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ABC guide to Buffalo Bills training camp

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A: Accuracy

Josh Allen showed a lot last year in his first NFL season. He displayed exciting athleticism, a willingness to throw deep (nearly 20 percent of his passes) and a magnetism that has fans excited to see what’s in store for his second year.

For all of the above, however, Buffalo’s 2019 success will hinge on Allen’s ability to improve his accuracy. Allen will most likely never be a mid to upper 60% quarterback when it comes to completion percentage, but hitting 60% would go a long way in making the Buffalo Bills legitimate contenders. With an improved offensive line and weaponry, 60% seems like a realistic goal for Allen.

B: Brandon Beane

In his short time in Buffalo, Beane has shown a willingness to jettison players, especially in the preseason/training camp. Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, and A.J. McCarron have been traded in the past few years before the start of the regular season. Would anyone be shocked to see more wheeling and dealing before the opener against the New York Jets?

Some players to keep an eye on would be Shaq Lawson (entering the final year of his rookie deal) and one of the running backs (LeSean McCoy perhaps?)

C: Competitiveness

Bills fans know, and really should have expected, a step back in 2018 following a playoff campaign in 2017.

What isn’t acceptable, however, is how the Bills lost in 2018. Of the Bills’ ten losses, seven of them were by 11 points or more, with the average margin of defeat being nearly 19 points. If the Bills want to make a run at the playoffs in 2019, they must be more competitive in their games. Football fans know that games swing one way or another based on a handful of plays. Those plays won’t matter if Sean McDermott and company are down three scores too often.

D: Dion Dawkins

By all accounts, Dawkins took a step back in 2018 after a strong rookie year. That rookie year allowed Buffalo to trade Cordy Glenn, but that faith wasn’t rewarded as Dawkins was missing something. There are a few questions with Dawkins, the first of which is can he swing things back in the right direction? To be fair, the offensive line was a mess overall last year, and if there is a unit in football that requires strength across the board it is OL.

The other question with Dawkins is, what position will he play? When he was drafted, plenty of people thought he would kick inside to guard and that isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Dawkins could play LT, RT, or one of the guard positions. Watching his movement along the line in training camp will be a big story to follow all of August.

E: Tremaine Edmunds

Another repeat from last year, but for good reason.

By the end of the 2018 season, Edmunds was showing the type of impact he could have on a game, which was displayed in his 12-tackle, one-sack, one-interception performance in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins.

The Bills are counting on more of that from Edmunds in year two, along with less mental mistakes. There is no reason to think those things won’t happen and that he should garner some recognition around the league.

F: Fun

This is simple, but important with the Bills. If you are reading this, you are more of a hardcore fan and with that comes a passion that makes the Bills Mafia the force it is. We all get high when Buffalo wins and get down when they fall, but remember to keep things in perspective. Have fun with the game, with your friends and family going to Rochester for training camp or Orchard Park for one of the two preseason match-ups. At the end of the day, being a fan is supposed to be fun, so enjoy the ride!

G: Frank Gore

While the national media had a field day joking about the already long-in-the-tooth Buffalo backfield adding the seemingly ageless Gore, by the end of the season it may be Gore having the last laugh.

Gore is what any team would want in a veteran and was productive for Miami in 2018 (722 yards at 4.6 ypc). What Bills fans will love about Gore is his decisiveness. While LeSean McCoy is exciting, he has a tendency to dance instead of taking what is available. Gore has no such problems and because of that may see more touches than anyone, Shady included.

H: Stephen Hauschka

At the end of last year, there was clearly something wrong with the usually reliable Hauschka. In the month of December, Haush-money was just 6 of 11 on field-goal attempts. Many fans point to the cheap shot he took against the Jets on December 9 as the reason for the struggles. If that was the only reason for the unexpected dip in accuracy, a rebound 2019 is extremely likely for Hauschka.

I: Interior defensive line

For the first time since 2006, Buffalo will open a season without the services of Kyle Williams. That loss is more than just the impact on the field, as Williams was a fiery leader and someone McDermott relied on to get messages across.

For the purposes of this letter, however, the focus is solely on the interior defensive line’s play on the gridiron. The Bills drafted Ed Oliver, an explosive talent from Houston and Jordan Phillips was a revelation in 2018, but there are plenty of things that need to be sorted out. Can Star Lotulelei have more of an impact (which would really just simply be ANY type of impact). Will Harrison Phillips take a step forward after a lackluster rookie year? With those questions and all eyes naturally on Oliver, this position group will be one to keep track of all training camp.

J: Jordan Poyer

Any Bills fan knows how important Poyer is to the success of the Bills’ defense, but despite his strong play the past two years, he has been largely ignored by the rest of the league.

If his strong play in minicamp is any indication (he was around the ball constantly by all reports), Poyer may give the rest of the league no choice but to acknowledge him as one of the best safeties in the game. Jump on the bandwagon before it fills up.

K: Keeping healthy

This is without a doubt the most important thing for fans to keep track of in training camp and the preseason. Can the Bills get to the Meadowlands in Week 1 relatively unscathed injury wise? While seasons aren’t won or lost in the preseason, injuries in August can quickly derail the year.

L: Lorenzo Alexander

How much longer can Alexander defy father time? Alexander continues to be a standout on a potent Buffalo defense and how he’s managed in the preseason and training camp is important. While McDermott wants to get Alexander in game shape, he also doesn’t want to put any unneeded wear and tear on his already well-worn body. Giving Alexander the peak “Adrian Peterson” treatment wouldn’t be the worst idea. Lorax knows how to get his body ready.

M: Sean McDermott

This may not be a popular opinion, but McDermott has to grow in his third season as the Bills’ head coach. The players obviously love playing for him and qualifying for the postseason in 2017 made him a fan-favorite but, quite simply, McDermott has struggled with in game-management situations.

He needs to better manage timeouts, challenges and on-the-fly adjustments. As already noted, having the ten losses from 2018 be by an average of 18.7 points speaks to the shortcomings of McDermott (among other things). This is by no means a “Fire McDermott” type of statement, but if you take off the rose-colored glasses, there needs to be improvement by McDermott if the Bills are to reach their goals.

N: Negotiations

This is more of a national thing, but something that fans should pay attention to leading up to the regular season. Roger Goodell has publicly said that the owners would like to have a new CBA agreement in place before the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers kick off the 2019 season on September 5. Among the things that fans will hear about as the negotiating process takes place are a move to an 18-game regular season, how to split the revenue and player safety. As football fans, we should hope the two can strike a deal to avoid the type of drama that came with the last CBA negotiations.

O: Offensive Line

While the Bills seemed to ignore the offensive line leading into the 2018 season, Beane and McDermott put an emphasis on the OL this year.

The biggest addition was the signing of Mitch Morse, a standout center from the Kansas City Chiefs. While injury concerns are worrisome with Morse, when healthy, he is a top-five center and a significant upgrade.

The Bills also stole Cody Ford in the 2019 draft, and keeping an eye on where he plays will be a highlight of training camp. The biggest thing that has to happen is for McDermott to settle on a lineup and let those five guys start working together. The more time they have to gel in the preseason, the less those growing pains will occur when the game really count.

P: Punting competition

In what we here at Buffalo Rumblings have titled the “Cory vs. Corey” battle, this is one of the biggest position battles for Buffalo heading into training camp. Will Cory Carter or Corey Bojorquez emerge as the punter for the Bills? Most fans will focus on the actual punting of the competition, but just as important is how those two handle the holding duties for field goals and extra points. Most Bills fans could care less who the punter ends up being, so long as they do their job. Who else misses Moorman?

Q: Stadium Questions

It’s the topic that won’t go away, even if the Pegulas are probably tired of negotiating discussions centered around the whole thing.

For those who haven’t been to New Era Field lately, there have been plenty of great upgrades, but that doesn’t seem to appease Goodell or other owners who want the money a new stadium would put in their already well-lined pockets.

It does seem inevitable that a new stadium will be coming at some point, so the next question is where would that stadium be? Would a water-front stadium be a good solution? Should the new digs feature a dome?

Until an answer presents itself, these questions will continue to circulate around One Bills Drive.

R: Robert Foster

Robert Foster came out of nowhere in the second half of 2018 and his connections with Josh Allen provided plenty of highlights. The question now is: Can he continue that upward trend? His production made a lot of fans forget that Foster was cut before he broke out. Foster has said that he needed to be cut to do what he did, but with a much-improved wide-receiver room, can he still make an impact.

The answer to that question is really up to Foster. His fight to keep his position will be a highlight of training camp and the preseason.

S: Special Teams

Hauschka has already been discussed, but he isn’t the only reason the special teams was anything but special in 2018. Quite simply, Buffalo was awful last year in the ever-important third phase of the game. Those struggles resulted in the jettisoning of long-time special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman. In his place is Heath Farwell, a former special-teams standout for the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.

One thing that should give Bills fans optimism that this area should improve is simply that there’s more talent across the board this season. The bottom of the Bills’ roster was lacking in talent last year, but having more depth in almost every area will provide stronger special-teams players.

T: Trent Murphy

Disappointment. There is no other way to describe Murphy’s first year in Orchard Park. One of Buffalo’s big-ticket signings of 2018, Murphy provided just four sacks in ten games.

To be fair, Murphy is now a full season removed from his torn ACL that caused him to miss the entire 2017 season. There is usually a jump in productivity in the second season following that injury, and Bills beat reporters commented on Murphy looking and playing like a different player in mini camp. If Murphy can translate that improvement to the field when things actually count, the Bills will have a much-needed boost to its pass rush.

U: Over/Under

One of the surprises of the “dead” season, has been Las Vegas’ perception of the Bills. Buffalo opened with an over/under win total of six and, as of July 8, that has jumped up to seven (according to oddshark.com). Vegas isn’t into losing money, so they may see a bit more success for Buffalo than a lot of the national “experts” who we all know don’t give a hoot about the Bills.

If Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense lights up the preseason, could another jump happen before Week 1?

V: Vosean Joseph

As someone who resides in Florida, I am forced to watch far too much Florida Gator football. While I detest the Gators, watching them gave me a good look at Joseph. He is simply a project player, who has the ability to pop (a 13-tackle, one-sack game against Georgia) but far too often is almost invisible. In the fifth round, however, that is the type of player teams should target: high upside at positions of strength.

Not much should be expected of Joseph in his rookie year, but training camp and the preseason will offer him the opportunity to showcase the skills that made him a draft pick.

W: Duke Williams

One of Buffalo’s under-the-radar moves of the 2019 offseason, Williams was a standout for Edmonton of the Canadian Football League, which prompted the Bills to give him a shot. The former Auburn Tiger has a tough road ahead to vault in front of John Brown, Zay Jones, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster and others. Still, he has all of the tools to make that jump. Watching him fight for a spot on the 53-man roster could will be entertaining.

X: X-factor

Every team has surprise players in training camp who end up making the team and having an impact on the regular season. Who will that player (or those players) be for Buffalo? Will it be Duke Williams, the CFL standout? Will E.J. Gaines regain his 2017 form and steal a starting corner spot? Can David Sills V beat out a deep WR room and squeeze onto the roster?

Y: Yasou

That is not a typo, and I will give you a minute to Google what that means.

...

Welcome back. As you have undoubtedly learned, the word “Yasou” is Greek for “goodbye,” as in “goodbye old-school training camps.”

What has become a troubling trend, hit One Bills Drive as Buffalo will only have eight open practices for fans. What the NFL and the Bills are losing is the ability to connect to fans, and training camp is one of the few times fans can get up close and personal with the players they cheer for every Sunday. The NFL speaks a good game when it comes to doing things for its fans, but when push comes to shove, the fans get cast aside first. If the NFL isn’t careful, they will lose the passionate, rabid fans that make the NFL America’s sport.

Z: Zay Jones

Thank goodness Zay is here, otherwise “Z” would be a tough one to fill.

Seriously though, after an underwhelming rookie season, Jones started to show out in his second season. For us older fans, the third year for receivers brings back memories of Eric Moulds’s breakout campaign in 1998, and the hope is Jones takes a similar leap in his third season.