Sully's Mailbag: Bills are on right track, but hold the Kool-Aid - The Buffalo News
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Sully's Mailbag: Bills are on right track, but hold the Kool-Aid

On my way back from picking up this week's mail, I circled Oct. 22 on the calendar. That's the day the Bills come back from a bye to host Tampa Bay at New Era Field. Our old pal  Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Buccaneers on Friday, will be back in Buffalo.

Fitzpatrick signed a one-year deal for a reported $3 million. After beating the Bills in last year's finale, Fitz told me he was giving serious thought to retirement. I told him he'd be lucky to walk away with his health and his wits intact. But I suspected he would be back.

He'll be the backup to Jameis Winston in Tampa. So he won't likely get a chance to light up the Bills the way he did on Thursday night in Week 2 here last season. But hey, you never know. On to this week's Mailbag:

Sam Ruggiero asks: Come on, Jerry. You gotta be impressed with the selection of the new Bills' brain trust. The pundits are saying 6-7 wins this season but with some luck can the Bills finally end "The Drought"?

Sully: Sam, a year ago at this time, you urged me to drink the Kool-Aid of a 10-6 or 11-5 season. I rapped your knuckles and told you 6-10 sounded about right. While I respect your wide-eyed optimism, I'm even less sanguine about their chances to challenge for a playoff spot this season.

That doesn't mean I'm not encouraged by the new "brain trust". Brandon Beane seems like a capable executive and is assembling a good front office. But I'm not ready to anoint them as geniuses, simply because they're marginally bright and have worked for winning franchises. The Bills have joined the ranks of the competent, which guarantees nothing.

Time will tell how good they are at finding players, which is the real issue. The Bills have a weak roster; they're paying for the excesses of the previous regime, much as Tom Donahoe and Gregg Williams did when they took over as seemingly competent men a generation ago.

Ending the drought? You're back on the Kool-Aid, dude. Six wins might be the ceiling for this year's Bills. They'll hang around, as they always do. But they're not good enough. The new regime shouldn't be judged by whether they make it this year, but whether they're really headed for bigger things.

alexdavis2415 asks: What position on the Bills defense is of most concern? Either by talent level or depth. DE? LB? S?

Sully: There are numerous positions of concern, including quarterback. But I'll go with defensive end, because the pass rush will be especially critical against the quarterbacks on this year's schedule. They're dangerously thin there.

Both starters have a lot to prove. Shaq Lawson is under pressure to prove he was worthy of his first-round selection last year. He needs to be a star, not just a contributor. And Jerry Hughes, who regressed under Rex Ryan, has to show he's not a hothead who got overpaid for a big sack year.

The depth at defensive end is troublesome. Only one current backup, Ryan Davis, has played in an NFL game. Max Valles? Jake Metz? Marquavius Lewis? Who are these guys? And whatever happened to Alex Carrington?

The other positions you mention aren't exactly deep, either. I worry about them against the run. Remember, they were 29th against the rush in 2016 and allowed an average of 176 yards over their last six games. It wasn't all Rex's fault.

Shane Rothenburgh asks: With a lack of RB and WR depth, is the Bills offense going to tank? If so, intentionally?

Sully: They didn't bring back Tyrod Taylor so they could tank on purpose. But they'll be hard-pressed to equal their production from last season, when the Bills scored 399 points, their most since Flutie's big year in 1998. It's a stretch to assume they'll be .500 simply because of Taylor.

They'll miss Mike Gillislee, one of the top backup running backs in the league. I also expect LeSean McCoy's production to slip due to general attrition. It's hard to see them rushing for 2,630 yards and a 5.3-yard average, which led the league in both categories a year ago.

Opponents will challenge Taylor to beat them through the air and over the middle. They'll miss Robert Woods, who led the team in receiving yards with 613, the fewest of any team leader. They'll miss him dearly as a blocker, too.

Overall, I see the offense taking a step back. Defenses will be ready for Taylor, and the schedule should be tougher. I imagine Sean McDermott feels his defense will improve enough to compensate. We'll see.

@eaj1257 asks: Excellent early returns on Torey Lovullo's D-backs. Long overdue MLB skipper. Agree?

Sully: Wholeheartedly. Lovullo, a Buffalo baseball Hall of Famer, waited a long time to get his first managing gig, at 51. He's making the most of it. Heading into Friday's game at San Diego, the Diamondbacks were 24-18, just two games back of the Rockies in the NL West.

Lovullo has a reputation as a great leader and communicator, and a well-prepared tactician. His young team has certainly responded. The D-backs are fourth in runs, third in homers, first in steals and third in ERA in the NL.

A bunch of young players are off to career starts, including Chris Owings, Brandon Drury and Jake Lamb. Arizona leads all of baseball in home victories with 18, which must sit well with ownership.

Lovullo is one of the good guys. He was hugely popular in Buffalo, where he was a clutch player and vocal inspiration on the Bisons' back-to-back champions in 1997-98. He managed during the team's last three years as an Indians affiliate (2006-08).

The D-backs haven't finished over .500 since 2011. If they keep it up,  you'll be hearing Lovullo's name as a candidate for Manager of the Year.

Jim Maher asks: Do you think Randy Smith belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame?

Sully: No. Smith, who died in 2009, was a very good and sometimes great NBA player. He was one of the best athletes this area has ever seen, a multi-sport legend at Buffalo State. But he's not a Basketball Hall of Famer.

Smith held the NBA record for consecutive games with 906 before A.C. Green broke it. He averaged 16.7 points over a 12-year career and averaged 24.6 in 1977-78, the year he was MVP of the All-Star Game. I've seen footage of that game, and Randy was on a different competitive level that day.

Chris Stevenson started a petition to get Smith into the Hall awhile back, but it didn't get far. I admire the effort, but Smith's stats fall a little short. He scored 16,262 points, which is 109th on the NBA/ABA career list. Smith was comparable to Jerry Stackhouse and Richard Hamilton, terrific shooting guards who averaged 17 points a game over long careers. Neither is in the Hall of Fame.

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