Share this article

print logo

Vic Carucci’s Bills Mailbag: Harvin needs to make progress

You’ve got Bills questions/comments that you submit to me via Twitter, @viccarucci, and email, at, and I have answers.

Here’s what I have to say about what you have to say:

@GMitch2311 says: “How big of a role do you see Percy Harvin getting in the offense? Will Ronald Darby be a nickel back or starter?”

I say: I don’t see Harvin having a major role in the offense, although I do expect him to have opportunities to make impactful plays at wide receiver in addition to what he does returning kicks.

Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods will continue to be the Bills’ top two receivers, thus limiting the amount of chances that Harvin or any other player at the position will have to catch the ball.

Tight end Charles Clay, in whom the Bills made the largest of their free-agent investments, should get plenty of looks in a scheme that’s designed to make the tight end a much more prominent part of the offense. And let’s not forget the significant amount of touches for running back LeSean McCoy in Rex Ryan’s “Ground and Pound” approach.

That doesn’t figure to leave a whole lot for a third receiver, which is the spot I am expecting Harvin to fill. That also doesn’t mean he will be an afterthought. The Bills want him to be more than the gadget-type player he has been for most of his six NFL seasons. They likely will still involve him in sweeps and screens, but as receivers coach Sanjay Lal pointed out during offseason workouts, those plays aren’t nearly as effective if the Bills don’t first allow Harvin to establish himself as a legitimate threat as a true receiver.

But that isn’t as simple as lining him up at wide receiver. There’s a reason Harvin has already been with three teams (the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, and New York Jets) and has yet to establish himself as a strong receiving presence. And not all of it is because of altercations with teammates in Minnesota and Seattle that earned him the dubious honor of the NFL’s “most hated player in the locker room” by Sports Illustrated this week.

Despite his veteran status, Harvin needed plenty of detailed instruction on how to run routes during the offseason. He made progress, but needs to make more.

@NeckBeijing: “Who do you believe is poised to become a breakout player this year?”

I say: I’m having a hard time envisioning any player with at least one year of NFL experience generating better numbers this season than he has had in his most productive year or as a rookie in 2014.

Watkins might very well show improvement over what he did in his rookie season, but it’s hard to see this offense (which could potentially have a worse quarterback situation than a year ago) allowing him to have a whole lot more than the 65 catches he had in ’14. The same goes for Woods, who also had 65 receptions last season.

Even with the tight end having a larger role in the offense, I can’t see Clay surpassing his career-high 69 catches with the Miami Dolphins in 2013. Although the Bills figure to be more committed to the run, I think it’s a stretch to expect McCoy, working behind a rebuilt offensive line and with no clear-cut passing threat to loosen defenses, to surpass his career-high 1,607 rushing yards with the Philadelphia Eagles in the same season.

He should hit the 1,000-yard mark, which would be an achievement behind a line that is very much a work in progress.

As much potential as Buffalo’s defense has to improve over last year’s NFL-leading 54 sacks, it’s hard to see the team’s top sackers – Mario Williams, 14.5; Jerry Hughes, 10, and Marcell Dareus, 10 – topping their career-best totals or going significantly above them.

Ditto for the tackling totals of linebackers Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham, who had 108 and 101, respectively, to lead the team.

Could a healthy Leodis McKelvin do better than the career-high four interceptions he had before suffering a broken ankle that limited his 2014 season to 10 games? Maybe, given that he will frequently find himself in man-to-man coverage in Ryan’s blitz-happy defense. The same is possible for Stephon Gilmore, who had a career-best three interceptions last season.

But it’s hard to project any breakouts when the most likely breakers have already broken out and all of the unknowns that go with working within new offensive and defensive systems and with several new teammates.

@SJHNatFan says: “Why do all the national media think Matt Cassel will start and most locals think he had the worst offseason?”

I say: The national media are following the logic that a team with a perpetually poor quarterback situation is likely going to go with the most experienced and accomplished player at that position on the roster. They are also following the logic that acquiring Cassel via trade automatically makes him the hand-picked choice of Ryan and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

The locals are going by what we saw in the six offseason practices that were open to the media. Actually, one national writer, Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports, arrived at the same conclusion about Cassel after watching only one of those workouts.

The national narrative could very well change during training camp and the preseason when more NFL media types from around the country watch the Bills practice and play. And so could the local narrative for that matter, based on how Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor perform.

@laduke1969 says: “No matter who wins the starting QB job, is keeping all 3 on the roster a possibility?”

I say: Yes, but not a good one.

Keeping three quarterbacks on the roster simply isn’t practical, even if none of the three clearly separates himself from the others. At some point, a starter will be picked, but the idea of having two other options to guard against the No. 1 choice flaming out doesn’t make sense.

You go into a season with two quarterbacks, ideally sticking with one but prepared to play both if necessary, and leave the other roster spot for a player at a position with deeper talent, whether it’s elsewhere on offense or on defense. Special teams also are a critical component to the Bills’ chances for success, so the team will make that a prominent consideration when setting the final 53.

@MattFromEnid says: “What are the chances that Tyrod Taylor wins the starting job? I think he is the best option.”

I say: I think Taylor’s chances are less than 50 percent.

Although Ryan maintains there is an even, three-way battle, I think Taylor enters training camp vying to be a backup.

I don’t see him as being a complete enough quarterback to start. Taylor runs well, but his passing skills leave something to be desired. He needs to work on becoming a better decision-maker and showing more patience in the face of the sort of heavy pressure he regularly saw during offseason practices.

@McBPJ says: “How will the 2015 training camp be different under Rex? Under the Pegulas?”

I say: Ryan is going to make it a much livelier camp.

He’ll greatly elevate the competitive atmosphere in drills by constantly challenging players on the field and in the meeting room. Ryan also is a big believer in incorporating fun into the daily camp grind.

I’m not sure how much of a noticeable difference there will be in the first camp under Pegula ownership at St. John Fisher College.

The fan experience is something that has evolved through the past 15 years under the leadership of team president Russ Brandon, and most of the tried-and-true elements – such as the interactive area for children – are going to remain the same.

One notable change will be the presence of a food truck from Buffalo restaurant 716.


There are no comments - be the first to comment