Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nothing in the mailbox

The Buffalo Bills have ended the public portion of their 2011 training camp at St. John Fisher outside of Rochester. They'll do their practicing in private now, away from the prying eyes of the public.

That seems appropriate. This is a team that seems to get more anonymous by the moment.

There's been plenty of excitement around many NFL teams in the past few weeks. The lockout came to an end, compressing an entire offseason into a week. Free agents were available, trades could be made, draft choices could be signed, etc. The possibilities seemed, well, if not endless, at least large in number.

But in Buffalo, much of the news seemed a bit discouraging. There were a couple of veteran starters from previous Buffalo teams who had become free agents. Donte Whitner was expected to depart, and he did for San Francisco. Meanwhile, linebacker Paul Posluszny opted to jump to Jacksonville for a big offer and a chance to play in a 4-3 defense.

Now, neither player is an all-pro. Whitner didn't seem to make many plays at safety; George Wilson seemed to find himself around the football more often in spot duty. Posluszny had a lot of tackles, although it's tough to say if that's a tribute to the lack of talent in front of him in the defensive line. Still, these are established NFL players.

On the incoming side, the Bills signed Tyler Thigpen to fill the backup quarterback role. He seems OK for that role, but he's not someone at the moment who might start a quarterback controversy. Brad Smith, a wide receiver/running back/quarterback, is an interesting player but probably is a complimentary part rather than a key ingredient.

During the course of camp, the news got odder. Buffalo's offensive line hasn't been very good in recent times. The team may have had little to lose, but Eric Wood moved over to center to replace Geoff Hangartner for the moment. That left Kraig Urbik as a starting guard, which was, um, surprising. And the other night Chad Reinhart starting taking snaps with the first team. That was a demotion for Andy Levitre, who had started most of the games for the last couple of years. Again, hmmm.

Then there was the surprising trade of Lee Evans to Baltimore for a measly fourth-round pick. A couple of years ago Evans was one of the few Bills on the lists of the 100 best players in the NFL. His numbers have dropped in the last couple of years. Was that due to decaying talent or the constant quarterback shuffling of the past few years? The Bills must have felt they wouldn't renew his contract in February, so they wanted to get something, anything for him now. Still, he was another veteran NFL player who had departed with nothing much of value coming this way in return.

Finally, there's the strange case of Aaron Maybin, who was the team's first-round draft choice two years ago. His playing time dropped off drastically as the months went by, to the point where he couldn't get on the gameday roster by the end of last season. Then, when told to bulk up in order to play linebacker at camp, he reported at 225 pounds. Maybin could be crushed at that weight by opposing 350-pound tackles. I'll miss him, though; he was an unfortunately easy target for jokes in The News' "Five Spot" column.

Last year, I wrote in a blog that the saddest part of the Bills' problems was that they just didn't seem to matter nationally. Yes, they had an NFL franchise, but it was filled with anonymous players and hadn't won consistently in years. I'm not willing to give up on the front office and coaching staff yet, but they still have some selling to do (in the form of better play) to convince me that relevance is around the corner.

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