Work in Sports
Youth movement emerges on both sides of the ball
The Buffalo Bills -- who have the toughest schedule in 2000, based on '99 records -- open their training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y, on July 21. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Bills this season. SI's season preview will post Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Will the cutting of Super Bowl vets Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed have a lingering effect on the older Bills, or does sentiment take a back seat in this practical, salary cap era?
2.) The Doug Flutie magic has been replaced by the more conventional quarterbacking approach of Rob Johnson. Is this good? How about little Doug's mental state? And the two years' worth of Cinderella stories we've been reading?
3.) Sam Gash blocking for Antowain Smith or Jon Linton is another memory that's by the boards. Who's going to take on those linebackers?
4.) Five veterans lost to free agency. None acquired. This is a formula that destroyed the Steelers. Will the Bills be the next victims?
5.) Under Wade Phillips, Buffalo has out-performed the preseason forecast every year. Does this mean that he's a better coach than people think or that it's just not fashionable to pick the Bills to do very well?
The Bills can make the playoffs if ... One of the league's best defenses can sustain the losses of starters Gabe Northern, Bruce Smith, Thomas Smith and Kurt Schulz; and if Rob Johnson plays well enough to avoid a quarterback controversy.
Pivotal games: Sept. 3 vs. Tennessee; Dec. 11 at Indianapolis. The "Buffalo Wing Miracle?" Doesn't exactly have the same ring as the "Music City Miracle," but the Bills could exact a measure of revenge by beginning the 2000 season with a victory against the team that ended their 1999 season. The Dec. 11 meeting in Week 15 pits last season's top two AFC East teams against each other in front of Dennis Miller & Co. on Monday Night Football.
On the hot seat: While the physical shadow cast by mercurial quarterback Doug Flutie isn't really that large, Rob Johnson will have a hard time avoiding it in 2000. Flutie's playing time will be limited to special situations-which could seem rigged for his success in the red zone-so Johnson's performances will be judged that much more harshly. But according to most observers, Johnson continued to look more comfortable with his receivers, especially Eric Moulds, during early mini-camps.
Up-and-comers: Buffalo is counting on a number of young players, but that is especially true of their 2000 draft class on the defensive side of the ball. With continued progress, defensive back Tavares Tillman could be starting at free safety by October. Everybody's All-American Corey Moore, who didn't grow any in the offseason, is still impressing folks with his pass-rushing skills and he'll see action primarily on passing downs. Moore and first-round pick Erik Flowers are optimistically, very optimistically, expected to fill the gaping void left in Bruce Smith's absence.