PITTSFORD — The Buffalo Bills’ offense left St. John Fisher College feeling pretty good about itself as training camp closed Wednesday.
Despite a new scheme, new coaches, new quarterbacks and youth across the board, the Bills’ attack looked oddly competent over the 18 days in suburban Rochester.
It’s too early to say if the offense is going to be any good. But compared with some of the ragged-looking offenses of training camps the past decade — think Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards while running the no-huddle — the offense looks like it might have a chance.
There wasn’t a lot of confusion at the line of scrimmage, false starts, do-overs or balls hitting the ground play after play. There were a lot of sacks allowed to the newly aggressive Bills’ defense.
The offense ran with a fast tempo and looked coordinated. For Buffalo, a team that hasn’t ranked among the top 12 in the league in points or yards in 11 years, that was worth something.
“I think that everybody has been shocked with how we jelled so quickly,” said quarterback Kevin Kolb. “It’s a tribute to the coaches and the veterans that were here before, and the hard work we put in. So, hopefully we keep growing and stay hungry.”
“This staff brought in a different kind of energy and they’re making us work,” receiver Stevie Johnson said. “We’re buying into it. I’m happy to be here.”
Most NFL players are happy this time of year. All 32 teams are undefeated in games that matter. Keeping that in mind, here’s a review of the highlights of 18 days of training camp practices:
Best development: Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel looked competent. He did not look raw. He had some struggling moments. But he outperformed Kolb overall. Manuel completed more deep passes than the Bills have seen in a training camp since Drew Bledsoe was the QB. He has a great arm. His accuracy was better than that of Kolb. Manuel hit receivers in stride, not behind them, below the knees, over their helmets.
Worst development: Manuel’s knee injury. It should be no big deal in the big picture, but it will be tough to picture him starting the opener if he’s not practicing in 10 days.
Kolb review: The veteran from Arizona was not real sharp with his accuracy for much of camp. The balls were not between the numbers of the receiver enough. Then he missed a week with a knee injury and a death in the family. He did improve. He had several good practice days, starting on Aug. 13, Day 13 of camp. He threw well Tuesday and Wednesday. He could use a good showing in Washington on Saturday.
Defensive co-MVPs: Alex Carrington and Jerry Hughes. Carrington was a consistent force at defensive end. He’s stout. Hughes got pressure off the edge day after day. The Bills desperately need him to produce because the pass rush depth is questionable. So far, so good.
Hughes, acquired in the deal that sent Kelvin Sheppard to Indianapolis, said the fact he arrived in May was a big help.
“Any time you get comfortable with the playbook and you know your job you can kind of pin your ears back and let it rip.
“It was great that I kind of came in when I did back in the spring. I came in early May and was able to get my hands on the playbook and get in the office with Coach O’Neil and put in the time to get caught up,” Hughes said, referring to linebackers coach Jim O’Neil. “Once I was able to catch up with everyone else, I was able to play football.”
Young WRs shine: Second-year man T.J. Graham and rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin all had good camps. The Bills are counting on all three to contribute right away. The battle for the last spot or two on the WR corps is intense.
LG battle not hot: No one has put a stranglehold on the left guard job. Colin Brown is No. 1 for now. He’s stout but doesn’t move too well. Doug Legursky can move but he has a small frame. The Bills are working Antoine Caldwell mostly at right guard. It doesn’t look like there’s an ideal answer.
O-line depth is a worry: Chris Hairston has proved he is a capable No. 3 tackle and was expected to push Erik Pears at right tackle. Hairston remains on the physically unable to perform list. The next tackles, Thomas Welch and Sam Young, haven’t showed so far that they’re as good as a healthy Hairston. On the up side, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, given fits by Hughes, seemed to get more consistent the last half of camp.
Corner depth is a worry: Ron Brooks is the third corner. He has all the tools but has to prove his worth under fire. The good news is Justin Rogers is back after missing much of camp with a sore hamstring. Is he capable of staying healthy? After them are 5-8 rookie Nickell Robey and Crezdon Butler, who has played better in the two preseason games than in practice.
Kiko on the move: Rookie Kiko Alonso, the second-round pick from Oregon, looks like a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine. He’s always on the field. In fact, the Bills’ fitness staff has small monitors on the backs of the players’ shoulder pads that log how far each player is running every day. Alonso was rested last week simply because he was on the move so much.
Young legs: The kicking competitions were won by place-kicker Dustin Hopkins and punter Shawn Powell, both of whom clearly had the more powerful legs.