The Vikings take on Buffalo Friday night in Buffalo, and it will be the second pre-season game for both teams. The Bills aren't a team we play on a regular basis, so we thought it would be nice to find out a little bit about what's going on with them. Brian Galliford, one of the editors over at the SB Nation Bills site Buffalo Rumblings, was kind enough to answer our questions.
You can find my answers to his questions on BR right here. Thanks to Brian and the good folks at Buffalo Rumblings.
1. In one of your questions to me you paid the Vikings a nice compliment, saying they were the envy of the first round of the draft. I hate to be 'that guy', but the Bills were largely panned for drafting QB E.J. Manuel in the first round, as most 'experts' thought it was way too high and a reach. What was the overall feeling of Bills fans regarding Manuel, how has he looked so far, and will he win the starting job against Kevin Kolb?
Fun fact: never before in the history of the Buffalo Bills franchise had the team taken a quarterback with their top overall pick in any NFL Draft. (They hadn't taken a quarterback in the first round since J.P. Losman, either.) Bills fans craved a franchise-level investment in a quarterback, and that's exactly what they got in Manuel. There was some consternation early from fans that preferred a different quarterback prospect, but after catching a glimpse of Manuel's physical gifts this summer, that rhetoric has died down for the moment. Right now, Manuel has the lead on Kevin Kolb in the starting quarterback race, and unless he flops (or Kolb is lights out) over the next couple of weeks, the expectation is that Manuel will be leading the Bills into a Week 1 battle with New England. (Gulp.)
2. Doug who? The Bills have a new coach in Doug Marrone, who is looking to get the Bills over .500 for the first time since 2004. What are your thoughts on a guy that is largely an unknown quantity outside of upstate New York, and what is his coaching philosophy on offense and defense?
At his heart, Doug Marrone is a blue-collar, in-the-trenches coach - he was an offensive lineman in his playing days, and made his name as an offensive line coach with the Jets and Saints (where he also held the title of offensive coordinator). He then spent four years at Syracuse, his alma mater, taking a program that had gone 10-37 under its previous coach and turning them into a 25-25 outfit with two bowl wins in four years, producing NFL-caliber talent along the way (most notably Ryan Nassib and Justin Pugh, who are now both with the Giants). He's aggressive on offense and defense - Nathaniel Hackett is running an offense nearly as fast as Chip Kelly's, and Mike Pettine brings his multiple fronts and blitz-heavy philosophies from the Jets - and had the Bills looking well-coached in their preseason opener in Indianapolis. So far, so good - but, like every coach, he'll go as Manuel goes.
3. The Bills seemed to hit the free agent jackpot with the signing of DE Mario Williams last year, and although he had 10.5 sacks, Williams had a fairly anonymous season as the defense was largely disappointing, getting gashed on the ground all season. What did the Bills do to address the defense, and has it shown any results so far?
Pettine would be the big difference, as his scheme is different from departing coordinator Dave Wannstedt's in every way imaginable. They'll split time between five or six different fronts and personnel groupings, and the words "hybrid" and "versatile" have been worn out since January. Personnel-wise, there haven't been major changes - Manny Lawson will likely be the only starter that wasn't with the team in 2012, and we're still not sure when Jairus Byrd will show up - so for now, they're banking on getting the most out of the talent on hand.
4. Much like the Vikings, the Bills seem to have most of their offensive weapons in place, as C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson make a good RB tandem, and Steve Johnson is a legitimate #1 WR. But Johnson has had his controversial moments, and his antics seem to be a distraction for the team at times. Is he worth all the drama, or has the new coaching staff put him on notice at all?
You know, Stevie's antics are sort of overblown, I think. He's a bit of an eccentric personality, and once in a while he'll do something stupid that actually affects the team (celebration penalties, mostly), but on the whole he's a really unique, consistent and productive receiver that's a good dude and a family man. He's a bit of a self-promoter, but he seems to mature a little bit more each off-season - which is good, since he's now the veteran presence in the receiver room. In no way is he on notice with the new coaches; he's the clear-cut No. 1 guy, and that won't change for quite a while.
5. What are your biggest training camp battles going on right now, and who are the guys we should we be paying attention to at those positions Friday night?
The quarterback job is the big one; Kolb will be making his preseason debut on Friday, so it'll be the first time we get to see both he and Manuel in a game situation. A big game from rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin could sew up a fairly prominent offensive role for him, and he's already proven to be an electrifying returner. There's a battle going on at left guard, but let's be honest - Vikings fans aren't going to pay attention to Buffalo's left guards. Jerry Hughes and Jamie Blatnick are competing for a situational pass-rushing role, so they'll be more noticeable (ideally, anyway). We'll be paying close attention to the cornerback position, which has struggled mightily in camp. We're hoping that someone will step up there.