The Bills are more than halfway through training camp, and the first preseason game against the Redskins is coming up on Thursday night. Now that the guys have shaken the rust out from the offseason, we are beginning to see the standouts. Overall, the takeaway from camp so far is that the excitement over this season is growing because, not only do they look good on paper, but they look great on the field too. If they can stay healthy (that’s always the quintessential big “if”), they will be a tough team to beat.
Some standouts so far:
No one is surprised that the defensive line has looked impressive in training camp. With this group of guys, it’s completely expected. A standout though has been Shawne Merriman, as he is back at full strength and looking fast out there. Merriman’s health has been an issue in the past, and hopefully he can keep strong and healthy throughout this season.
Coach Gailey recently told the Buffalo News that he was pleased with Merriman’s play in camp so far: ”It’s not just the last couple days,” Gailey said. “He had the nicked ankle [on Tuesday July 31st]. But before that and since then he’s given great effort. It looks like he’s got some quickness to him, and his stamina’s good. Hopefully he’ll make the season and things will go well for him. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do when we get it really live.”
We all are looking forward to what he can do, especially because we haven’t really had a chance due to his injuries.
Maybe a surprise standout to some, Derek Hagan has really impressed the coaches and fans. Coach Gailey told www.buffalobills.com that Hagan is “taking advantage of his opportunity. Derek Hagan is working his rear end off out there. It is a great thing to see. He wants to make this football team and wants to be a big part of our offense. He has done a good job. He made some big plays out there today. He is making a real bid to be a near lock.”
There still remains competition in the #2 receiver slot, especially from Marcus Easley and T.J. Graham, but Hagan’s hard work has made him a standout.
A less surprising, but very exciting, standout has been first round draft pick Stephon Gilmore. The rookie has not only impressed coaches and fans, but the national media as well. John Clayton of ESPN.com wrote that Gilmore “looks like a potential star.” Ben Reiter from SI.com wrote that “The Bills now have their Darrelle Revis.” If he can come even close to Revis this season, the Bills’ defense will be a force to be reckoned with – the lethal combo of the line up front and Gilmore in the backfield may be the key to reaching the postseason.
It’s very telling that #1 receiver Stevie Johnson had high praise of Gilmore when he spoke recently to Foxsports.com: ”I don’t know how to say it, but he’s up there with some of the DBs in the league who’ve been playing for a couple of years, and he hasn’t even played one play…’Really, I don’t want to speak too highly, but it’s hard to not speak highly of somebody that can play as well as he has from rookie minicamp all the way up until now.”
Such high praise on a player who hasn’t even played a snap in the NFL has to get every Bills fan excited. Hopefully he won’t let that get to his head, and stay focused. Until he steps foot on the field in a regular season game, he has accomplished nothing in the NFL.
There has been no QB controversy in training camp this year, and it’s clear why that is: no competition. Fitzpatrick has worked on his footwork and has looked good in camp, while the backups, Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young, have fans wondering if they are playing a game of straws to be the #2. Joe Buscaglia reported for WGR 550 that their start at camp thus far has been “atrocious” and he’s “not sure that Tyler Thigpen or Vince Young are trying to win the backup job.”
One thing’s for sure, Fitzpatrick has to stay healthy. We saw last year, with the rumored injury to his ribs, that once he goes down, the whole Bills ship sinks with him. Especially when lacking a good backup, the success of this team is going to rest squarely on the QB’s shoulders. Hopefully he can get through the season playing consistent and injury-free.
Luckily Fitz is happy to bear the responsibility. He told Foxsports.com: ”I love it,” Fitzpatrick said, referring to how much pressure might be on him. ”If I didn’t love it, I don’t think I’d play the position. That’s why I do it. I want all of the pressure to fall on me so that the other guys can just go out there and play.”
As the excitement builds, it’s getting more interesting to watch the Bills come together as a team. It’s hard to tell from the first preseason game, but hopefully we can see some flashes of brilliance from these guys and more on Thursday against the Redskins. Definitely keep your eye on Stephon Gilmore – if he lives up to the hype, it’s going to be a very entertaining season!
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