Welcome to the beginning of the NFL Training Camps! Soon, faces will be painted; thousands of people will be cheering for their favorite teams and all the incredibly hard work will finally feel like it has paid off. But for now, hundreds of men are trying to do whatever it takes to prove that they are physically and mentally prepared to earn a spot on their team.
The Buffalo Bills have spent the last 14 seasons hoping for a breakout season so they can prove that they belong back on top of the food chain. It’s a new season; new coaching staffs, a slew of new faces to pair up with those that are only a couple years into the league and we top it off with what appears to be a completely new approach to the way management runs the team.
While this rather “new” team settles in to St. John Fisher College near Rochester, NY, a few of the members gathered together with their insight on the upcoming weeks and to see how they have settled in. And of course, we will start with our Quarterbacks.
Kevin Kolb needs no introduction to the competition process; this is his third team with his third competition to gain the starting role.
Q: One of the focal points during training camp and preseason is the competition between you and E.J. Manuel. Can you describe the intensity of the competitiveness?
A: Given the past four years, I haven’t known anything different. The intensity has always been there for me. I’ve never been able to come in and say ‘look, this is mine.’ It has always been a competition, and I’ve always had something to prove. There’s no better way to go about it.
Q: How has Coach Marrone handled the quarterback competition and do you feel you have been given a fair shot?
A: Absolutely. He has told us [that it would become evident to the team who is the right choice]. That’s what I like about him. He shoots you straight no matter what it is. I think he’s right. Everywhere I have ever been, whenever the starter is named, most of the team feels the same way. Hopefully, there is a drastic separation and we can move forward and there won’t be any questions about who it should be. Of course, I am here to compete and hopefully it’s me.
His rookie competition, EJ Manuel, is already slated to be quite a tough competitor himself and doesn’t seem to be backing down from earning that starting role himself.
Q: You said no days off when you left in the spring. What have you been doing to be ready?
A: Just continuing to get better each and every day. Nothing that my other teammates haven’t done, just continuing to work on the playbook and studying over that. I had a lot of conversations with coach as well as my other receivers and other quarterbacks too, just bouncing ideas off of them.
Q: Did you get back with Ken Mastrole during the past five or six weeks?
A: A little bit.
Q: What kind of work did you do with him?
A: Just footwork. I pretty much explained my offense and what we’ve been doing here to him. Obviously that helps you when you are teaching somebody else. Also we watched a lot of film together too.
Q: Do you feel any pressure going into your first NFL camp?
A: No, sir. I was telling Dustin (Hopkins) when we were driving over here, we’re about to be NFL players. That is a big enough dream for me. So I don’t really see it as pressure. I just see it as a great opportunity.
WR Stevie Johnson will certainly help the younger members of the team and definitely the quarterbacks.
Q: How are you feeling health wise?
A: I’m feeling good. Good to go. Everything is full go. Got to get it rolling and make sure we’re smart about it. Take care of our bodies and it’s going to be an important training camp for all of us, every position. As long as we get things meshing and get on the right track, we should be alright.
Q: You’ve been injured before in camp, what will you be doing to prevent that?
A: If I get hurt, as long as it stays in training camp. Once the season goes, we can do it. If I do get injured, oh well. Let’s get them out of the way early and be full go during the season.
Q: There’s a big gap between six wins and the playoffs. What do you have to do?
A: We just have to finish, finish in the games. We had a few games where if we were to finish out much stronger than we did, that gap would be much easier to get to as far as playoffs. We just have to finish.
Buffalo’s Defense is intriguing regardless of overall performance. With so many promising defensive seasons being spoiled by injury, it will be interesting to see how health will play into their strategy. Statistics show they have stayed relatively stable in their secondary, averaging 9th in the league defending the pass in the past 4 years. It appears that Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine is adding more aggression up front to help them stuff the run. Let’s take a look at what the players think! We started with CB Stephen Gilmore.
Q: What are some of the priorities you have for yourself in your second NFL season?
A: Just to be one of the best corners in the league. Me, I know what I’m capable of doing. I need to go out to the practice field, work on my game and take it over to the game field.
Q: You had a lot of hands on passes last year, but not a lot became turnovers. Is that right up there at the top of the list?
A: Of course. Me and coach have been talking about it. In OTAs and mini-camps, just trying to get more interception. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
Q: What kind of identity does the defensive backfield want to establish?
A: We just want to be one of the top defenses in the league. We want to be that defense that offenses are scared of.
Q: What are your impressions of Coach Pettine? How has the mentality of the defense changed?
A: It’s a lot of stuff, up front especially. They are blitzing. And sometimes they act like they’re blitzing. It’s a lot of stuff going on.
DE Mario Williams came up to Buffalo from Houston and has already made an impact on the front line. He led the team last year with 11 sacks. He also forced two fumbles which he recovered himself. We are definitely looking forward to watching him perform this season.
Q: What are your expectations for the front four?
A: We have to take it as a new year. We have new faces, a different staff and different schemes. Everything from the ground up is different, and we have to put last season behind us and not let it come into play this year. It’s a brand new year and everything is up for grabs.
Q: This is your second training camp, but do you regard this as a fresh start?
A: Every year is a fresh start. If you were going to ask anyone, from the bottom to the top, Super Bowl champions or not, no one will say that they will carry things over from last season. They know, as everybody else knows, that you have to come out and prove it again. It’s all about what you’ve done for the league lately. That’s what the NFL is about.
In closing, injuries have played a major role in how the team finishes the season for the past few years. As long as the team stays healthy and as focused as they seem to be, what will this year’s Buffalo Bills look like?
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