By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
Although we only had less than a quarter of a rather meaningless pre-season opener to see what the possibilities might be for the Bills of 2011, only the most jaded pessimist would not see some promise over this team we were looking at right about this time a year ago.
Marcell Dareus, in just a couple series, looked like the disruptive force up front the Bills have lacked since Bruce Smith left. He's not Bruce, but he doesn't have to be. He pushes people around, even when double-teamed, and unless something weird happens, will not be a candidate for the Bills First Round Bust Club.
Dareus will make others, specifically NT Kyle Williams, better because he will be the focus of attention for an opposing offense.
Add linebacker Shawne Merriman to the mix, and yes, I know it was only pre season, but Merriman gave us the message that he could be at least close to being healthy again, and when he's healthy, he's a force. He caused the pressure that created Dareus' sack and then picked up two himself in just a couple series.
Nix raised some eyebrows around the NFL by sticking with Merriman when Merriman didn't make it through five minutes of his first practice, but now there's no doubt others have noticed what is happening so far at least.
I also like the progress of Alex Carrington, who has bulked up and looks like a force as a defensive end who can also play as an outside linebacker, and nose tackle Torrell Troup, who will see plenty of playing time to spell Mike Williams.
Although Ryan Fitzpatrick's numbers, 7-9 for 44 yards in limited action, were not eye popping, he looked cool and collected, which we simply were not seeing this time a year ago from Trent Edwards. Fitz looked to be in command, and I really liked how they ran C.J. Spiller in a crossing pattern underneath. Spiller has to be more involved in the offense and clearly Gailey is trying to find ways to do that. Brad Smith also gave opposing defensive coordinators something to think about from the Wildcat formation, and I sense we'll be seeing more of that.
The Bills depth on the defensive line seems to be far ahead of the depth on the o-line. It's hard to fault Tyler Thigpen for going 1-5 for five yards, and based on o-line performance, young Levi Brown didn't look overwhelmed, showing a strong arm. He also telegraphed an interception downfield, but that was at a point in the game when he had to take some chances. But the Bears backups simply pushed the Bills backups all over the field.
The special teams need work, but this early I think Bruce DeHaven is working with many combinations and I wouldn't be all that concerned about a couple breakdowns on kick coverage. If they're still doing that by the final pre season game, then it becomes a concern.
Also, when is the last time you can remember a Bills team with only five penalties in a pre-season opener? That IS encouraging.
Switching gears, I didn't like the move of Lee Evans and hope he has a solid season in Baltimore. His lack of production over the past two seasons is, indeed, fact, and can't be ignored. But he has the great speed to stretch defenses, great hands, and can help the receivers around him be better by the threat he presents, not to mention that he was a classy individual for younger players to learn from about life both on and off the football field.
This, in my opinion, was not a move about money, as many perceive. GM Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey, at the very least, seem to be on the same page about how to turn this off course ship back in the right direction. They've obviously thought this out, looked at a lot of film, and made their decision. There is the perception that Evans should have been tougher over the middle and should have worked harder to get open, but I still think his pluses outweighed the minuses. He also looked very good in training camp and seemed poised to return to earlier form.
If Evans has an average year in Baltimore and Paul Hubbard, David Nelson and Marcus Easley become productive enough as #2's to Steve Johnson, and Donald Jones, Naaman Roosevelt and Roscoe Parrish are as good as Gailey thinks they are, the loss of Evans will be a moot point. If the gamble of bringing in former Chargers first rounder Buster Davis works, so much the better, although he was hardly impressive against the Bears.
Lots of football left, and lots of work to be done, but it does seem that based on one measly li'l pre-season game, the Bills are again headed in the right direction.