Believe it or not, the Buffalo Bills are roughly two days away from wrapping up 2010 training camp festivities at St. John Fisher College. Four practices from now (three of which are publicly accessible), the Bills will pack their things and head back to Orchard Park to continue preparation for the regular season. A week from Tuesday, when that move happens, the Bills will perform their first roster cut-down of the season. Two days after that, they'll close their pre-season slate with a trip to Detroit. Two more days after that, they'll trim their roster to 53 players and turn their focus entirely to the Miami Dolphins.
With 23 camp practices (two more to come today) and two pre-season games out of the way, we've gotten a good idea of which players have impressed, and which players haven't, based on expectations entering camp. Three risers and three fallers coming right up.
RISER: WR Roscoe Parrish. No one was sure whether or not Parrish would get his punt returner job back, let alone get the shot at playing receiver that the previous coaching regime wouldn't afford him. That impression has changed, as not only does it appear Parrish will get the bulk of the punt return work, but he's cemented himself as the team's third receiver, as well. It would be unwise to predict big things from Parrish this year given the team's historical tendency to not be great offensively, but Parrish will finally get the opportunity to produce to his considerable level of talent.
FALLER: WR James Hardy. The 2008 second-round pick was supposed to challenge for a starting spot. Instead, he's been a bottom-feeder on the depth chart, and has also missed more than a week of practices, as well as both pre-season games, with a foot injury. On the field, he hasn't been bad, but he hasn't exactly stood out in any way, either. With younger players performing at higher levels and Hardy's inability to contribute as a specialist, the former Indiana star is looking like a likely cut.
RISER: SLB Chris Ellis. That '08 draft class hasn't been wholly disappointing, however, as Ellis, the team's third-round pick that year, appears to have finally found his niche at outside linebacker. He's gotten a ton of playing time in camp and in pre-season games, looks comfortable in his new role, and has drawn praise from head coach Chan Gailey for his progress. It still doesn't appear that he'll start entering the season, but Ellis could be a legitimate long-term starting option on the strong side for this team. Personally, his progress has by far been the biggest surprise to me.
FALLER: JLB Aaron Maybin. Most believed that the team's transition to the 3-4 defense would suit Maybin's skill set, and to a degree, that's true. Maybin, however, has yet to look wholly comfortable in his new role, and his game still lacks any sort of polish. The team is focusing on developing Maybin as a pass rusher, but given how little the coaches trust the other aspects of his game, Maybin still has the look of a specialist. They'll use him in 2010, but he'll still likely be a down lineman more often than not, and he's not ready to be the every-down defender the Bills need.
RISER: SS Donte Whitner. In a word, Whitner simply looks rejuvenated in this defense. In four years, his statistical contributions to the club have decreased every year, to the point where he was only a part-time starter in 2009. He has re-claimed his starting strong safety role with ease, has been the most physical presence in the back seven by a mile, and has been making plays and laying the lumber all throughout camp. Still only just 25 years old and with a newly defined role, Whitner looks poised not just to emerge as an upper-echelon safety in the NFL, but to become the emotional leader of this defense.
FALLER: CB Leodis McKelvin. Early in camp, McKelvin struggled mightily, getting burned during practice on several occasions, muffing punts and kicks with alarming frequency, and then by getting picked on in the pre-season opener against Washington. He has not been able to supplant as the No. 2 corner, as many predicted he would. There have been recent signs of life, however; McKelvin looked very sharp at corner against Indianapolis, and returned kicks fairly well in that game, as well. If he maintains that momentum, he'll surpass Florence in short order. On the whole, however, McKelvin has been a mild disappointment - when reporters and fans question one's focus, there's a problem - but it's clear that he's still a big part of the team's plans for 2010.
Any names you'd like to add to either list, folks?