Bills top wide out Stevie Johnson had a performance to forget on...
Predicting the Media-Driven Storylines (That Haven’t Happened Yet)
Every summer there are storylines that emerge from Buffalo Bills training camp. Most of them are media-and-fan-driven rather than leaked by the coaches, which is natural since it’s not the coaches’ job to create fodder for writers. The interesting thing about these story lines is that they generally seem to be the same every year, just with different players filling the roles. There’s always going to be significant hype revolving around certain undrafted free agents, perceived overpaid veterans, and underperforming/overperforming talent. I’m not going to make any guesses on who will actually make the team here, just predictions on what will be the familiar dominant stories once training camp starts.
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT WHO IS A NEAR-LOCK TO MAKE THE TEAM
Candidates: CB Nickell Robey, LB Keith Pough, RB Kendall Gaskins, WR Brandon Kaufmann, G Zach Chibane
I’m not including wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers in this category because most everyone I have seen discuss him believes that it is likely he makes the team already. I don’t think it is a certainty that he makes the 53-man roster, but at this point everybody knows that he’s talented enough to be there. Robey and Pough are both receiving reasonable hype because of their college careers; Robey as a productive starter on a talented-but-maligned USC defense, and Pough as an extremely accomplished sub-division player. They also man positions on the Bills defense that lack depth (at this point), so they could become popular candidates to make the team. Gaskins also brings an impressive college resume, and has unique size for his position that will be intriguing to some people. I think fans have also soured on Tashard Choice a bit, and may be ready to move on to a new third running back. Kaufmann hasn’t made a lot of noise in the offseason practice portion of the offseason, but I think there will be more stories to come out about him. He’s a big receiver who was insanely productive at Eastern Washington. I think there’s going to be days where he looks great at practice. The biggest problem for him is that he pretty much has to make the roster outright as a receiver, because he is too tall and lacks the athleticism to make the team with special teams considerations. With the amount of talent at receiver going into camp, Kaufmann has a tough road ahead of him. Chibane is the player I expect to come out of nowhere with this undrafted free agent class. With the uncertainty at the left guard position and the interior line depth in general, Chibane is going to become a more popular choice to make the team. Add that in with his relationship with Head Coach Doug Marrone playing at Syracuse (and as the only Orange player that Marrone drafted or signed from this rookie class), Chibane is going to be discussed as a strong candidate to make the team.
PLAYER ON VETERAN SALARY THAT FANS BELIEVE WILL GET CUT
Candidates: WR Brad Smith, LB Jerry Hughes
Brad Smith hasn’t been extremely productive at receiver for the Bills yet, and the quarterback experiment with him has apparently ended. He is also one of the higher-paid veterans on the team. However, he is an excellent special teams player, and his teammates have talked about him as a leader in the locker room. If I had to guess, I’d say he doesn’t have much to worry about, but that won’t stop some fans for calling for his dismissal. Hughes is here as a relatively low-risk investment. If he starts to lose reps in training camp to other (especially younger) players at his position, fans aren’t going think twice about turning on him.
NOTE: I originally had Mark Anderson and Erik Pears listed in this section. As I am writing this right now, the Bills have released Anderson (this might need its own column), and Chris Hairston just went on PUP, making Pears’ job considerably safer.
UNIT THAT DOMINATES THE OTHER UNIT THROUGHOUT TRAINING CAMP
Candidate: The Bills’ Defense
I think a huge narrative throughout training camp will be how good the Bills’ defense looks against the offense. Pettine’s defenses are meant to frustrate quarterbacks and disrupt flow. Through the practices in the offseason so far, this has already become a theme. Add the high-pressure defense in with the inexperience at quarterback (Kolb being new to the system, Manuel being new to the speed of the NFL), the inexperience at wide receiver, and question marks on the offensive line, and you might see a camp that’s frustrating at times for the offense.
PLAYER READY TO MAKE ‘THE LEAP’
Candidates: S Da’Norris Searcy, CB Leodis McKelvin, WR T.J. Graham
‘The Leap’ is when a good player becomes a great player, or at least a starting player. Sometimes, ‘The Leap’ can be when a player has played played worse than expected and becomes a good player. As fans and as media members, we rarely wait for the player to actually make ‘The Leap’, we like to be the first one that said it’s going to happen. Searcy is the most obvious example who a player who has the chance to do this. He’s played well for the team in the past and has every opportunity to become the team’s starting strong safety. McKelvin should look good in camp. He is athletic, he plays his position well in stretches, and the high-pressure defense is going to help him look good. I suspect several headlines this offseason to look something like ‘WILL MCKELVIN FINALLY BE WORTH A 1ST ROUND PICK??’. T.J. Graham is another player that the coaching staff and quarterbacks seem to talk about a lot. He has tantalizing speed and talent that may make people forget about last year’s dropped passes very quickly.
Other Categories That Don’t Need More Than a Mention:
STORY LINE THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO GO ON FOREVER BUT GETS RESOLVED: Jairus Byrd’s holdout (yes, I still believe. And I may be the only one)
STORY LINE THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO GET RESOLVED QUICKLY BUT GOES ON FOR-SEEMINGLY-EVER: The Quarterback Controversy (I think it’s going to take until near the last preseason game to decide)
ROOKIE THAT MANY THINK GETS CUT: Johnathan Meeks (Due to the amount of safety talent on the roster. I think he makes the team because they’re going to keep a lot of them)
PLAYER WHO RARELY PRACTICES THAT MAKES EVERYONE ALL WORRIED BUT HE’S FINE THEY’RE JUST RESTING THEM: Scott Chandler