Day 1 of off-season workouts is in the books. Rex Ryan introduced Donald Trump. Aaron Williams returned to the field. Inside linebacker Tony Steward was released. Tyrod Taylor is set to play into a contract year.
It's been a wild and crazy start to the 2016 Buffalo Bills season. "Jock Jams" even made its triumphant return, blaring from the First Niagara Bank speakers Monday night as Ryan praised Trump's willingness to speak his mind and Trump erroneously said Ryan won two AFC championships as the Jets head coach.
Well, back to the field. Here are seven takeaways from yesterday...
1. The slogan for this season's squad is not, apparently, "Fully Pregnant." Rather the Bills are "All in." The words were printed on hoodies and repeated often on Monday.
It's no secret what this (overdone) slogan is referencing. Last season, end Mario Williams ripped Rex Ryan's scheme repeatedly and appeared to check out. Inside the locker room, teammates saw a player quitting on the team. Elsewhere, multiple other players voiced displeasure with Ryan's scheme, and often for good reason. The NFL's fourth-ranked defense, one that finished with 54 sacks behind a straightforward scheme that let the front four eat fell to No. 19 overall with a franchise-low 21 sacks.
With checks... on checks... on checks... players were caught overthinking too much. Inside linebacker Preston Brown has articulated the situation best. By late December, coaches took more player input and the results were devastating. "All in," a phrase Rex admits he stole from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, will recharge hope yet again at One Bills Drive. But it doesn't mean anything until Week 1 at Baltimore. Fans want results.
2. One player not "all in" quite yet might be receiver Sammy Watkins. The Bills' third-year receiver, who has said repeatedly he wants to be a go-to leader on this team, was a no-show at Monday's open workout to the media. Where was he? Watkins posted a photo on Facebook of poker chips from Harrah's Cherokee Casino in North Carolina. The casino is hosting a World Series of Poker event.
On Sunday, Watkins was in Greenville, South Carolina for a football camp with his former Clemson quarterback, Tajh Boyd.
Ryan didn't sound concerned when asked where Watkins was on Monday. And overall he cited the "great turnout."
"A couple of guys gave me phone calls, all that stuff," Ryan said. "I won’t get into specifics on who was here and who wasn’t here because it is voluntary, but I’m encouraged by the turnout we have and everybody’s I think excited to get this season going."
Time to panic? Not really. As Ryan said, the workouts are voluntary and Watkins has certainly been training plenty on his own. But it is noteworthy considering Watkins was so vocal in wanting to be a leader that gets this team back to the playoffs.
After Buffalo's embarrassing loss at Washington, he didn't hold back to The News.
He sure sounded like a guy who was all in.
"We need to forget about anybody’s feelings," Watkins said then. "We need to call people out. If I’m doing something wrong, call me out. If the line is doing something wrong or messing up, call them out. If the defense is doing something wrong, the defensive line, the secondary, call it out. Because at the end of the day, we’re doing it to win, not to get on somebody and make them feel bad. We’re grown men. This is our job. We get paid millions and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Forget the money. You’ve got to go out there each week and play for the guy next to you.
"Once we get to that point and realize that you could get fired the next day — and make it known. Hey, this is your job. If you’re not going to do your job, cut him. It needs to be a business. And I think once we get to that, we need some nasty coaches. If they’re not doing their job, get them out of here. If I’m not doing my job, step to me and get me out of here."
3. Tyrod Taylor will approach a contract year the right way. Props to Bills G.M. Doug Whaley and the front office for not giving in yet. Whereas the L.A. Rams mortgaged their future for the No. 1 overall pick and the Houston Texans unloaded a four-year, $72 million deal to Brock Osweiler, Buffalo will wait on Taylor. Why rush? He still has one year left on his contract and, theoretically, the Bills could place the franchise tag on him in 2017.
They must see more in Taylor before quadrupling down on him as their franchise QB. The stakes are too, too high.
In his first public comments since the end of the end of the season, Taylor made it clear he's focused on his own game. I buy it. Everyone who knows Taylor --- family, friends, former teammates --- all say this is how he's wired. Has been his whole life. He won't sulk, hold out and demand a new contract. He's more apt to play with an edge and elevate his game.
"I know the contract that I signed up for last year," Taylor said. "I understand it, I understand my contract fully. Like I said the business side, whether I am out there playing under contract or an extension my preparation does not change mentally or physically. I am here to get this team better, I am here to better myself, and do what I can to help our team compete for a Super Bowl next year."
Many questions remain. If he delivers, if Taylor wills Buffalo back to the postseason for the first time since 1999, hand him the blank check at that point.
4. With no money to spend, the Bills didn't make any notable signings on offense. This draft, expect defense to be the focus. So, on Monday, guard Richie Incognito was asked where the improvement will come from? He's optimistic the Bills can take the next step. But how? Against this brutal schedule?
Incognito's answer hinted at the team's offensive identity.
They must run to win. The NFL's No. 1-ranked rushing attack must again go for 150-plus yards a game for Buffalo to escape its 8-8 daze.
"I think we have all the pieces in place," Incognito said. "I think the recipe for success is just us being more consistent, us putting more points on the board in critical situations. Last year, we got in these lulls where we had these spells of three-and-out and to be successful, you can’t do that in the NFL. We’re definitely going to hang our hat on the run game and 'Shady' and the stable of backs that we have, Karlos (Williams) and even Tyrod when he gets the ball in his hands, they’re very dangerous, so I think just building and expanding on that, having Tyrod as the starter, will just add to the consistency and hopefully translate to a lot more wins."
5. August is still the key for Aaron Williams. He's optimistic, he's cleared, he clearly wants to play. Great news for Williams and a leaky Bills secondary. But the safety himself won't know if he can continue his career until the pads come on in August and he takes (and delivers) hits.
So heading into the draft, this is a major unknown. Even in signing Robert Blanton to a one-year deal, Buffalo will need to consider drafting a safety with Williams' future uncertain.
Williams wants to play. That much was clear in the press box on the road when he'd hit the table in frustration or shout in excitement through the course of games.
No, don't count out the Bills drafting a safety in the first or second round.
"They are going to take every precaution just like they should and I should," Williams said. "I am not going to push myself to the limit to where I feel like I am hurting and I should keep playing just because I feel like I need to be out there. If my body is not capable of being out there going 100 percent then even the slightest little injury, I am going to remove myself from the situation and then get evaluated and they feel like I am better and capable of going back out on the field, then I will go back out there."
Further, Williams admitted he returned too soon from his Week 2 neck injury. After more tingling, more numbness at Tennessee, he was done for the season. This offseason, Williams had his C4 and C5 vertebrae "shaved down" to give his nerves more room in his neck.
6. Rob Ryan is sleeping over at One Bills Drive. Really. Rex's twin brother sure is, well, all in.
"Some of the coaches, we got a coach that stays in his office, three times a week he is staying right here," Rex Ryan said. "I am like 'What are you doing? You don’t have a life outside of football. But my brother doesn’t. I don’t know what to tell you."
Rex has said he'd have Rob work with Preston Brown, who vowed to take charge of the defense in 2016.
He wasn't joking.
7. The team is standing by LeSean McCoy. The Bills' starting back was in attendance, though is still subject to NFL punishment following his involvement in a Philly nightclub incident. While the district attorney on the case did not press charges, the case is now being investigated by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office and, of course, commissioner Roger Goodell has the power to suspend McCoy either way.
Once he got past his hamstring injury last year, McCoy resembled the same dangerous back he was at his peak with the Eagles. He rushed for 112 yards in three different games and was a threat out of the backfield in earning a Pro Bowl nod.
Yet the bar brawl certainly is not a good look for the back. Ryan repeated that nobody is perfect and the team is with McCoy.
"I know there is not a perfect player," Ryan said, "there is not a perfect person and all that, including everybody in here. There are some that are better than others. ... This guy has done everything we have asked him to do as far as a player. His approach in this locker room, in here, he has been outstanding. Other things, I am not going to speak on somethings that happened, because guess what me, you, anybody in here don’t know the specifics of whatever and how we would have reacted also. I don’t know. But I can this, I am happy he is a Buffalo Bill, I am happy he is here. That is what I have to say about LeSean."