It involves relying on young, untested or unsung prospects rather than expensive, proven stars. The Bills finished a respectable 7-9 last season, an overachievement according to some observers. Then they unloaded so many familiar names that casual fans have trouble identifying the leftovers.
Gone are cornerback Nate Clements, running back Willis McGahee, and linebackers London Fletcher-Baker and Takeo Spikes. Gone, too, are three guards who started at least six games apiece — Mike Gandy, Chris Villarial and Tutan Reyes. Gone is former starting quarterback Kelly Holcomb.
By the end of last season, first-year coach Jauron had five first-year starters. He'll add more this year and expects big things from defensive tackle John McCargo, a first-round draft choice who missed his rookie season with a broken foot and may not be 100 percent during camp.
Marshawn Lynch, this year's No. 1 pick, will have to pick up the slack left by the departure of McGahee. Fourth-round rookie Dwayne Wright also has flashed potential. Three big free-agent signings, guards Derrick Dockery and Jason Whittle and tackle Langston Walker, will revamp the offensive line.
Second draft choice Paul Posluszny must step in right away at linebacker and play as well as last year's rookie safeties, Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson. Second-year linebackers Keith Ellison and John DeGiorgio also must step up. Angelo Crowell, who played both strong and weakside last year before ending up on injured reserve, will be the man in the middle.
Fletcher-Baker led the team in tackles and interceptions, Clements in passes defensed, and McGahee in rushing, but Jauron prefers to look ahead.
"In terms of ability, we're significantly better. We're bigger, faster and stronger, but it's got to translate into wins," Jauron said.
Bills special teams are among the league's best, with kicker Rian Lindell, punter Brian Moorman, kick returner Terrence McGee and punt returner Roscoe Parrish all ranked within the top five in the AFC.
Lee Evans developed into one of the best deep threats with 82 catches and a 15.8-yard average. Nobody else in the AFC had more catches and a better average. The Bills reclaimed Peerless Price and he paid off as a decent No. 2 target, but return specialist Roscoe Parrish could emerge.
McCargo's comeback is crucial given the uncertainty of Darwin Walker, the defensive tackle obtained from Philadelphia in the trade of Spikes and Holcomb. Unhappy with his contract, Walker will be sent back to the Eagles for a draft choice if something can't be worked out, leaving the Bills thin up front on defense unless ex-Ram pass rusher Anthony Hargrove pans out.
Competition for replacing Nate Clements at cornerback opposite Terrence McGee will revolve around Jabari Greer, Kiwaukee Thomas and Ashton Youboty.
Quarterback J.P. Losman established himself as the man last season, his first as the full-time starter. His passer rating placed him 11th in the league, lofty territory for a relatively unknown player. In the AFC East, he was ranked slightly below the Patriots' Tom Brady and above the Jets' Chad Pennington. For the Bills to accomplish anything, Losman needs to build on last year's success. If he struggles, the Bills are in big trouble. If he can use last year as a springboard to bigger things, the Bills are on the rise. With Holcomb, the Bills have no proven backup, but Jauron likes the progression of ex-Packer Craig Nall and the Bills felt good about landing Stanford's Trent Edwards in the third round of the draft.
Levy and Jauron decided the offensive line was their No. 1 priority in the offseason and wasted no time retooling. Although Dockery, Walker and Whittle are far from established superstars, the Bills believe they are definite upgrades and paid them accordingly. Dockery's $49 million contract over seven years, including a signing bonus of $18.5 million, was especially surprising. But for Losman to improve and for rookie running back Lynch to have a chance, the offensive line must jell quickly.
The Bills are poised to sneak up on everybody in the AFC East. Not expected to do much except quietly improve, they have a chance to pass up both the Jets and Dolphins in the pursuit of the Patriots. But the schedule does Jauron no favors, with trips to Pittsburgh and New England following the home opener against Denver. They play the Jets twice in the first eight weeks, so they have a chance to make a statement with a quick start, not an easy task with a rebuilding team. They do have the best special teams in the division, and they recently made Brian Moorman the highest-paid punter in the league.
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
2013 SNF Schedule
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