(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Bills and Chan Gailey have both been absent from the NFL playoffs for a long time. Almost exactly the same amount of time, actually.
The Bills' last playoff foray came on Jan. 8, 2000, when they were 22-16 losers to the Tennessee Titans in the "Music City Miracle" game. Gailey's most recent postseason contest as an NFL head coach came the next day, when he presided over the Cowboys' 27-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Wild Card matchup. Two days later, Jerry Jones fired Gailey, and it would take him 10 years to be handed an NFL head coach's headset again.
Beginning in 2010, Gailey and the Bills will be attempting to exorcise their decade-old demons together.
Unfortunately for both parties, the immediate prospects for success do not look exceptionally bright.
The 58-year-old Gailey was handed a roster with relatively little talent when compared with the Bills' free-spending AFC East brethren the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins. A quarterback picture that has been a virtual revolving door since Drew Bledsoe departed after the 2004 season is no clearer, with Trent Edwards (14-16 with a 77.9 passer rating in his career) looking at present like the winner of the "lesser of three evils" preseason battle also including Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm.
The offensive line is young and in flux, and the receiving corps consists of the steady Lee Evans and no one else you've heard of.
The defense is transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 without its most consistent player of the last decade, pass rusher Aaron Schobel, who retired.
Meanwhile, fans in Buffalo were hardly moved by the hiring of Gailey, who is admired by many for his qualifications as an offensive coordinator but does not have a proven track record as an NFL head coach. Their feelings on the current state of the Bills are perhaps best summed up by an August training camp exchange in which Gailey had a verbal confrontation with hecklers and instructed players not to sign autographs for fans seated in their section.
If Gailey really is this thin-skinned, then either the pressure or the bone- chilling winds blowing off of Lake Erie are bound to get him sooner rather than later. In what will almost undoubtedly be his last chance to prove his mettle as an NFL head coach, Gailey would be wise to project the positive air this young team is going to need to move forward.
As Gailey put it when he was hired in January, "I can't say anything to change anybody's mind. All I can do is go try to help us win football games. We win football games, everybody's minds will be changed, right?"
Only if you win enough of them, coach.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2010 edition of the Buffalo Bills, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2009 RECORD: 6-10 (4th, AFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 1999, lost to Tennessee, 22-16, in AFC Wild Card
COACH (RECORD): Chan Gailey (first season with Bills, 18-14 overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Curtis Modkins
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: George Edwards
OFFENSIVE STAR: C.J. Spiller, RB (1st Round, Clemson)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Jairus Byrd, S (45 tackles, 9 INT)
OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 16th rushing, 30th passing, 28th scoring
DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 30th rushing, 2nd passing, 16th scoring
KEY ADDITIONS: RB C.J. Spiller (1st Round, Clemson), RB/KR Chad Simpson (from Colts), WR Chad Jackson (from Broncos), TE J.P. Foschi (from Bengals), T Cornell Green (from Raiders), DE Alex Carrington (3rd Round, Arkansas State), NT Torell Troup (2nd Round, UCF), DL Dwan Edwards (from Ravens), LB Reggie Torbor (from Dolphins), LB Andra Davis (from Broncos)
KEY DEPARTURES: WR Terrell Owens (to Bengals), WR Josh Reed (to Chargers), TE Derek Fine (to Texans), T Jonathan Scott (to Steelers), T Brad Butler (retired), G Richie Incognito (to Dolphins), G Seth McKinney (not tendered), G Kendall Simmons (not tendered), DE Aaron Schobel (retired), DE Ryan Denney (not tendered), LB Chris Draft (to Redskins), LB Ashlee Palmer (released), LB Marcus Buggs (not tendered), LB Josh Stamer (not tendered), S Todd Johnson (not tendered)
QB: Gailey opened up the QB competition in training camp among Edwards, Fitzpatrick and Brohm, though it was the former third-round pick Edwards who seemed to have the edge all along. Two years after bursting on the scene with a strong performance as a rookie, Edwards (1169 passing yards, 6 TD, 7 INT) was in and out of the lineup in 2009 thanks, at least in part, to a frosty relationship with since-departed No. 1 wideout Terrell Owens. Owens preferred Fitzpatrick (1422 passing yards, 9 TD, 10 INT), who went 4-4 as the starter but posted just a 69.7 passer rating. Then there was Brohm (146 passing yards, 2 INT), the former Packers second-round pick who got the first start of his NFL career in a loss at the Falcons in Week 16 of last year. Don't be surprised to see each member of the trio get his turn in 2010, though Edwards - who must prove willing to take more chances down the field in order to succeed - is almost guaranteed to start the opener against the Dolphins.
RB: Hope for the Buffalo Bills in 2010 will wear uniform No. 21. The Bills used the No. 9 overall pick in the April draft on Clemson star C.J. Spiller, and the team is hopeful that the electrifying speedster offers more of a long-term return on investment that former first-round backs Marshawn Lynch (2007) and Willis McGahee (2003). Spiller's elevation to the top running back spot was effectively secured when Lynch and usual 2009 starter Fred Jackson were sidelined by injuries during training camp. Lynch (450 rushing yards, 2 TD, 28 receptions), who has fallen out of favor in a major way in Buffalo since making the Pro Bowl in 2008, has been the constant subject of trade chatter. He might be gone already if Jackson (1062 rushing yards, 46 receptions, 4 TD), an overachiever who notched his first 1,000-yard season a year ago, hadn't been troubled by a broken bone in his left hand suffered in the preseason. Once Jackson heals, Lynch could be history and kickoff return man Chad Simpson (102 rushing yards, 2 TD with the Colts) could be elevated to the No. 3 role. Trusty fullback Corey McIntyre (7 receptions) played in 15 games a year ago and will continue to open holes for Spiller and the backs.
WR/TE: While the Owens experiment was hardly a disaster for the Bills or for the player himself, the fact of the matter is that the mercurial wideout's presence didn't translate into any additional success for his team. With Owens now a Bengal, Evans (44 receptions, 7 TD) - who has never missed a game since entering the league in 2004 - will get his former No. 1 receiving role back. Evans put up his lowest catch and receiving yard (612) totals of his career last year, with the combination of a dire QB situation and the offensive focus on getting the ball into Owens' hands ranking as the main culprits in that descent. Evans should see plenty of double-teams in 2010, because the rest of the receiving corps is cheesecloth-thin. Steve Johnson (2 receptions) looks to have won a competition for the No. 2 wideout job that also included holdovers Roscoe Parrish (3 receptions), James Hardy (1 reception) and ex-Patriots washout Chad Jackson. Johnson has 12 career catches and must go a long way to prove he's a starter-worthy NFL receiver. There aren't a lot of great options at tight end either. Presumed starter Shawn Nelson (17 receptions, 1 TD) is suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL substance abuse policy, and holdover Derek Schouman (9 receptions) is likely to miss the start of the year with a knee injury. That leaves holdover Jonathan Stupar (6 receptions) and journeyman J.P. Foschi (27 receptions with the Bengals) looking like the best current bets at the position.
OL: Despite the focus on Edwards and the skill-position players, the 2010 Bills attack will likely go only as far as this highly suspect group takes it. It would be hard to find a less attractive pair of starting tackles than Demetrius Bell (left side) and Cornell Green (right side). Bell has shown promise since being drafted in the seventh round out of Northwestern State in 2008, but has played in just eight career games due to injury and remains a work in progress. Green was not appealing enough for an o-line-thin Raiders team to keep around after last season, a fairly telling indictment if there ever was one. The backups, Packers castoff Jamon Meredith and utility man Kirk Chambers, don't offer much of an upgrade. On the interior, left guard Andy Levitre and center Geoff Hangartner are good enough, but right guard (and 2009 first-round pick) Eric Wood missed the final six games of 2009 with a gruesome broken leg and figures to be less than 100 percent to start the year. Fifth-round draft pick Ed Wang (Virginia Tech) and free agent Cordaro Howard (who Gailey coached at Georgia Tech) should be able to provide some depth.
DL: The Bills' ability to successfully transition to a 3-4 should be made easier by what looks to be an underrated and somewhat deep trench group. Two holdovers, somewhat-light-but-high-energy nose tackle Kyle Williams (66 tackles, 4 sacks) and former Pro Bowl end Marcus Stroud (56 tackles, 2 sacks) will combine with Dwan Edwards (46 tackles, 1 sack with Baltimore), an unheralded but serviceable ex-Raven, to round out the starting three. Third- round draft choice Alex Carrington (Arkansas State) and veteran Spencer Johnson (43 tackles, 2 sacks) will be part of the rotation at end as well, and second- rounder Torell Troup (East Carolina) could be the future of the team at nose tackle. The big question surrounding this group could be what to do about former first-round pick John McCargo (11 tackles). McCargo has 2.5 sacks and one start in 39 NFL appearances since being taken 26th overall in 2006, and could be surplus to needs at this point.
LB: If new Buffalo defensive coordinator George Edwards is kept awake by any one question surrounding his unit, it is "who in the world is going to generate pressure?" No current member of the Bills had more than five sacks a year ago, and players switching from 4-3 ends to 3-4 outside linebackers don't often undergo an easy transition. Many eyes in that respect will be on 2010 first- rounder Aaron Maybin (16 tackles), who barely made a ripple during a rookie year kicked off with a lengthy contract holdout. Other OLB hopefuls are Chris Kelsay (62 tackles, 5 sacks), going into his eighth season as a Bill but not a perfect fit for the 3-4, and ex-Dolphin Reggie Torbor (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT with Miami), who battled injuries during the preseason. Chris Ellis (3 tackles), a 2008 third-round pick who has been on the field for only 10 games since entering the league, is another possibility. Things look a little more secure on the inside, where Paul Posluzsny (110 tackles, 3 INT, 1 sack) and Kawika Mitchell (27 tackles) both return, and ex- Brown and Bronco Andra Davis (92 tackles, 3.5 sacks with Denver) is capable as well. Also keep an eye on sixth-round draft pick Arthur Moats (James Madison), who as a defensive end won the 2009 Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in FCS and could be featured either inside or outside.
DB: There isn't an area of this team that comes more highly recommended the secondary, and that's handy, because this group is going to be asked to make a lot of plays in the presence of a questionable pass rush. Terrence McGee (48 tackles, 1 INT) is a first-rate NFL corner when healthy, ex-Charger Drayton Florence (60 tackles, 1 INT) had a nice first year in a Bills uniform last season, and projected backups Reggie Corner (65 tackles, 1 INT) and Leodis McKelvin (11 tackles) are both capable of stepping in when needed. The safety tandem of Jairus Byrd and Donte Whitner (57 tackles, 2 INT) could potentially be one of the top young duos in the league. Byrd, the son of former NFL defensive back Gill Byrd, burst on the scene with nine picks during his rookie year, including a stretch of five straight weeks with at least one interception. He could miss the start of the season following groin surgery, however. Whitner was limited to just 10 games due to injury last year, but looks to be healthy entering his fifth season in the league. Projected backups George Wilson (95 tackles, 4 INT, 2 sacks) and Bryan Scott (76 tackles, 2 sacks) are serviceable as well.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bills are in good shape in the kicking game, where Rian Lindell (28-33 FG) and Brian Moorman (46.6 avg.) are mainstays in an environment that is not always conducive to such consistent kicking efforts. The return situation is fluid. Spiller could be dazzling on punt returns but the team might not want to put its lead back and top offensive weapon in harm's way on special teams. Roscoe Parrish (5.5 avg.) or one of the other backup wideouts could ultimately be the answer there. On kickoffs, Chad Simpson (23.6 avg., 1 TD with Colts) might be the best option but Leodis McKelvin (24.2 avg.) is capable of breaking a big one as well. Garrison Sanborn enters his second year as the Buffalo long-snapper.
PROGNOSIS: With a starting quarterback who seems to have plateaued and a head coach who does not inspire confidence in fans, the buzz around the 2010 Buffalo Bills is going to remain near-flatline. Divorce yourself from the "they'll never win with Edwards and Gailey" talk, however, and you'll find elements of this team (running back, the secondary, special teams) that are of a high caliber and will have to be respected by opponents. Though they're highly unlikely to escape the AFC East cellar in 2010, don't be surprised if the Bills are a tough out on a weekly basis. Just keep those overall expectations low, because with a shaky group of QBs and wideouts, a weak o-line, and a defense transitioning to a new system, consistent winning is not going to be in the cards during Gailey's first year on the job.
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