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Bills have a leadership void to fill this season

He nods his head toward the empty locker. Fred Jackson is gone, 2,600 miles away in Seattle.

“Yeah, it’s weird,” linebacker Preston Brown said. “Just look across the locker room. He’s not over there. It’s a little weird. But everybody’s picking it up. We know what we have to do.”

This Buffalo Bills roster is talented. From March to September, management opened up its wallet like never before. But who leads? And how? The Bills signed every type of personality imaginable — ones with red flags that scared off other teams — so now they all must be channeled in one, positive direction.

That’s what makes a team like the Seattle Seahawks unique. Sure, at Thursday's practice Marshawn Lynch wore the practice jersey of disgruntled safety Kam Chancellor, who’s holding out. But the locker room is strong.

For all of their gambling on character concerns, they win.

The Bills probably won’t have too much trouble replacing Jackson on the field. They have backs — a decade younger — who can back up starter LeSean McCoy. However, Jackson was a captain, a leader, the voice of reason. The mere sight of safety Aaron Williams sporting Jackson’s No. 22 jersey at practice is enough proof of what he meant in this locker room.

Such experience cannot be replaced overnight. Somehow, this motley crew must mesh.

Rex Ryan is expected to name game-specific captains, as he did as the New York Jets head coach.

“I think what’s really great about this team is we’ve got a bunch of characters,” guard Richie Incognito said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys from all over the place. When it’s time to goof off, have fun and play ping pong and hang out in the locker room, we do it. But when it’s time to grind, we flip that switch and really go into it.”

Center Eric Wood is in his seventh year with the Bills; defensive tackle Kyle Williams enters his 10th. Both were captains in 2014. Teammates agree that they'll be viewed as two go-to leaders.

Leadership can be quantified by an inspired pregame speech, a tackle-breaking touchdown or gritting through an injury. To Incognito, it’s simply about “being consistent."

Ryan clearly is a player’s coach. Even during training camp, wives and girlfriends were allowed to hang out near the field/locker room after practice. Players love the fact that Ryan wants them to be themselves, loose. When Ryan signed Incognito and receiver Percy Harvin, he told both to “Be yourself.”

Yet when Lil Jon's "Throw it up" and Bone Crusher's "Never Scared" blare during warm-ups, when it's time to lock in, Incognito said, "lock it in."

“Be serious about it. Be professional," Incognito said. "For me personally coming into the league I didn’t know how to be professional. I didn’t know how to handle all the free time. I didn’t know how to handle getting a lot of money. When you’re at a university environment, everything’s controlled. Everything’s scheduled. People are constantly on you, checking on you.

"So being a leader is really something that you grow into.”

Everyone in Buffalo noticed Jackson’s behavior on and off the field, too. Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant described it as a model every player should follow.

To start off, players see leaders emerging within specific position groups. And actions, to Brown, speak louder than words.

“People are going to follow you if you know what you’re talking about,” Brown said. “If you go out there as a proven player, you can lead.”

That’s why he envisions Williams on the defensive line, Nigel Bradham with the linebackers and Corey Graham with the defensive backs earning the most respect right now. He calls them “the elder statesmen.” He has also noticed defensive tackle Marcell Dareus speaking up more this summer. Maybe the richest player on the team takes charge.

In this locker room, anyone can speak up any time.

“Everybody has their different ways of leading,” Brown said. “If anybody has something to say, say it. You’re not over-stepping your boundaries.”

Maybe this is a fragile dynamic. If everyone can speak up, those voices could clash. Personalities can clash. The chances Ryan and G.M. Doug Whaley took could backfire.

Brown is told there’s a danger here. He gets that.

“There’s a lot of crazy guys on defense,” Brown said. “That’s what you’re going to get when you play defense — you love the craziness. We all have the same goal and that’s the big thing. Everybody’s coming together for one thing.”

That's the easy answer: winning cures all.

For the first time since 2005, Jackson isn't in this locker room.

“When you thought of the Buffalo Bills," Brown said, "Fred was who you thought of. He was the Buffalo Bills."


Linebacker IK Enemkpali will be suspended at least four games for breaking the jaw of New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith on Aug. 7, NFL Network reported. Enemkpali, was cut and then signed with Buffalo. Cut again, he was signed to Buffalo’s practice squad.

Elsewhere, wide receiver Percy Harvin (hip) returned to practice after a scheduled rest day. Linebacker Tony Steward (knee) and receiver Marquise Goodwin (ribs) remained out with Steward saying he was hopeful he’d return next week.

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