It's a little more than a month until Camp McDermott gets underway.
The Buffalo Bills will report to St. John Fisher College in Pittsford for their first practice of training camp under coach Sean McDermott on July 27. Before they split for summer break, McDermott admitted that this six-week break worries him.
"It absolutely does. It’s a period of time where things tend to happen and that’s been brought up," he said. "We’ve discussed that as a team, so pray every night going to bed that as a family we do the right thing and the good Lord takes care of us. And the same thing with the players because I worry about them. I do care about them and we’re all a family here."
Here are the top five questions the team needs to answer between the family is back together again.
1. Can Marcell Dareus stay on the straight and narrow?
McDermott didn't specifically mention Dareus when talking about being worried about the team's break, but it's natural that his name immediately comes to mind. The Bills need their franchise defensive tackle to actually play like one in 2017. That starts with Dareus actually being available. He's one failed drug test away from a 10-game suspension after sitting out the first four games of 2016 for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. For a new coaching staff that has preached how important character is, it would look downright terrible if Dareus were to find his way into off-field trouble again.
2. Will Sammy Watkins be 100 percent when camp opens?
The Bills' No. 1 receiver took what looked to be a big step forward when he was able to sprinkle in a few team reps during spring practices. McDermott has consistently said the Bills will take it "day by day" with Watkins, so it's not likely that he'll see a full workload right when camp starts. What's important is that Watkins progresses to the point he's able to handle a starting role by Sept. 10 when the regular season starts. Part of that plan figures to be appearances in the second and third preseason games, at the least.
3. Where does Dion Dawkins fit best?
Because of an ankle injury to starter Cordy Glenn, Dawkins spent the entire spring at left tackle with the first unit. Most people expected him to line up on the opposite side in place of Jordan Mills when the Bills traded up for Dawkins to draft him in the second round. McDermott, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and offensive line coach Juan Castillo will need to evaluate where Dawkins fits best after seeing him in the spring, even if it wasn't in pads. Glenn is expected to be ready for training camp, so as long as that's the case, we should know right away where Dawkins best fits in the eyes of the coaching staff based on where he lines up.
4. Will Gary Barnidge lower his contract demands?
The Bills had the former Cleveland Browns tight end in for a visit as a free agent in the spring, but Barnidge left without a deal. He has remained on the open market. The 31-year-old told SiriusXM NFL radio he's being patient.
"I know I’m getting up in my years, which is fine, but I still have plenty of years to play," he said. “As long as I get the opportunity, I think teams will have no problem with that. They’ll see that I’m still ready, because the first seven years of my career, I never got an opportunity to start, so I didn’t have the wear and tear on my legs. I didn’t have any of that kind of stuff."
5. Is pursuing an extra compensatory draft pick in 2018 worth it?
As originally laid out by ESPN's Mike Rodak, the Bills could be in line to land a third-round compensatory draft pick for the loss of cornerback Stephon Gilmore to New England. In order for that to be the case, the team would have to cut three of the following players: Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, kicker Stephen Hauschka, defensive end Ryan Davis, guard Vlad Ducasse, fullback Patrick DiMarco and wide receiver Andre Holmes. Cut four and the team could get a third- and fourth-round pick for the losses of Gilmore and wide receiver Robert Woods.
Admittedly, this looks unlikely. DiMarco is the likely starting fullback, Hyde and Poyer are the projected starters at safety, Ducasse split first-team reps with John Miller at right guard and Andre Holmes got plenty of looks with the first unit in the spring. Hauschka, meanwhile, is an accomplished veteran kicker, while Davis is the only defensive end reserve with any experience.
Still, an third-round pick would be nice for a new front office. That should at least be a consideration when the final 53-man roster is chosen. New General Manager Brandon Beane needs to decide before camp whether pursuing that option is a strategy the team wants to take.