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Vic Carucci’s Bills Mailbag: No evidence that front office isn’t backing Rex

You’ve got Bills questions that you’ve submitted to me via Twitter @viccarucci.

I’ve got answers:

@Manseeknee: Rex doesn’t think the bldg has full buy in. Marrone had problems with biz people in the bldg. Is there a bigger issue here?

VC: Gee, when you put it that way, you make me wonder …

But, in all seriousness, I don’t think there’s anything really deep to Rex Ryan telling MMQB last week that he questions whether everyone at One Bills Drive – beyond players and his coaching staff – is 100-percent aboard with his program. In making that comment, Rex referenced not knowing everyone on the business side of the Bills’ operation, but that’s fairly typical with coaches in the NFL.

I spoke with Jenny Vrentas, who conducted the MMQB interview with Rex and Rob Ryan, and she didn’t think he was trying to send any sort of subtle message that there was division between him and team President Russ Brandon, who oversees all of the club’s business dealings.

Brandon and General Manager Doug Whaley were the ones who led the Pegulas to Ryan. Brandon sold the owners on the immediate box-office value, and that was true with last year’s amazing sale of 60,000 season tickets during a then-15-year playoff drought. Whaley liked Ryan’s reputation of generally staying out of the way of player-personnel matters, although this year’s draft clearly had his fingerprints all over it.

Otherwise, I don’t know who in the building would be giving off that much of a vibe of not buying in. The Bills are spending as freely as at any point in their history and pretty much give Ryan whatever he wants – including the permission to introduce a presidential candidate at his rally.

@TimtheCommish: How much do you think they knew about Shaq’s injury? How does “off the bus day 1 starter” go to out for up to 1/2 season?

VC: I’m positive the Bills’ medical staff was every bit as aware of Shaq Lawson’s damaged shoulder as any of its counterparts in the NFL. And that includes the ones working for the teams that took him off of their draft boards. I’m positive Whaley and Ryan and the Pegulas were fully briefed that surgery was forthcoming either immediately after the draft or during or after his rookie season.

This was a case of making a pure value judgment that simply getting the player was more important than any risk associated with being without him for part of the season. I think the Bills were hoping against hope that Lawson would push through this year as best as possible, but at some point during rookie minicamp, he came to the realization that what he was able to do successfully in college just might not work as well in the NFL.

He saw the operation as being better for his chances of living up to lofty expectations. The Bills had no choice but to go along with his wishes.

Once Lawson fully recovers from the surgery and is operating with two healthy shoulders – something he didn’t have while establishing himself as one of the more dynamic edge rushers in college football – Ryan believes he’ll have a critical piece that was missing from his defense in 2015.

Now, if things go sideways, especially on defense, during the time Lawson is missing, there will justifiably be questions raised about the wisdom of the gamble. On the other hand, if he’s able to play in the second half of the season and make a significant impact (or even show the promise of great things to come), the reaction will be different.

@ConnorManley202: Is Felton in danger of losing his roster spot this training camp?

VC: I would think Jerome Felton could be pushed by Glenn Gronkowski, the undrafted free-agent fullback from Western New York.

With a cap hit of $2.3 million, Felton will need to be exceptional to stick. And Gronkowski will need to consistently turn heads at fullback and special teams to have a shot at knocking Felton off the roster. Tall order.

@williamkevin24: LY Rex struggled w/ play reviews, timely play calls, defensive strategy, team penalty discipline, substitutions, can u fix n 1yr

VC: Yes.

Granted, that’s a laundry list of issues, but they can all be solved as long as he has the right kind of support from his staff and takes advantage of it.

His twin brother, Rob, is going to be an important part of the equation. Rex is counting on him to provide the more diligent research and instruction that was largely missing last year.

The game-day operation needs to become much tighter. Rex has to be able to trust someone whose primary duties are to assist him with clock management and review decisions. That is becoming a role that coaches throughout the NFL are increasingly identifying as vital to their staffs.

@JCMcVitty: With all the positivity surrounding new ownership and the Bills staying in Buffalo, why is buffmedia hellbent on negativity?

VC: I think you’re assuming waaaay too much with that observation.

There isn’t any “hellbent” effort on the part of yours truly or anyone else in the media to be negative. And I would be equally concerned if you were praising what you perceived as a “hellbent” effort to provide positive coverage. Believe it or not, this stuff really does go both ways.

Ownership’s decision to keep the Bills in Buffalo shouldn’t be a factor in what is written or said about them or the Sabres or any other property the Pegulas own. When teams do more losing than winning, that is going to naturally lead to more negative content from The Buffalo News and other outlets, locally and nationally.

I covered the dumpster fire/train wreck/heaping pile of ugliness/utter humiliation that was the Bills’ 2-14 seasons in 1984 and 1985. I assure you the vast majority of what I and others – such as the late, great Larry Felser – had to say in The News was overwhelmingly critical.

At no point did we establish any sort of game plan or agenda of negativity. We simply wrote it as we saw it, just as we do now. And we never considered that too much criticism was somehow a slap in the face of then-owner Ralph Wilson for keeping the team in Buffalo.

Such factors don’t and can’t influence what we do. If the day ever comes when they do, then I will be the first to urge you to complain. Loudly!

@lophus89: would you have taken the Cowboys’ reported offer of a 2nd & 3rd for the pick that became Shaq Lawson?

VC: No. I felt all along that edge rusher was clearly the No. 1 need, and I didn’t feel confident that a potentially great one would be found later than the 19th overall choice.

@larcraft: Will Duke Williams make the cut?

VC: Could be tough. Ryan did go out of his way to praise him after the Bills’ second OTA practice, but Williams is going to have to keep his mistakes – which have tended to happen too frequently in games – to an absolute minimum.

Keep an eye on free agent Robert Blanton, who looked impressive during the OTA session.

@Tomlenahan111: Do you think Ed Reed will make a huge difference for the defense?

VC: I do. Not only should he do plenty to help elevate the performance of the secondary, but he commands so much respect for his Hall-of-Fame-bound playing career, players at other positions – such as outside linebacker Jerry Hughes – seem to genuinely appreciate his presence.

@bonesj0nes: Why u such a hater?

VC: Hater? You must have me confused with someone else. I’m all about the love.

In fact, my wife and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary Sunday. She still loves (or, at least, tolerates) me, I think.