PITTSFORD — The Buffalo Bills became the first team to report to training camp this past weekend with their first official practice Sunday.
As the rest of the teams continue to trickle into their own camps this week the Bills already have several interesting story lines that bear watching during camp and heading into their first preseason game against the New York Giants during the Hall of Fame weekend.
So let’s jump right in with some topics of interest:
· Never far from any Bills fan’s mind is the status of the sale of the team. As the team was opening camp came word that the group led by Jon Bon Jovi that includes Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment which controls the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, as well as Edward Rogers, chairman of Rogers Communications based in Toronto, is NOT looking to move the Bills from western New York.
The group – which has retained Goldman Sachs to help in its bid – was adamant that it has no plans to move the team to Toronto, as has been rumored for months.
Considering that the team can’t be moved without league approval—and severe financial penalty—until 2020 at the earliest, this sentiment seems awfully convenient and does little to ease Bills fans’ fears about losing their beloved team.
There appears to be an increasing push among the league’s higher-ups that the team remains in Buffalo and it does the group’s bid no good to continue to let the public think they are looking to move the team, thus decreasing the likelihood of their chances of securing the sale.
This might be little more than a PR move and not a true commitment to ensuring the team stays put.
· In other sales news, Morgan Stanley, the company in charge of running the sale of the team, has received 10 non-disclosure forms back, including that of current Sabres’ owner Terry Pegula and Donald Trump.
The non-disclosure forms were required to gain access to the financial background information of the team to formulate potential bids.
Additionally, it has been reported several times in the past week that the Bills are expected to fetch over a billion dollars when they do sell. Currently valued as just the 29th most valuable team in the league, that news has to be met with joy by the league’s other owners.
The Bills made $30 million in net profits last season. That amount is predicted to nearly double by 2019 due to ongoing stadium renovations and the expectation of lucrative new TV contracts.
· The other major story to break, before the first practice even commenced, was that the Bills had placed Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on the active/non-football injury list after he failed his conditioning test upon reporting to training camp.
With two arrests to his name during the offseason, Dareus’ focus may not have been fully on preparing for the upcoming season but it is just one more example of his lack of focus, work ethic and maturity. Dareus’ potential and talent were on display for all to see the past couple of years but one has to wonder if he will ever be able to get his act together.
The only positive news was that Dareus was accepted into a pre-trial intervention program in Alabama stemming from his first arrest for criminal possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.
If Dareus can successfully complete that all charges in that case would be fully dropped – admittedly a big ‘IF’ with Dareus. Additionally Dareus’ next opportunity to pass his conditioning test isn’t until Thursday meaning he is missing key practice time.
However, if Dareus can get his act together and put all the disciplinary concerns that plagued him at the conclusion of last season as well as the many off-season issues, five missed days of training camp will seem relatively miniscule in the grand scheme of things.
· On a bright note, fourth overall draft pick and heavily anticipated wide receiver Sammy Watkins has looked every bit as good as advertised. It may be July with no pads and full contact forbidden but Watkins’ speed, sure hands, and ability to catch difficult passes in traffic were on display for all to see. If second-year quarterback EJ Manuel’s development can mimic the progress of Watkins then it is quite possible the Bills can consider adding more of an air attack to their offensive scheme than building their entire offense solely around the ground game.
· Speaking of the running game, newly acquired third-down running back Bryce Brown has impressed those in attendance with his second-level speed and his dynamic moves.
The Bills, after trying to acquire Brown for the better part of a year from the Philadelphia Eagles, were finally able to trade for Brown this offseason in exchange for a fourth round draft pick. Brown is used to having a smaller number of carries due to his former status as LeSean McCoy’s backup.
Brown is running like he’s not content to sit behind CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson on the depth chart. Are there enough carries and short passes to spread among the three? Either way Brown is a nice insurance policy should Spiller or Jackson lose time to injury.
· With starting left tackle Cordy Glenn out with an undisclosed illness that head coach Doug Marrone has declined to elaborate on, and Seantrel Henderson going down with a hip injury early in the Bills’ first practice the Bills are down to their third string left tackle Chris Hairston taking snaps with the first team.
Not exactly a good start to management’s primary goal of keeping Manuel upright and healthy this season.
· In the competition to replace Kiko Alonso, in a bit of a surprising development third year player Nigel Bradham has received the majority of the first team reps over rookie Preston Brown who seemed to be the early favorite to secure the position following June’s mini camp after the coaching staff raved about his performance.
It is possible that the organization, once so high on Bradham’s athleticism and potential, are giving him one last chance to prove himself and step up and wrest this job from Brown.
Certainly, there has been a noticeable uptick in Bradham’s work ethic and energy level on the field as he too realizes that this might be his best opportunity to prove that he is capable of being a starting linebacker in the NFL.
It will be interesting to see who actually starts the season as the Bills’ weak side outside linebacker.
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