Postcard from camp: Bills
Terrell Owens may be the training camp star, but Roscoe Parrish is the key
Despite a lethal receiving corps, the Bills will go as far as the line takes them
In the stacked AFC East, everything will have to go right for the Bills to win
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country for the next 18 days, starting with the Bills today and ending with the 49ers in mid-August.
Setting the scene
On the campus of St. John Fisher College in a bucolic Anytown USA suburb a few miles southeast of Rochester. Lots of bike trails and golf courses nearby; you can tell this is where a lot of Kodak and Bausch & Lomb executives settled.
If any team doubts the importance of going to a small college campus for training camp, just come here. The joint is jumping with love for the Bills -- to be fair, interest has shot up 30 to 40 percent because of the presence of Terrell Owens, the first real star here since Drew Bledsoe -- creating an atmosphere that's so good for the fans, and for football. Bleachers and/or tents and picnic tables adorn the field-turf practice field on three sides and the crowd can see everything. It's a vocal crowd, too. Very T.O.-centric.
1. The Bills will go as far as the offensive line takes them. Sounds funny, with Owens here for a year along with game-breakers Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish. But every spot on the offensive line will be manned by a different player than a year ago. Assuming rookie Eric Wood of Louisville, who signed July 29, wins the right guard job, look for the starters to be Brad Butler at right tackle and Langston Walker at left, Wood and Kirk Chambers or rookie Andy Levitre at guard and free-agent Geoff Hangartner anchoring the line at center. "I like what I see,'' coach Dick Jauron said. "But it is a totally new area for us.''
2. I have no idea how Trent Edwards is going to distribute the ball fairly. You'd think he has to get Evans and T.O. 70 catches apiece, minimum. And Parrish is such a dangerous gamebreaker (except for his almost weekly mental lapses, like turning four-yard shallow crosses into nine-yarders) that he has to get the ball more. Then there's slot receiver Josh Reed, who has made a nice comeback from a lousy early career in Buffalo.
Plus, don't forget the crowded backfield, where Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes figure to be adequate subs for Marshawn Lynch during his three-game, season-opening suspension. That's not to mention the tight ends; it's going to be tough to get them enough balls.
Look for Evans' production to slide. He told me earnestly (at least he sounded earnest) that he can live with a drop into the 50s if the Bills are winning, but that's what they all say in July.
3. Get Parrish the ball. It doesn't matter how. The fact is, there's no excuse for Parrish -- as dangerous as Devin Hester with the ball in his hands -- to touch the ball fewer than 150 times a year. Last year he touched it 49 times (24 receptions, 21 punt returns, two rushes and two kickoff returns). That's not nearly enough. There's significant debate among the Buffalo hierarchy about what to do with Parrish. It sounds to me like the scouting staff wants to feature him more in Wildcat-type and field-spreading short receptions, just so he can try to make things happens in the open field. Bottom line: Even though he makes too many mental mistakes, there's no better example of a player who's not being used enough in the NFL today.
New face, New place
Wide receiver Terrell Owens. Other than T.O., the Bills haven't changed much from last year's squad. Rhodes adds a valuable backup option in the backfield and most of the offensive line is brand new, but Owens is the only impact player GM Russ Brandon imported this offseason.
What we can't know now is how Owens and the other offensive weapons on this team will react when fighting for one football. But I do know this: Owens is supremely motivated to be a positive force on this team. He's 35. He's working on a one-year contract. In his first years in Philadelphia (2004) and Dallas (2006), he scored a total of 27 touchdowns in 30 games. I'd argue he's under even more pressure to be a good soldier this year because he wants there to be a next year.
So far, so good. Owens will likely play consistently on the outside of Evans with two accomplished slot players inside. My gut feeling is Edwards will probably throw around 130 balls T.O.'s way this year. How many of those he catches will dictate his happiness.
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