Camp preview: Buffalo Bills

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Mike Rodak examines the three biggest issues facing the Buffalo Bills heading into training camp.

Spotlight shines bright: The Bills essentially spent three first-round picks to acquire quarterback EJ Manuel and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. In fact, general manager Doug Whaley said immediately after drafting Watkins that "we thought this guy was going to get us to the playoffs." Naturally, that directs a bright light on the fourth overall pick, and on the quarterback throwing him passes. Manuel and Watkins had a chance to get acclimated during OTAs and minicamp, but now the two young players' every move will be dissected by fans and reporters at open training camp practices. How will they perform? How will they handle the pressure? Those easily are the biggest questions facing the Bills.

Recouping defensive losses: Much attention has been paid in recent weeks to the ACL injury of linebacker Kiko Alonso, who is likely lost for the entire season. Yet another loss -- the departure of safety Jairus Byrd in free agency -- has flown under the radar as the Bills have been evaluated heading into training camp. Byrd steadied the back end of the defense when he returned from a foot injury last season, while Alonso was a rock in the middle of the field. What will be the impact of not having those two players? It's not something that can be deduced easily from watching training camp practices, but we'll start to see how offenses attack any potential holes in the Bills' defense when preseason games begin.

Scheme shifts in second year: All offseason the Bills have talked about the value of Manuel being in the system a full year as he enters his second season in the league. That also holds true for Doug Marrone, who was adjusting to life as a first-year NFL head coach last training camp. He has dealt with a change at defensive coordinator, with Jim Schwartz replacing Mike Pettine, but how much will continuity help his offensive staff? The Bills need a big jump in their passing game, and much of that responsibility falls on offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. Training camp will be a chance to see how the Bills have tweaked their playbook. How are they aiming to improve in the red zone? Are they incorporating Watkins into the deep game or targeting him mainly on shorter passes and allowing him to use his abilities after the catch? How much will the Bills lean on Manuel's legs and the option game? These are some of the burning questions from a coaching and scheme standpoint.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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