PITTSFORD — The Buffalo Bills converged on St. John Fisher College Friday knowing that competition for jobs will be more heated than in recent years.
The Bills had just 11 players on last year’s opening-day roster who were new to the organization in 2012.
This year they could have 20 or 24 new faces on the 53-man squad when the season opens on Sept. 8. The team already has said goodbye to 18 veterans from last year’s team.
“Each year you’ve got to re-prove yourself,” said Bills center Eric Wood. “And I learned that early on, when you see veterans get cut that have made a lot of plays around the league. Your job is never safe in this league, especially with the lack of money that rookies are making these days. They’re always looking for someone who can take your spot, and rightfully so. That’s what they should be doing.”
It’s especially true with a new coaching staff.
New head coach Doug Marrone has made sweeping changes and is installing new schemes on offense and defense. It’s obvious the Bills are going to be a lot younger than the past two years under former coach Chan Gailey.
Camp officially opens today at the college south of the city of Rochester. The battle for jobs begins in earnest with the first practice on Sunday evening.
“You have a coaching change and you have a lot of turnover,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “There’s a lot of competition every year, and more so probably with a new staff coming in because everybody kind of starts on equal footing.”
“Coaches are coming in trying to learn veteran players,” Williams said. “They’re bringing in guys. When they’re bringing in rookies, they might have seen more of them to start out than they have of you playing. You kind of approach every training camp the same way, knowing you’re going to have to come out here and work and do your best. Take every day for what it is and get after it.”
Linebacker Bryan Scott said the fact the team has such a long playoff drought – 13 years – adds even more motivation for veteran players to re-prove themselves in training camp.
“Every year we have to prove ourselves, and especially now,” Scott said. “We are trying to break a trend that has been going on. There’s a sense of urgency, a chip on shoulders, a new coaching staff. There’s a lot of young guys. And it’s just an exciting time. … We still have a lot of work to do. But in saying that, I’m still very excited.”
Scott said the fact everyone starts with a clean slate with the new coaching staff gives everyone, veterans included, the chance to earn significant roles.
“The challenge ahead of us is a great opportunity across the board,” he said. “I feel very comfortable with this coaching staff, especially the defensive coaches who I work with.
“I’m excited to see how the game plans come together and how games are called. But I have no doubt in my mind that we have bought into the system here. I’m excited to get this thing rolling.”
The competition for playing time is perhaps no more intense than at receiver. Aside from No. 1 man Stevie Johnson, every spot is uncertain.
“This competition is going to be highly aggressive,” Johnson said of the team overall. “It’s only going to make each other better. Last year, we had competition, but it wasn’t as vocal as it is now. We start talking, like that blacktop basketball. You get to talking and bring out that A game. It’s going to be interesting to be in this competition with these guys.”
“It’s all about what you’ve done for the league lately,” said defensive end Mario Williams. “That’s what the NFL’s about.”