touch count (250, or less than 16 per game). The assumption is that with a workload more suited to his explosive talent, Spiller will emerge as one of the league's elite players - and new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett made it plain earlier this week that that's the plan.
"It’s real simple: we’re going to give him the ball until he throws up," Hackett said Wednesday. "He’s either got to tap out or throw up on the field. Let’s just put it that way."
Jackson, meanwhile, is in the midst of a strong training camp following two straight seasons in which he has landed on Injured Reserve. Though he is coming off a down year - he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2012 and became the clear second fiddle to Spiller - he's also not so far removed from the first half of the 2011 season, in which he was the league's leading rusher (and averaging 5.5 yards per carry) prior to the aforementioned injury. Now 32, it's clear that Jackson isn't the player he once was, but now that he's playing the role of complement to Spiller, there's every chance that he'll emerge as one of the premier No. 2 backs in the league.
Buffalo is trying to groom Manuel into an NFL-caliber quarterback, and they're also bringing along a very young group of receivers with a ton of upside. Defensively, they're installing a brand new scheme that will ideally bring forth all of the athletic talent on hand while dealing with the continued absence of second-team All-Pro free safety Jairus Byrd. There's a lot that needs to come together for this team; until it does, you can bet that they'll lean heavily on their dynamic pair of running backs.