For the first time under the Tom Donahoe regime, the team enters a season with the same offensive coordinator and system for the second year in a row. The cast of characters on the offensive side of the ball also remains fairly stable. WR Peerless Price, TE Jay Riemersma, and FB Larry Centers are gone but the offensive line returns all five starters and Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds, and Travis Henry still lead the attack.
The players should be well ahead of the learning curve heading into training camp as they are just fine tuning the system instead of learning it. The problem is the plays they use out of the playbook will be vastly different this year. Possession receivers Josh Reed and Mark Campbell replace Price and Riemersma while blocking fullback Sam Gash replaces receiving legend Centers. Those changes show that the team will for the most part lose the vertical passing game and replace it with a power running attack. The theory is, that with a vastly improved defense, (we will preview the defense later this week), the team will be in more tight games and be able to run the ball. Last year, they were playing catch up a lot and had to go deep to keep up with opposing offenses that were burning the woeful Bills' defense.
Bledsoe says he's onboard with the philosophy switch, saying it may even help the passing game since teams will play eight in the box to stop the run opening up the deep ball. Still, it appears that even when he wants to go deep he may not find it easy to find someone open. Moulds is a legitimate deep threat but until Reed can prove he can be a solid #2 option, Moulds will be seeing many double teams. An option to watch during training camp, is recently signed James Jett he has world class speed but hasn't been productive the last two years, if he makes the team he can be an option deep. Reed and projected third wideout Bobby Shaw, are more tough catch guys that run well after the catch. A surprising fact about last year's team is that Reed led the all receivers in yards per catch. So while the team may not have a vertical passing game, they may get a lot of yards after the catch giving the passing game similar numbers per reception as they had last year.
They do plan to pass the ball less however, they were second in the league in pass attempts last year and that led to a fall off in production late in the year. The offensive key this year will be Henry, running for his job, with a battle next offseason with a healthy Willis McGahee, may give Henry motivation for another outstanding season. He will be running behind a line that will be more seasoned and developed which should add to his success.
There are really only a few job battles to watch out for in training camp on the offensive side of the ball. The starting tight end job is up for grabs as Dave Moore and Campbell will battle it out, they are similar type tight ends so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Barring a total collapse, Reed has the starting role locked up at wide receiver and Shaw should have the third job but it will be interesting to see how rookie Sam Aiken fits in with veterans Charles Johnson and Jett. The offensive line is set at both the starting and backup positions with just an opening for a backup center on the line as the team is pushing Mike Pucillo for that spot. If he fails, rookie Ben Sobieski may get a shot. The backup QB battle will be worth watching, the team will give Travis Brown a lot of work in the pre season to see if he can be a legitimate NFL signal caller. They will give him every chance to unseat Alex Van Pelt as number two on the depth chart. One other player to watch is NFL Europe star RB Ken Simonton he will battle returnee Joe Burns for the final running back spot.
The offense won't be as high powered or as exciting as it was last year but the hope is, that it will be more consistent. With an improved defense the team hopes to be more successful. With that being said however, the team will be hard pressed to overcome the key losses on the offensive side of the ball, hopefully they won't have to overcome them.
Defensive Camp Preview
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