In 2010 Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix took over running the Bills franchise on the field. It was during that first season they discover two major things, one short term and one long term about the team. In the short term they found out that Trent Edwards was not the quarterback to lead the team. In the long term they discovered that the roster not only lacked talent, but it also lacked the overall size to compete in the NFL. Bigger would mean better for 2011.
The way the defense looked in 2010 almost anything would look like an improvement. The Bills were merely speed bumps for teams that wanted to run the ball, allowing the opposition to dictate the time of possession in games and close things out in the second half. So the emphasis on greater size, especially on defense is obvious when you see this team take the field. It began with the selection of exceptional defensive tackle Marcel Dareus in round one. Plus two draft picks from the year before, Alex Carrington and Torrel Troup came back to Orchard Park after packing on pounds, making them almost look like different players than each of them looked as rookies. Plus the team’s commitment to Shawne Merriman, who looks physically strong and healthy, makes linebacker look like a potentially dominating position on the Bills for the first time in years.
Of course while this team might look more dominant in the team picture, that doesn’t make them the ’85 Bears. They are loaded with “ifs” in order to start to compete with the Jets and Patriots. If Dareus plays like he’s looked in the preseason. If Merriman and fellow linebacker Nick Barnett can stay healthy. If Leodis McKelvin play in the secondary starts to resemble his talent level. Have those “ifs” become truths and they will actually make some progress for the first time in a decade.
Offensively the Bills decide to basically stand pat for this season. The one significant name to be gone for this year is wide receiver Lee Evans With all due respect to Evans, I really do not think he will be missed a great deal this season. (If that got you all fired up fee free to email me now MCatalana@13wham.com) Evans has given a lot to the franchise, but in the last couple of years he’s been reduced to an average number 2 receiver at best. I am guessing that by mid season, Marcus Easley will emerge as a bigger, younger and yes cheaper alternative that will become a favorite of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Speaker of Fitzpatrick, he is an average starting quarterback in the NFL. Say it loud and say it proud. I don’t think anyone is trying to convince anyone that Fitz is more than that. I do think he has the smarts, the ability and the experience to give the Bills a chance to win every week. But other times he will play very much like an Ivy League QB. I also believe that Fred Jackson is poised to have an outstanding season and that will make CJ Spiller earn every carry he gets in 2011.
Of course offense line remains the same decade long issue for this team. I had to laugh at some of the hand wringing going on over the release of Geoff Hangartner. Nice guy and a decent player, but we are not talking about an irreplaceable part. Even big spender Jerry Jones says you cannot afford to pay backup lineman that much in today’s NFL. The tackle position remains a huge, unaddressed problem on this team and unless a minor miracle happens and Demetrius Bell becomes a force, the offense is going to have issues. A year ago they proved that with Fitzpatrick they can move the ball and score points against good defenses (Ravens, Patriots and Steelers) but there were too many times that they bogged down because of the OLine and I do see enough of an improvement to make a huge difference this year.
My prediction for the 2011 Bills is 6-10. I am hoping they can get off to a great start and make a run at a .500 record. I see some improvement and some progress. I think they are starting to change the culture of the franchise, but they need a little luck and a few more solid drafts to get where they need to go.