Bills seek to build off Josh Allen’s breakthrough season
BUFFALO BILLS (15-4)
CAMP SITE: Orchard Park, New York
LAST YEAR: Josh Allen’s breakout season propelled the Bills to their first AFC East title since 1995, and to their deepest playoff run in 27 years. Buffalo’s season ended with 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. The Bills’ defense sagged in losing to the Chiefs for a second time last year. Allen set numerous single-season team records, including yards passing (4,544 yards passing) and touchdowns passing (37). The third-year starter teamed with offseason addition Stefon Diggs, who became Buffalo’s first player to lead the NFL in yards receiving (1,535) and receptions (127).
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR Emmanuel Sanders, RB Matt Breida, TE Jacob Hollister, QB Mitchell Trubisky, P Matt Haack, DE Greg Rousseau (1st-round draft pick).
IMPORTANT LOSSES: WRs John Brown and Andre Roberts, DE Trent Murphy, DL Quinton Jefferson, S Dean Marlowe, CB Josh Norman, TE Tyler Kroft, QB Matt Barkley, RB T.J. Yeldon, OLs Ty Nsekhe and Brian Winters, P Corey Bojorquez.
CAMP NEEDS: Avoid the distraction of player vaccinations from carrying over from the spring, and with receiver Cole Beasley threatening to retire than receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Allen has previously said he wasn’t sure if he would get vaccinated, while safety Jordan Poyer’s wife, Rachel Bush, raised concern on social media any push to have players vaccinated could be divisive. GM Brandon Beane suggested he’d consider cutting an unvaccinated player if it meant the Bills could reach NFL minimums to ease restrictions for practices and meetings, before being informed by the NFL he could not do so. On the field, the Bills need to improve a defense which sagged for parts of last season, and had difficulty applying pressure. Veteran defensive tackle Star Lotulelei’s return should help after he opted out from playing last season due to COVID-19 reasons. Buffalo is also counting on Rousseau and second-round pick Carlos Basham to improve its pass rush.
KEY CAMP COMPETITIONS: The re-signing of gadget-play speedster Isaiah McKenzie leaves one — maybe two — receiver spots open behind Diggs, Beasley, Sanders and Gabriel Davis, who is coming off a strong rookie season. Among the candidates to fill out the roster are Isaiah Hodgins, who missed his entire rookie season with an injury; Jake Kumerow, whose one catch with Buffalo last year was for a TD; Duke Williams; and sixth-round pick Marquez Stevenson. Breida’s addition has the chance to cut into the playing time of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, who split the backfield duties last year. The draft additions of Rousseau and Basham, and Lotulelei’s return leaves fewer spots to fill along the defensive front.
EXPECTATIONS: The Bills are bona fide contenders, with little to suggest they’ll take a step back. They have a majority of offensive starters back, plus coordinator Brian Daboll, putting Buffalo in position to match and even build upon last year’s production. The question is whether the defense can shore up its inconsistencies to contain some of the NFL’s more dynamic offenses. We’ll get a better picture in back-to-back weeks in mid-October, when Buffalo plays Kansas City and Tennessee, who accounted for three of the Bills’ four losses last season. The schedule also features a December matchup against Buffalo’s former AFC East nemesis Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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