|Owens brings explosiveness, but any hope for progress rests with the O-line.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
14 at New England (M)
20 TAMPA BAY
27 NEW ORLEANS
4 at Miami
18 at N.Y. Jets
25 at Carolina
15 at Tennessee
22 at Jacksonville
3 N.Y. JETS (T)
13 at Kansas City
20 NEW ENGLAND
27 at Atlanta
Demetrius Bell, Tackle: So much about Bell reminds you of him: the barrel chest, the
heavy-lidded eyes, the shoulders that seem a yard wide. But Bell is the son of
NBA Hall of Famer Karl Malone by biology alone. Malone has fathered three
children out of wedlock -- the others are WNBA star Cheryl Ford and her twin
brother, Daryl -- but Bell is the only one of them with whom Malone has no
relationship and whom he has not publicly acknowledged. "I think about it
sometimes," says Bell, 25. "Then I go on with my day."
For the 6' 5", 307-pound Bell, those days include tireless weight-room
work -- he bench-pressed 225 pounds just nine times at the combine in 2008 but
says he can now do 25 reps at that weight -- and a continuing education in a
game he's played for just five years, since the football coaches at Northwestern
State got a look at the basketball team's long-armed, nimble power forward and
suggested he might want to give their sport a try. Bell didn't play a snap as
a rookie after Buffalo drafted him as a seventh-round project last year, but
he should see time this season at both tackle spots on the remade line. "He's
light-years ahead of where he was last season," says offensive line coach Sean
For Malone, Bell says, "I do have questions, but that's down the line. Right
now, I have my own story to write."
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
There's a new star in town, but the reality is that one man -- even one with his own TV show -- can't turn things around.
The T.O. show, Terrell Owens's VH1 vanity project, failed to set any
Nielsen records this summer, but the ratings that really mattered started strong
and remained so. On Aug. 5, even with training camp well into its second
week, the sellout crowd attending a 7 p.m. practice at St. John Fisher
College was gripped by a communal paroxysm more befitting Twilight
groupies than Bills fans when their newest hero, wearing his favored Lycra
tights with his fourth NFL team, loped onto the field (at 7:04, it should be
noted). His teammates spent the preseason similarly, if more warily,
"He's always had a reputation that's followed him, and so far I haven't seen
it -- he's been as integrated as could be," said tackle Langston Walker.
"He makes it look so effortless to get open," said quarterback Trent Edwards.
"He's driven by wanting to win, and to be successful at his craft, and he has
brought a very positive energy to this city," said player personnel chief John
Owens, whom Buffalo signed to a one-year, $6.5 million free-agent deal
after the Cowboys released him on March 4, gives his new team one of the
more dangerous sets of skill players in the league. The Bills will be one of
three teams, along with the Falcons and the Packers, with two receivers (Owens
and Lee Evans) who each gained more than 1,000 yards through the air in
2008 and a running back (Marshawn Lynch, due to return from suspension in
Week 4) who did the same on the ground. To capitalize on that firepower,
coach Dick Jauron and offensive coordinator Turk Schonert have installed a
diversified scheme that will include the Wildcat and the no-huddle. "Our coach
is a big defensive guy," says Edwards, "so he knows that what keeps defenses
off-balance is an attack-style offense."
It will be Edwards who'll be kept off-balance and under attack unless his
line can hold its ground, an issue that constitutes Buffalo's most pressing
concern. In April the Bills traded disgruntled Pro Bowl left tackle Jason
Peters -- the anchor on the line and arguably the team's best player -- to the Eagles,
leaving Buffalo with a new starter at every position on the front five. Walker,
last year's right tackle, will try to fill the gaping void at left tackle; last
year's right guard, Brad Butler, will replace Walker; and the line's middle will
consist of free-agent center Geoff Hangartner, late of Carolina, and a pair of
rookie guards in first-rounder Eric Wood (a center at Louisville) and
second-rounder Andy Levitre (a tackle at Oregon State).
While the players and coaches expressed optimism about the line's potential,
it was only August, when it's natural to be optimistic in the NFL. "Our coaches
are working their asses off to teach us technique," says Walker. But it's
generally preferable for players to have more or less mastered the intricacies
of their positions when the regular season is mere weeks away.
The line's learning curve will have to be steep, as the Bills will face a
stiff Week 1 test when they play the Patriots in Foxborough. A poor
performance by the line there and in the weeks that follow could breed
frustration among talented skill players who find themselves unable to deploy
those skills. Few NFL players have ever proved to be as prone to frustration as
the breakfast-cereal-endorsing, popcorn-popping new face of the franchise.
In this case, though, the problem might not be that the quarterback isn't
throwing the ball to Owens as much as the receiver would like; it might be that
the quarterback can't throw the ball to Owens because he doesn't have the
time. Of the potential for Buffalo's T.O. experience to turn sour, Edwards says,
"I have other things to worry about. If we win, we avoid that situation."
That's a big if -- as big, perhaps, as the 1,602 pounds of starting
offensive line on whose shoulders the Bills' season
-- Ben Reiter