Twenty-eight summers of covering NFL training camps has taught me how foolhardy it can be to jump to any conclusions. I saw many a Bills team that looked great in Fredonia or St. John Fisher that wound up looking putrid come the regular season. That said, I can’t help but be impressed with what I’ve seen so far from the new-and-improved Bills.
Among the things that have caught my eye:
· The unblockable defensive line. Mario Williams, the $100-million man, looks like he is going to be worth every penny the Bills invested in him. He’s a 6-foot-6, 290-pound walking solar eclipse who’s quick and nimble and strong. At the other defensive end, fleet-footed Mark Anderson has displayed a quirky, but effective array of pass-rushing moves that have befuddled his offensive linemates. In the interior of the line, Marcell Dareus appears to have taken a quantum leap from his solid rookie campaign and veteran tackle Kyle Williams looks to be healthy and back to Pro Bowl form. It’s very, very early, but if these guys stay healthy, this group has the potential to become the best defensive line in team history.
· Ryan Fitzpatrick is throwing the ball better than ever. The mechanical work he’s done with new quarterbacks coach David Lee is already paying dividends as Fitz has been hitting the bulls-eye with great frequency. Of course, it will be interesting to see if this continues when the games begin. It’s difficult to unlearn bad habits and there’s a tendency to revert to them when the pressure’s on. But Fitz is a bright guy and this is an encouraging development.
· Third-year receiver Marcus Easley has looked impressive. He’s big and swift and appears to be ready to fulfill the potential the Bills saw in him when they drafted him in the fourth round out of Connecticut three Aprils ago. The problem with Easley, of course, has been his health. A knee injury sidelined him for all of 2010 and a heart ailment – which he says has been remedied – put him on IR for all of last season. If this guy finally catches a break and stays on the field for a full season, look out.
· Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore might be ready to start right now. The Bills first-round draft pick is fearless. I’ve watched him go one-on-one against Buffalo’s top receiver Stevie Johnson numerous times in camp and he’s more than held his own. Not bad for a young guy locking horns with a veteran pass-catcher who’s the first player in franchise history to compile back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
· Fred Jackson looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. Everybody talks about how C.J. Spiller has to get more touches – and I agree – but Chan Gailey would be foolish not to utilize Steady Freddy as much as possible. The running back, who had his MVP-caliber season cut six games short by a broken leg, appears to be as explosive as ever. Freddy is still the engine that drives this offense.