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Top stories for 2023 Bills training camp: Can internal issues be snuffed out?

Internal strife isn’t likely to derail Buffalo too much — but left unchecked, might it rear its head at just the wrong time?

Syndication: USA TODAY George Walker IV / USA TODAY NETWORK

Since their ascent to AFC title contender during the 2020 season, the Buffalo Bills have intermittently fought intra-squad vibe issues in their quest to make good on their championship potential. They enter 2023 training camp on a decided downslope of that journey.

Buffalo endured a tumultuous 2022 campaign in which they entered the season as popular Super Bowl favorites, looked very much the part for two months, and then navigated through hardship after hardship en route to a still-impressive 13-3 finish, a third straight AFC East title, and a playoff win.

Alas, the season ended in crushing disappointment in the divisional round for a second straight year, with a side helping of a star player jawing at another star player on the sideline late in that defeat. That event spearheaded an interesting, somewhat tumultuous offseason, in which multiple popular assistant head coaches vacated their positions for lateral moves, a team leader was dismissed from a mandatory practice because of behind-the-scenes volatility, and the organization’s biggest divisional rivals dramatically closed the talent gap.

Bills ownership is evidently convinced that any underlying issues with the club at the moment are minor, given that they just handed dual contract extensions to general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott. Whatever strife has existed — there was reportedly some in the middle portions of the 2021 season, and there certainly seems to be some now — you can’t really argue with a 37-12 regular season record in a three-year window. The Bills are very good, and that’s not likely to change for a bit.

It’s also true that every organization, good and bad, must work through issues like the ones the Bills are currently facing. Faces change, schemes are tweaked, and a million other variables are modified before each season; sustaining success through all of this change is tremendously difficult, even with great players, but Buffalo has found a way to do so.

Even still, it’s much more fun — for fans, and likely for the people in the building, too — to start a season like the Bills did last year, when they were coming off of a playoff defeat, but had played some incredible football on the way to arguably their most legitimate championship run. They’d also pushed some poker chips into the middle of the table by signing future Hall of Fame edge rusher Von Miller, raising expectations dramatically. And again, insofar as living up to expectations, the 2022 Bills did that for two months. Things weren’t much different entering the 2021 season, either, with the team coming off of its first conference championship appearance in 27 years.

Things are starting differently this year. The vibes are less than immaculate. And while expectations remain justifiably high — there’s still plenty to like about the makeup of the folks in the suits, the khakis, and the nylon uniforms alike — one has to wonder, if whatever blew up between the team and Stefon Diggs this spring isn’t properly amended, what might happen if a couple of untimely losses pick open that scab, especially if it’s later in the season.

This is an important training camp, for a lot of reasons. We’ll talk about some more of those reasons here over the next couple of weeks, before the team convenes to start the new season on July 26 at St. John Fisher University. One of the biggest reasons that this camp is important, however, is that this Bills team needs to re-build a bit of unity before the games start to count.