Buffalo starts camp without top rookies

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Greetings from Buffalo Bills training camp at quaint St. John Fisher College, where Terrell Owens is about to make his on-field debut in front of fans, but their top four draft picks might not.

The Bills are in a weird position with their draft choices because they've opened camp first, at least a week before 13 other clubs. The Bills are doing so because they're playing in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 9. But their opponent in the kickoff classic, the Tennessee Titans, open camp Friday.

Regardless, the Bills' early camp has bound their hands. Agents are reluctant to hammer out contracts for top rookies unless the players selected in their immediate vicinity have been signed, too.

For instance, defensive end Aaron Maybin, the 11th overall selection, might take a while because the 10th pick (receiver Michael Crabtree) and the 12th pick (running back Knowshon Moreno) haven't signed yet. As key offensive players, Crabtree and Moreno are looking for big bucks.

Also unsigned for the Bills are No. 28 guard Eric Wood, No. 42 defensive back Jairus Byrd and No. 51 guard Andy Levitre.

Although it seemed highly unlikely, Bills chief operating officer Russ Brandon said Friday he hoped to have all of them signed before drills begin at 8:30 a.m.

"We want to get these done, but we're going to get them done within the framework of what we feel is right in terms of negotiating with these guys," Brandon said. "We've been pretty solid at that for many years and we will continue to be. Obviously we want them here, but it's going to be a fair deal on both sides."

Wood and Levitre are expected to be Buffalo's starting guards on a boggled line that could use every practice snap it can muster.

"The sooner they are [on the field] the better," Bills quarterback Trent Edwards said Friday. "We're reporting a week earlier, so there is no rush to get them here, but there is a rush in terms of them being rookies and they need to get here.

"They need to get their feet wet and they need to start jelling together, and they need to start working together and playing together as a five-some."

Geoff Hangartner, a free agent brought in to play center, certainly would like to get a feel for the guys who'll be playing on either side of him.

"We need them to be here so we can spend as much time working together," Hangartner said. "But at the same time, they have to do what's best for them. They've got to take care of their situation, and they'll be here as soon as possible."

In the meantime, journeymen Seth McKinney and Kirk Chambers should be the first-team guards.