Hall of Fame Game Preview: Bills vs. Giants

The first NFL game in half a year will honor greats from both the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants while those two teams take the field for the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.Jim Kelly_EJ Mannuel_Buffalo Bills

It has been announced that Hall-of-Famers from both sides, quarterback Jim Kelly for Buffalo and linebacker Harry Carson for New York, will be part of the pre-game coin toss and serve as honorary captains for the teams they represented well in their time in the league.

On Sunday at 8 p.m EDT, the NFL kicks off its 95th season at Pro Football Hall of Fame field the day after several league greats (receiver Andre Reed, Michael Strahan, Derrick Brooks, Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Walter Jones, and Aeneas Williams) enter the Hall of Fame during the Enshrinement Ceremony.

Kelly, who has had a difficult year with a recurrence of cancer in his upper jaw in March that has been treated with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, has still persevered to both attend his annual football camp in July, and would not let the opportunity to attend Hall of Fame weekend and celebrate one of his former teammates entering the Hall of Fame slip by (via profootballhof.com):Bills Andre Reed DZ

“I have always said that God willing, I will be back in Canton every summer,” Kelly shared. “This year especially, I am so thankful that I can be on hand to share in a great weekend that shines the spotlight on the Buffalo Bills. There isn’t a person more deserving of joining the Hall of Fame than my teammate and friend Andre Reed.

“It is also a great honor for me to represent the Bills organization at the coin toss to kick off the season,” the Bills’ legendary quarterback continued. “The entire experience will bring back many great memories from 2002 when so many of the Bills family – fans, players, and staff – joined me in Canton for one of the most memorable times of my life.”

The additions of Kelly and Carson to an already packed weekend of festivities remembering some of the best the league has ever seen is the best way to begin the football season.

As for the game itself, both teams have made big moves in the off-season in preparation to end their playoff droughts. Since the Giants won the Super Bowl two years ago, they have been the definition of an average team, with a record of 16-16. But with cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond added to a very talented secondary that includes Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, and Stevie Brown, and the drafting of LSU receiver Odell Beckham, the G-Men are looking to be the beasts of the NFC East for the first time since 2012.

Players for the Giants reported to training camp on July 21, beginning practice on July 22. There are new things that even 67-year old head coach Tom Couglin is allowing at Giants camp in order to improve their chances of getting back to the postseason (via the New York Daily News’ Ebenezer Samuel):

The Giants ended their training camp practice early on Thursday, heading into their indoor facility to do about 20 minutes of stretching, along with a series of dynamic, track-and-field-style drills.Photo by Rich Graessle

It was a new addition to the Giants’ usual training camp regimen. But old-school coach Tom Coughlin is gradually starting to embrace technological insights to make his squad more dangerous on the field.

“That was a recovery stretch,” Coughlin explained. “Trying to enhance this soft muscle business.”

Last year, several players said they trained with gyroscopes attached to their uniforms, and Coughlin said the team has “studied” that information, then rebuilt its practice plans.

“We learn we should be doing things such as this,” Coughlin said. “The whole purpose is to be able to come back and have a full-speed practice (tomorrow).”

However, one big piece of news for both the Coughlin family and Giants squad is the retirement of guard Chris Snee. Snee, Coughlin’s son-in-law, who has an instrumental part of the offensive line for the past 10 seasons, is not only a loss on the field, but a loss in terms of leadership in the locker room (via Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News):

But as Coughlin looked back on Monday at the 10-year career of the husband of his daughter and the father of his grandchildren, he couldn’t remember anything really difficult at all. So here was his answer to the question about what it’s been like to coach his son-in-law, Chris Snee:

“Please, Lord,” Coughlin said. “I’ll take 100 of him.”

“You’re talking about a guy who’s a great football player,” Coughlin added. “He is everything that you want in a man and in a football player. Now you may say ‘Well, you’re not very objective about this.’ Well I’m not pleading my case for objectivity right now. I’m just telling you, the quality of the man is greater than the quality and the ability of the football player.

“And that’s as good as it gets.”

Snee’s retirement could be devastating for an offensive line that includes left tackle William Beatty recovering from a broken leg at the end of the 2013 season, second-year player Justin Pugh at right tackle, and J.D. Walton at center, who has not played an NFL game since 2011 due to injuries. The man now replacing Snee, Brandon Mosley, has only one career start. While having a representative like Snee for your football team is, as Coughlin said, is “as good as it gets”, the front five situation for the Giants could definitely be much better.

While the Giants are in a couple year slump, Buffalo has not played in a playoff game in the past fourteen seasons, a distinction that has made national outlets look at the team’s chances at ending the streak as very bleak. However, the Bills made some newsworthy additions as well, signing cornerback Corey Graham, trading for receiver Mike Williams, and using two 1st-round picks and a future fourth-round selection to move up to grab Sammy Watkins, whose made plays and internet buzz with his performance at camp.

Despite the low expectations around the nation about the Bills, optimism around camp and in the organization around a talented core that includes second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel, Watkins and other skill players, and one of the elite pass-rushing defensive fronts in football is very prevalent. That being said, there is an attitude of cautious optimism around coaches and management, with general manager Doug Whaley saying on the day players moved in “we haven’t done anything yet”, but also stating the desired outcomes for this season.

“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,” said Whaley. “We want to be a playoff team. We’re planning to be a playoff team and that’s our goal.”

The responsibility to end the absence in January football games for Buffalo lies mostly on the shoulders of Manuel. Head coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday, however, that he’s “not concerned about the quarterback, and that “everyone else has to make sure they can keep up with the quarterback”.

That being said, with having the most training camp practices of any team (20), Marrone knows there some work to do, and is happy to have the extra time.

“I think we have a long way to go, and if there is one thing that it’s shown, it’s that we’re lucky to come into camp early and have these first couple days,” Marrone said. “I think we should all be grateful that we have this head start.”

Both the Giants and Bills plan to be in the postseason. But not everything goes according to plan, and the first step to seeing how these two teams respond to on-field adversity will be showcased Sunday night.

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