It’s that time of year again. The slate is clean and the sky is the limit. Every team’s fans have high hopes for their team and that is no different for Buffalo Bills fans. A lot has changed for the Bills since the end of last season. The team parted ways with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Head Coach Chan Gailey along with most of his coaching staff. A new era was also ushered in over the offseason as Buddy Nix stepped down, allowing new GM Doug Whaley to take over. What does all this mean for our team in 2013? Only time will tell but I will take a look at why they could be worse and why they should be better.
Why they could be worse
I will start with the negative so that we can get it out of the way and end on a positive note. Could this team actually be worse than the one that finished 6-10 and tied for last in the AFC East? Absolutely. Fans do not want to hear the “R” word but the truth is this team is rebuilding, again. Make no mistake about it, if you insert a new head coach, all new systems, and a new quarterback, you are rebuilding.
The Bills will have a new signal caller this season; it may be Kevin Kolb, or it might be their prized rookie EJ Manuel. Whichever direction the Bills decide to go, the odds are not favorable whether it is a talented rookie or a veteran with limited success learning a new system. Inexperience at the WR position will also not provide much help for whomever the QB is.
They are inserting an entirely new defense, one that should prove to be a great improvement in the long run, but there certainly could be struggles. Not much has been done to solve their linebacking issues of a year ago, unless they are counting on addition by subtraction along with a new LB friendly scheme.
Honestly, despite the rebuild, I do not think this team will be worse. I expect them to be more fun to watch, more competitive, more consistent and I expect that to result in more wins.
Why they should be better
Doug Marrone. Obviously we won’t know for sure until a few years down the road, but at this point it appears that the Bills made a great decision for Chan’s successor. If a team takes on the personality of their head coach then this team will be competitive and consistent. It also seems like he might be the right man to get CJ Spiller the playing time he deserves and that alone could translate into more “W’s.”
While Ryan Fitzpatrick did overachieve in his time with the Bills, he was very inconsistent and made costly mistakes at crucial times. Insert Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel. Coach Marrone has said the team will name its starting QB 10-12 days before the season begins so this will be a great story all through training camp and preseason. EJ Manuel has the huge upside and all of the intangibles that you look for in the position. He is a leader, a winner, has a strong arm, and is mobile. The future looks bright for this young QB and the Buffalo Bills.
Kolb has the edge at this point to open the season as the starter. He is an NFL veteran who performed great in his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. However his time with the Arizona Cardinals left him labeled as a free agent bust. The Cardinals did not protect Kolb, a problem that should not exist here. He also did not have a rushing attack like the Bills have with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. He will be given the opportunity to succeed and he has proven that he can win in the right situation. Kolb is also familiar with the system being implemented by Marrone’s Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. EJ Manuel is the future and will find his way onto the field at some point, but Kolb is more than capable of keeping him on the sideline for a year if Manuel needs the time to learn and develop.
What the receiving corps lacks in experience, it makes up for in potential. Stevie Johnson returns and is the only real proven threat. Rookie Robert Woods appears to be in a good position to grab the #2 WR position as he comes to the pros well-polished from his days at USC. Texas speedster (and US Olympian) Marquise Goodwin was another WR drafted by the Bills this year. They also picked up Da’Rick Rogers as an undrafted free agent to compete for a position. T. J. Graham and Marcus Easley also return as young WRs who may be able to make the jump to becoming quality players for this team. This group has the potential to make a significant improvement over last years’.
The offensive line has a hole to fill with the free agent departure of Guard Andy Levitre. The pieces are in place for this line to continue the success it has had over the past few seasons. The biggest thing to watch with the line will be how quickly they adapt to the new system and blocking schemes. I expect this unit to continue to be a bright spot.
The RB position is another strength of this team with CJ Spiller showing the ability to be a top 5 back in this league despite limited playing time last year. Fred Jackson is a great compliment to CJ as he is a team player and capable of doing anything he is called upon for. He is an accomplished blocker, hard runner and can catch the ball out of the backfield. If Marrone stays true to the run, and getting these players involved, they will certainly win more games.
The defense is a huge question mark. The parts seemed to be greater than the whole last season. Insert Mike Pettine as Defensive Coordinator and his aggressive attacking defense. Any system will be an improvement over last seasons which seemed content to play in its base defense and simply react.
The defensive line is extremely talented and deep. Some of the toughest decisions on cut down day will involve this position. In this new defense it is expected that many players will be asked to play both Defensive End and Outside Linebacker depending on the situation. It seems like the versatility is there for Pettine to work with.
The linebacking corps still appears to be a weak spot but a lot of that could change based on Pettine’s system. Kiko Alonso was added via the draft and could be a great player but at this point that is unknown. You can expect to see more aggression out of the LBs and the entire defense and hopefully that will translate into production on the field.
There are lots of questions when it comes time to discuss the team’s secondary. Stephon Gilmore returns for his sophomore season and could quickly develop into one of the league’s best CBs under Pettine. Leodis McKelvin has been more potential than results as a CB throughout his career so far but he will called upon to produce this season. Jairus Byrd is still a no-show at Bills camp, holding out for a long-term contract. Getting him back on the field as quickly as possible would be very beneficial. This unit is young but solid and I expect to see results.
I am ready for some football! I am anxious to see if all of these changes can lead to success on the field. I am ready for training camp, pre-season, the regular season, and most importantly a return to the playoffs for our team. It is too early to tell if the changes that were made are going to be the ones to accomplish that goal but it looks like they are headed in the right direction. This team should be better!