Training-camp postcard: Bills
Posted: Tuesday July 31, 2007 12:18PM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 1:55PM
Pittsford, N.Y., where Buffalo holds training camp at St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester. The Bills have come to this picturesque corner of the world every summer since 2000, and on Monday I was lucky enough to catch their first full-pads workout of camp. Soaring temperatures or not, you realize it's football season again when you hear the thud of pad-on-pad and the crack of the occasional helmet-to-helmet hit.
1. I talked to Bills general manager Marv Levy on Monday afternoon, and he's got a big weekend coming up. He's the presenter for Thurman Thomas, the ex-Bills running back who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. Who better to introduce Thomas into football's most prestigious club than Levy, his old coach, and himself a Hall of Famer?
"They only give you four minutes to speak in presenting the player,'' Levy said. "I've put a lot of preparation into it. It's very daunting. It's hard to get in what you want in that framework and not miss some things. That's why Mark Twain once apologized for giving a long speech. He said he didn't have time to prepare a short one.''
Don't you just love Marv Levy? How many NFL head coaches could ever throw a Mark Twain quote at you?
2. He's only played in 38 of a possible 64 games the past four seasons due to injuries to his groin and knees, but newly acquired cornerback Jason Webster is the guy the Bills seem to think can fill the spot vacated by Nate Clements, who signed a huge free-agent deal with San Francisco. Webster, an eighth-year veteran who no one will ever label a No. 1 corner the way Clements was, is getting first-team reps opposite Terrence McGee. The Bills' 2006 third-round pick, Ashton Youboty, looks slated for the nickel role.
I like Buffalo's young safeties, second-year vets Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson -- who started a combined 29 games as rookies -- but I can't help but wonder how the Bills' secondary will fare when it goes up against Tom Brady and the Patriots' ramped up receiving contingent twice this season?
3. Is there a more quietly efficient sack specialist out there than seventh-year Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel? In his past four seasons, Schobel has averaged more than 11 sacks per year, but he finally made his first Pro Bowl in 2006 on the strength of his career-best 14-sack performance. That was the third most in the NFL behind San Diego's Shawne Merriman (17) and Green Bay's Aaron Kampman (15.5).
Even more surprising, Schobel is just 1.5 sacks away from passing Phil Hansen (61.5) to become the second-most prolific sacker in Buffalo history. That's as high as he'll climb, though, because he's not catching Bruce Smith (171) unless he plays 15 more years.
4. If the Bills improve on their somewhat hopeful 7-9 record of a year ago, they're going to earn it. Buffalo's first-half schedule is absolutely brutal. Dick Jauron's young squad doesn't face a team that had a losing record in 2006 until Week 10, when it travels to Miami for a Nov. 11 date against the Dolphins.
Buffalo's first eight games are against teams that made the playoffs at least once in the past two years: Denver, at Pittsburgh, at New England, the Jets, Dallas, Baltimore, at the Jets and Cincinnati. That's five games against 2006 playoff qualifiers and three pretty stiff tests from teams that went either 9-7 or 8-8 (the Broncos, Steelers and Bengals). From a strength of schedule standpoint, the Bills' opponents are a league-toughest .539, tied for the Raiders for tops in the NFL.
It's hard to call any season opener a must-win, but if Buffalo doesn't take care of business at home against the Broncos, things could head in the wrong direction in a hurry.
5. Bills fans have to be pulling for rookie safety Jon Corto, an undrafted free agent, to make the team. It would be the ultimate local-boy-makes-good story. Corto isn't just a Buffalo kid. It's more specific than that. He played for Orchard Park High, which is practically in the shadow of Ralph Wilson Stadium. In college, Corto starred for Sacred Heart, a Division II school in Connecticut.