On a beautiful, eighty-degree plus day, Bills players began voluntarily reporting to training camp at St. John Fisher College, bringing with them anything from video game systems to big screen TVs to mattresses.
Second-year receiver Robert Woods even brought an ice tub in order to have “fresh legs”. Woods learned how to be prepared for camp last July.
“Last year I definitely over-packed,” said Woods. “This year I tried to pack light and come ready to work.”
One player that didn’t bring much was second-year wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
“All I really need is my bed, my playbook and my Bible,” said Goodwin. “Those are the essentials right there. I didn’t bring a TV or video games. I’m not really a gamer. I like to think I’m the best gamer in the world, but I’m really not.”
Running back Fred Jackson brought in everything he could, driving to camp in a large Mercedes Benz van with his wife and four kids. Jackson, now in his ninth year with Buffalo, said the van was for “family travel”.
“It makes it easy, said Jackson. “Put the kids in the back, throw a movie on and I don’t hear from them again, so it makes it easier for everybody and the trip is quick and easy that way.”
Jackson also said his kids watched Frozen and Adventure Time on the way to the camp. Jackson, who held one of his children while talking to the media, believes in showing them what he’s doing the next month.
“The number one thing is that I want them to be a part of this, especially my two oldest daughters as they start understanding more of what’s going on,” said Jackson. “That’s the type of stuff you’re going to remember and the stuff you want them to remember, like going and helping me move in, stuff we can talk about when they’re older, when I’m a grandpa and we can talk about with their kids.”
Rookie cornerback Ross Cockrell, a fourth-round pick from Duke, saw immediately that this was very much new for him, even though he was technically on a college campus.
“It’s not too bad,” said Cockrell. “All these cameras, all these people asking questions, it’s a little bit different. You know that you’re stepping into a big world, into a big game.”
No matter what stage they are in their career, no matter what they brought with them to camp, players know one thing. As Woods said, they have come ready to work.
Handling Low Expectations
Earlier this July, Fox Sports ranked the Bills as the No. 26 team currently in the NFL (via Mike Garafolo). Pro Football Talk had them even lower, projecting them as the No. 28 team in the league in their preseason power rankings (via Josh Alper).
Goodwin said the drafting of Sammy Watkins has “definitely added” to the offense, and that second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel has become “more vocal” and “more of a leader”. Marquise Goodwin thinks the Bills will make believers out of skeptics.
“I like us,” said Goodwin. “We’ve been putting work in through this offseason, through camp. I kind of like coming from the bottom and we’re going to have to work our way up. There’s going to be a lot of bandwagon fans out there that will come out of the woodwork, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Robert Woods sees the prognostications as a double-edged sword for the team.
“It goes both ways,” said Woods. “The way I see it, it really doesn’t matter, but then I also see it as a representation of our play, we need to play better and it starts here at camp.”
With a 14-year playoff drought for the Bills, the fifteenth training camp for the team at St. John Fisher College in Rochester appears to be a sign to many around the country that Buffalo will again be on the outside looking in come postseason. However, general manager Doug Whaley believes the pieces are in place to be able to play in January.
“Well, that’s why we’re here to change it,” said Whaley. “That’s why we’ve built this roster and the moves we made in the off season were with the eye of making the playoffs.”
That being said, Whaley understands the sentiment that the Bills are seen as a bottom-feeder in the league.
“They should,” Whaley said of the preseason projections placing the Bills in the bottom 10 teams. “We haven’t done anything. We’ve got a lot to prove. It is what it is. Like Russ [Brandon] said, ‘We won’t hide from it.’ We haven’t been in the playoffs in a long time and we owe it to the fans, our late Hall of Fame owner and everybody in this business to show that we’re not the Bills anymore. We want to be a playoff team. We’re planning to be a playoff team and that’s our goal.”
Kiko Alonso Injury Reaction
Whaley said today that Alonso had successful surgery on his torn ACL yesterday. Safety Aaron Williams said that the shock of a player like Alonso getting a serious injury “goes quick”.
“You kind of think about it for a while and then you understand that, just like during the season, injuries do happen,” said Williams. “When that happens a guy has to step up and that’s basically what the NFL is. When your name is called you must be take a chance with the opportunity, roll with it and do the best you can.”
In terms of the next man up, Whaley believes that the fact Alonso didn’t take many reps in OTAs gave potential replacements like rookie Preston Brown third-year player Nigel Bradham, and second-year player Ty Powell experience.
“It’s a tremendous loss but no one is crying for us,” said Whaley. “So we have to like you said “next man up.” We think we’ve built a roster that can sustain a loss like this. Our expectations aren’t going to drop.”
Defensive Adjustments and Expectations
Fans will be able to see the looks new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will present for the first time in training camp practices and preseason games. Aaron Williams said the catch-up process “began in minicamp”, and that was the time where players learned and “grasped” the new schemes.
Williams, a leader in the defensive back group that was second in the NFL in interceptions with 23, believes there’s another level the secondary can go to.
“Oh, we’re not going to play any games this year,” said Williams. “There’s a new attitude, a new style, a new coaching staff. I’ve talked to Coach [Donnie] Henderson, I’ve talked to Coach Samson [Brown] and we’re expecting a lot from this year. Our expectations are high from last year, especially from our defensive backs, who were top four last year in DB stats. We’re looking for number one or top three.”
Receiving Corps Has More “Competition”
Sammy Watkins has brought his All-American talents to the Bills, while former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Mike Williams was acquired via trade. Add those players to Woods, Goodwin, T.J. Graham, Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley, and free-agent addition Ramses Barden, and a once seemingly set-in-stone wide receiver group suddenly may be difficult to sort out.
The additions haven’t changed Goodwin’s approach to camp, and he is glad that there are great talents added to his position.
“I’ve been a competitor all my life, so it’s just another thing to me,” said Goodwin. “I love competition and it’s only going to make this team better. If they brought in Calvin Johnson then that’s just better for the Buffalo Bills and, at the end of the day, that’s what’s it’s all about.”
Woods said he is a “lot more prepared” compared to last year because of his knowledge of defenses and finding holes in coverage. He believes that, along with Manuel’s improvement and the consistent performance of other components of the roster, the Bills’ receivers can start doing their part of the bargain.
“I think the offense as a whole really revolves around EJ and his development,” said Woods. “I think he progressed a lot from his first year, with all the offseason training and this whole camp should be an example of how hard he’s worked. He’s handled a lot of adversity, and is starting to play well, and our running backs have been consistent so we just need to start helping them out.”
The team cut wide receiver Cordell Roberson and undrafted free-agent cornerback Darius Robinson. The transactions cut the roster down from 90 players to 88 players, although Whaley said the team well go back up to 90 by signing a pair of young players, will an announcement potentially coming tomorrow.
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