So what did Chan Gailey think of the first OTA on Tuesday? "It felt bigger on the field," the Bills' head coach said.
It looked that way, too. Especially when you trained your gaze on the large figure who lined up at left defensive end. Mario Williams looked very big indeed. At 6-foot-6, 283 pounds, he towered over defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Williams is a physical specimen, one of those athletes you appreciate best in context with the players around him.
"He looks like a Madden character you create," said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who got a view of Williams coming at him off the edge. "You sit there and pump up the strength and the guy keeps growing, and he's the fastest guy on the field, too. He kinda looks like one of those guys."
Pumped up and still growing. You could say the same about expectations, which have been blowing up since that giddy day in March when it became apparent that Williams actually liked Buffalo and was going to sign here, inflating hope in the scattered, long-suffering community of Bills fans.
Everything seems bigger these days. That's what happens when you invest $100 million in the top free agent on the market. This is a team effort, of course, as Kyle Williams made sure to tell us. But the rising hopes of Bills fans are largely attached to the 27-year-old pass rusher from tiny Richlands, N.C.
It's a good thing fans weren't there when Chris Kelsay knocked knees with Williams during drills, causing No. 94 to flex his left leg in discomfort. This wasn't some obscure undrafted free agent, it was the new franchise guy! It's news in this town if Mario gets a mosquito bite. Reporters braced themselves for the horrifying possibility of a real injury.
"Yeah, I took a knee-to-knee," Williams said. "That's never good. That's all it was, but I'll be fine."
Williams missed the last 11 games of the 2011 season with a pectoral injury, so the concern is understandable. But he said he feels great. It was good to get on the practice field with his new teammates. Gailey said his new star has been terrific, a hard worker who shows up early and wants to be a leader.
Kelsay said he can tell Williams wants to lead by the way he carries himself. He said the new guy is feeling his way, but he has to be a leader whether he likes it or not. Kelsay said Williams has the "it" factor that inspires belief in his teammates and a community.
"It's all about leading by example," Williams said. "You don't have to be a hooting and hollering guy. There is no limit. The sky is not the limit."
Hmm. The sky is not the limit. Sounds like a pretty good marketing campaign. The Bills don't want people to have unreasonable expectations, but why not shoot past the sky? The defensive players weren't making any promises, but they seemed excited about the task before them, and the improved roster.
"We all can make each other better," Kyle Williams said. "That's the biggest thing. When you get guys who are super competitive, when one guy makes a good play, another guy wants to make one, too."
In the end, that's how Mario Williams will be judged, not by sack totals, but by how he makes the players around him better. He knows that. As Kelsay said, Williams seems eager to be a team player, to fit in. He realizes his arrival energized Bills fans, but he said the Mark Anderson and Vince Young signings did, too.
"Deep down inside, Mario is a country boy," Kelsay said. "He's a blue collar guy. He's made a ton of money, but it didn't change him at all. He's one of the guys. He isn't a prima donna. He's a real good dude and fits right into our room."
Just so he doesn't bring his pet into the room. Williams, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, owns a six-foot boa constrictor. "He might be bigger than that now," he said. "He eats a lot."
Williams said the snake is friendly, except when he's hungry. The bigger it gets, the more you have to feed the beast. There's a metaphor for Bills fans in there somewhere.