Good morning, everyone. Hope the weekend is starting right for you all.
Here are three quick thoughts from a rough week for the Buffalo Bills.
Don't forget about Corbin Bryant. Can't recall ever hearing a general manager anoint three rookies Day 1 starters immediately after drafting them. But that's exactly what Doug Whaley did after taking Shaq Lawson No. 1, Reggie Ragland No. 2 and Adolphus Washington No. 3. Maybe he's proven right. Lawson, Ragland and Washington absolutely bring the mean temperament the Bills need. But after one bag drill, Lawson now needs surgery on his shoulder and may not be available until the mid-season. That means Manny Lawson will most likely step back in as the strong-side starter (after Rex Ryan just said how predictable the Bills were with Lawson at strong-side linebacker).
And, hey, let's not forget about Corbin Bryant, who had 45 tackles a year ago. He's been the definition of NFL resiliency. Banished by the Pittsburgh Steelers --- repeatedly --- Bryant found a way to stick in Buffalo coordinator to coordinator. Flashy, he's not. But Bryant is a smart, proven pro who isn't going to relinquish a starting spot up front quietly. He's flexible enough to play in 3-4 or 4-3 looks and is now playing on the low RFA tender. Motivation will not be a problem for the 28-year-old still fighting for respect in the league after his GM threw a little shade his way.
Bryant is an ideal spokesman for the defense too, understanding the need for players and coaches to work together to find a solution in 2016.
"Because it’s a team game,” Bryant said earlier this off-season. “It’s not just us players on the field. It’s the coaches, as well. If they’re calling something we’re not that comfortable with, then we’re not going to play it well. If they find the things we’re comfortable with, the things we do well, it bodes well for everybody in the organization.”
Who steps up at WR? With or without Sammy Watkins, the Bills need someone to emerge at wide receiver. Missing Watkins for any length of time could be a major blow to a Bills' offense that has Robert Woods and a host of unknowns behind him. Kolby Listenbee may provide an instant deep threat but will need to polish his overall game after running just four routes at TCU. They'll need one vet from a hodgepodge list of newcomers to emerge. Leonard Hankerson? Greg Little? Jarrett Boykin? Greg Salas? It'll be a very open competition this summer at St. John Fisher. All of the above have been cut loose by teams before and are fighting for their NFL lives now. Tuesday's open OTA to the media will be a good chance to see them all in action so we'll have more information then. A far, far, far too early guess here would be that Salas has a leg up. His combination of size (6-2, 210) and route running stood out in the regular-season finale. He seems to have the ability to play outside and inside.
Then again, Buffalo is also Salas' sixth team in six years.
Tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy will always factor into the passing game but Buffalo is in the strange position of needing one of these abandoned receivers to step up. The price of wide receivers in free agency was too high and the team decided to focus on the defense in the early rounds of the draft.
Can Tyrod rise up? This was about as bad a week in May as any NFL team can ask for. Shaq Lawson needs surgery. Sammy Watkins' foot surgery goes public. Dri Archer, claimed by the team, decides not to play for the team. It's all a hint at how an actual NFL season unfolds September to January. Nothing is ideal. Players are bound to get hurt --- Watkins again? LeSean McCoy? A lineman? Adversity is bound to strike. And Buffalo has a very, very tough schedule, too. So all the bad news this week is really just another sign that Buffalo will need quarterback Tyrod Taylor to rise above it all. If he's more playmaker than caretaker in 2016, these Bills absolutely can push for a playoff spot. If his 4.4 speed keeps defenses spinning on the run and he develops as a passer, the Bills could surprise. His dual-threat ability is a glimmer of hope through a week like this.
"I look at quarterbacks in three groups," Rich Gannon said back in our QB panel this off-season. "You’ve got the top 10 guys and a subdivision in that. … I think Tyrod is probably in that middle group. Where is he at in the middle group? Probably down toward the bottom. Let’s be honest: we haven’t seen enough of his body of work. There’s encouraging signs to suggest he could be trending. Is he going to be a perennial Pro Bowler? I don’t know.”
If he is, the the Bills can overcome the loss of a first-round pick and nagging injuries to a star wide receiver.
If not, if he's a middle-tier QB, it'll be a 17th straight year without the playoffs.