This is the second of a series previewing each position on the Buffalo Bills before the July 26 start of training camp. The first position in the series was quarterback.
The one constant in the Buffalo Bills' offense since 2015 is that good things usually happen when LeSean McCoy has the ball in his hands.
He has, by far, been the best player on the roster the past three seasons. The problem is there haven't been enough other complementary difference-makers for McCoy's production to pay off much beyond helping the Bills lead the NFL in rushing in 2015 and '16, along with individual honors.
The Bills did end a 17-year playoff drought last season, but it had far less to do with their offense than it did with the Cincinnati Bengals' miraculous season-finale victory that nudged the Bills into a wild-card spot.
With Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, the Bills never put together a strong enough passing game to maximize McCoy's running and receiving. Whether that will change now that Taylor has been traded to the Cleveland Browns and someone else will be behind center remains to be seen. One plus, in McCoy's opinion, is the Bills' new offensive coordinator – McCoy's fourth in three seasons – is Brian Daboll.
"We're going to run the ball, for sure," the running back told reporters last week after a mandatory minicamp practice. "(Daboll’s) always trying to find ways to get the backs open space. The playmakers, he’s always trying to get them the ball. I’m excited."
Returnees: Travaris Cadet, FB Patrick DiMarco, LeSean McCoy, Marcus Murphy and Taiwan Jones.
Newcomers: Keith Ford (free agent), Chris Ivory (free agent) and FB Zach Olstad (free agent).
Departures: Mike Tolbert (free agent).
What the numbers say: The Bills ranked sixth in the NFL last season with 2,017 rushing yards. They were tied for 15th with 12 rushing touchdowns.
What to expect: As long as McCoy is healthy, the Bills might have a fighting chance to weather what could be a fluid situation at quarterback.
It's fair to anticipate that the Bills will do plenty of running to avoid putting a whole lot on a passing attack that is loaded with questions, beginning with the identity of the passer. Leaving the offensive fortunes to any of the three mostly/totally unproven quarterbacks on the roster – AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman or rookie Josh Allen – doesn't seem nearly as sound as squeezing as much as possible out of McCoy, whose exceptional pass-catching skills will be utilized in Daboll's New England Patriots-style scheme that features running backs as receivers.
What happens if injuries force McCoy to miss some or all of the season? Although he takes incredibly great care of himself, he does turn 30 on July 12. McCoy also missed four games in 2015 and one in 2016 due to injuries and was hurting at the end of last season.
The Bills' running game would figure to suffer, but the depth does appear to be better than it was last season. Tolbert, who had virtually nothing to offer in short-yardage/goal-line situations after being signed as a free agent from the Carolina Panthers, is gone. The powerful, 6-foot, 223-pound Ivory figures to be a significant upgrade.
He might not be able to replicate what he did with the New York Jets, when he was at the top of his game. But he is strong and explosive, and he looked noticeably quick through the hole during the non-contact offseason workouts that were open to the media.
"I’ve always been a fan of Ivory," McCoy said. "He’s one of those guys that runs extremely hard. I make jokes with him now that, this year for sure, I’m going to run a guy over, and he’s inspired me to do that. It’ll be fun working with him. ... Hopefully, (he doesn’t) take too many touchdowns from me."
Cadet suffered an ugly ankle injury in the Bills' Dec. 24 loss at New England (trainers were seen popping the ankle back into place). By all accounts, he not only has made a full recovery, but appeared to be moving with a good deal of open-field speed during offseason practices.
His reliable receiving could make him even more valuable in Daboll's offense than he was last season. Cadet also could be a factor as a kick-returner.