The Buffalo Bills have not quite finished their first full week of training camp practices. With their second night practice scheduled to take place tonight, the Bills have only completed seven true practices (in five days). Needless to say, it's quite early. That doesn't mean that a few players aren't already impressing with their play, however.
If one pays even slight attention to the team, we already know that the team's biggest superstar, WR Terrell Owens, has been excellent. The team is working harder than ever, and T.O. should get some credit there - his on-field work ethic may literally be unmatched. Other players have been solid throughout camp. The team has been far from perfect, but for now, signs are encouraging. The six names after the jump, however, are guys that should be monitored with two eyes, rather than one.
RB Marshawn Lynch. Yes, I know. Lynch isn't really anywhere close to being "under the radar." Before Owens got here, he was perhaps Buffalo's most notorious star football player. With so much focus on the start of the season, however, Lynch is discussed a bit less than he probably should be, as he'll miss the first three games of the season to suspension. In that sense, he's flying under the radar a bit this pre-season. Lynch came in with a bunch of additional weight and questions about whether he could maintain it and how it would affect his play. He's just as explosive as he ever was, and the weight is, thus far, sticking. Once he returns to regular season action, Lynch could be in for his best season yet.
And yes, now we're moving on to players that aren't star running backs.
OT Demetrius Bell. Most Bills fans are keenly aware of the raw athleticism and massive potential that Bell was blessed with. He spent his rookie year hitting the weights and practicing hard. Now, Clark Judge thinks he's ready to contribute. We think he's close as well. He's the perfect build for an elite tackle - he carries a lot of his weight in his hips and thighs, which gives him power but keeps him balanced and agile. He looks a lot stronger, and he's been putting his hands to better use in pass protection. All he needs is playing time. With extensive pre-season work - and really, is there a good reason why he shouldn't see exactly that? - Bell might end up being a surprise starter on the line if, in fact, the best five players hit the field. (We're not betting on it yet, however.)
DE Chris Ellis. My mistake. Prior to camp, I wrote that Ellis - who had a highly invisible rookie season in Buffalo - might be a roster casualty before the regular season. That seems highly unlikely now. Ellis is clearly much stronger than he was as a rookie, and has performed well against the run thus far in camp. We're hearing he's more sound technically as well. We can't wait to see him rush the passer in the pre-season, as it's difficult to accurately judge pass-rushing prowess in a training camp setting. A lot of folks are pinning the hopes of restoring the pass rush on rookie Aaron Maybin's shoulders; we urge you not to forget Ellis' name. He's got a chance to contribute.
DT John McCargo. Here's a guy who went from first-round bust to failed trade, and now suddenly he's a sleeper again. The 2006 first-round pick is in great shape (he's shed roughly 10 pounds), and he's working hard for his new defensive line coach. Right now he's dealing with a hamstring injury - which clearly doesn't help - but he's also been excellent against the run thus far in camp. You've heard a lot about him over the past few days - from us, from Tim Graham, and even from Judge. There's a reason - McCargo may very well be on the comeback trail.
LB Nic Harris. When the Bills drafted Harris in the fifth round this past April, he was described to me as a "Keith Ellison clone, but more physical." Harris is a smart football player, and he was a highly productive defender at a first-rate college (Oklahoma). He has picked up Buffalo's defense quickly, running almost exclusively with the second-unit defense at SAM linebacker (right behind Ellison). If you recall, Ellison started several games in his rookie season - without big plays, but also without many mistakes. Don't be shocked if Harris follows in his footsteps. Even if Harris doesn't start, he'll contribute, as he is both a versatile specialist and capable of handling third-safety (or fourth linebacker duties) in some of Perry Fewell's more unique defensive packages.
CB Ellis Lankster. Eyebrows were raised when Lankster put forth a multi-interception showing in summer mini-camps. In the ensuing weeks between mini-camps and training camp, however, skepticism began to creep up on Lankster again. How can a seventh-round rookie cornerback with very little college pedigree keep up such a performance? Trust us - he has. The big plays are still being made (though not nearly as frequently), and he's holding his own despite being buried on the depth chart and facing some stiff competition from the Bills' receiving corps. If you weren't convinced that Lankster had a shot at an actual roster spot before camp, you should be now. This guy can play.