The Buffalo Bills have made some splashes this offseason. Most notably was highly sought after free agent Mario Williams. As a former number one overall pick in the NFL Draft, Williams should have an immediate impact on the Bills’ pass rush, an area where they have struggled in years past. The acquisition of Mark Anderson from the New England Patriots helps bolster their defensive line as well, giving Bills fans a sense of hope going into the season.
Buffalo has been in the basement of the AFC East for nearly a decade and hasn’t been to the playoffs since the Music City Miracle in 1999. Their 13-year playoff drought is the longest of any current team in the NFL. Despite their failures over the years, Buffalo is confident going into the 2012 season, and they should be. On top of Anderson and Williams, the Bills selected Stephon Gilmore in the first round of April’s NFL Draft. Gilmore is a strong, physical cornerback from the University of South Carolina, where he played under former NFL coach Steve Spurrier. Playing in the SEC, college football’s most competitive conference could potentially speed up Gilmore’s process of transitioning from college to the NFL.
The defense looks solid on paper but what about the offense? Though there weren’t any major offseason acquisitions, the team is returning all 11 starters from last season. In a league where things can change in an instant, the fact that the Bills don’t have to waste time getting new players acquainted with their system could pay dividends. Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills’ starting quarterback who signed a contract extension last season, mentioned how returning so many players on offense should make life easier.
“We do not have a ton of new players on our side of the ball. Being able to draw on some of the positives and negatives of last year, able to draw on those experiences, allows you to get better. David Nelson and I were talking about a route that he ran two years ago versus New England and cover zero. Being able to pinpoint certain plays versus certain coverages that you ran together is a big thing.”
Injuries are another key factor that will have to play in the Bills favor if they want to get back to the playoffs. “Keeping everybody healthy, that is a big one,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think consistency happens in the offseason when we are out here with the 10 OTA sessions and the minicamp, being able to build on what we did last year.”
Last season the Bills suffered injuries to key players on offense like center Eric Wood and running back Fred Jackson. If they can stay healthy, Buffalo should still be relevant heading into December and January when teams are making a push toward the playoffs. Like always, the Bills will have to contend with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots who once again look poised to make a Super Bowl run. However, unlike years past, Buffalo can realistically set their eyes on a Wild Card spot and from their anything can happen.
Click here to see highlights from the Bills first night practice