One of the great traditions of a Western New York summer is visiting the Buffalo Bills training camp at Saint John Fisher College in Pittsford. Camp opens this year on Thursday, July 27th, and with major changes over the off-season, anticipation is soaring.
Popular camp activities for the kids (and kids-at-heart) include the Football Toss, the Running Back Challenge, the Field Goal Challenge, and the Red Zone. The Kids Autograph Zone, Bills and NFL merchandise vendors, and concessions will be all systems go, of course.
The big change, of course, is at the head coaching slot. Sean McDermott was brought in as the new top gun after two disappointing years under Rex Ryan. While two years is a short tenure, in the results-driven atmosphere that is the NFL and professional sports in general, Ryan wasn’t given a long leash by owners Terry and Kim Pegula. Rumors of a lack of team discipline behind closed doors –and clear evidence of it on the field with poor clock management and back-breaking penalties that were often the result of lack of emotional control – sealed Ryan’s fate. While his brashness and propensity for gum-flapping endeared him to some, others found it grating, and this probably factored into his early demise. Bottom line – he made bold promises that he wasn’t able to back up.
Enter McDermott, the former Carolina Panthers Defensive Coordinator. His direct and no-nonsense demeanor seems like it’s already ushering a culture shift from the bluster and ‘who-knows-what’s-coming-next’ environment for which Ryan was noted. McDermott is a native of Pennsylvania and has noted his understanding of the Bills’ Western New York blue-collar ffanbaseand its work-ethic approach to life and football. This bodes well in terms of connecting with WNY. We shall see if it translates to success on the field.
McDermott came up through the defensive coaching ranks. His D-coordinator is the respected veteran Leslie Frazier, a former head coach with the Vikings. McDermott has appointed Rick Dennison, formerly of the Broncos, as the offensive coordinator. Dennison has worked extensively with Gary Kubiak in Houston and Denver in recent years.
Another coaching shift garnering attention is that of defensive line coach – Mike Waufle. He is a product of WNY, a Hornell native who started his coaching career many moons ago at Alfred University. A former Marine, he has a reputation as a serious disciplinarian. He helped the Giants upset the Pats in the famous Super Bowl that derailed the Pats’ perfect season, and he recently led the Rams’ D-line to upper rankings in sacks each year he was with them. It’s going to be interesting to see how he can find the right note to reach a talented veteran line – Jerry Hughes (a great talent whose main knock is his discipline), Marcell Darius, and Kyle Williams. Waufle may, in fact, only possess one note, but it has served him exceptionally well. Featured on HBO’s ‘Hard Knocks’ during his Rams’ tenure, the show called the defensive line the best unit on the entire team. It said of Waufle: ‘He’ll coach you up, or knock you out. Your choice.’ Stay tuned for some great defensive line work or a great butting of the heads!
Of course, the 64 Thousand Dollar Question is at QB (although we’ll have to call it the 64 Million Dollar Question in the modern-era of professional sports). Tyrod Taylor is still the top choice under center for the Bills. He’s had moments of excellent play, probably more of simply decent play, and some inconsistency still. The Bills have committed to Taylor with some big dollars in the immediate future, but long-term the question still must be answered. With T.J. Yates, Cardale Jones, and rookie Nathan Peterman in camp, there will be arguably more talent at the quarterback spot than the Bills have had in years.
The defensive backfield added key free agency signings in strong safety Micah Hyde from Green Bay and free safety Jordan Poyer from the Browns. A new kicker is signed in Steven Hauschka from Seattle. Gone to free agency are cornerback Stephon Gilmore (to the Patriots no less), and a double-whammy loss at wide-out with Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin out. Linebackers Zach Brown and Lerentee McCray are also out the door.
But the draft received good ratings from analysts, even though the Bills didn’t have a pick until #27 after trading down. Hopefully, free agency losses will be compensated by the talent chosen. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU, is the hope to replace the star of Gilmore (at least to some degree). Zay Jones is an exciting speedster at wideout from Eastern Carolina U. Although he played at a relatively small school, scouts have him tagged as one of the finest receivers coming out of the college ranks. (Let’s not forget Jerry Rice played for a small college!) Dion Dawkins, G, Temple, is an offensive lineman analysts say can make an impact from Day One. Linebackers Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo were chosen in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, to bolster the depleted linebacker corps. People are also excited with the QB Nathan Peterman pick in the fifth round. Peterman went to the Senior Bowl with Pitt last year and most experts had him ranked as the fifth best quarterback in the draft. QB prospects with less fanfare have risen to stardom – so who knows? Perhaps he’s the long-term solution.
With the Pats still supreme, the Jets in total rebuild mode, it should be the Bills vs Dolphins vying for second place in the AFC East and, for the Bills, finally capturing that elusive playoff spot. That might be too much to expect this season, but steps must be made. Teams need to look at the Bills on their schedules and approach the game with some wariness and respect for their opponent.
Before or after you enjoy the Bills’ Camp, be sure to visit any of Pittsford’s fine establishments for some refreshment, a walk or boat ride on the Erie Canal, or shopping at beautiful shops and boutiques in the idyllic village. Or, contact me today if you’re looking to make a move here! See you at camp!