PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams sensed a difference upon reporting for his 10th training camp.
The Bills have a new brash and outspoken coach in Rex Ryan, deep-pocketed new owners in Terry and Kim Pegula, and a roster stocked with high-priced additions which have combined to generate a buzz across western New York.
”I think you would have to be blind if you said you didn’t see it or feel it,” Williams said Wednesday. ”It does feel different. I’m excited about it.”
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For Williams, now is the time to start playing up to those expectations as one of the Bills’ most highly anticipated camps in nearly two decades is set to open in suburban Rochester on Friday.
”I feel like we’ve got a group that can do some special things,” the four-time Pro Bowl selection said. ”But I think hopefully (players) understand that there’s a lot of work to get done before we can realize any kind of potential we have.”
The Bills are coming off a 9-7 season, their best in a decade. And they have captured the imagination of a win-starved fan-base, which has set a franchise record by purchasing more than 58,000 season tickets.
What’s not lost on several veterans is how much the Bills still have to prove if they intend to turn around a team that’s not made the playoffs in 15 seasons – the NFL’s longest active drought.
”It’s awesome that fans are excited,” center Eric Wood said. ”But from our perspective, we’ve got a long way to go and we haven’t played a game yet.”
There are plenty enough concerns – particularly one at quarterback – to address over a six-week stretch before the Bills open the regular season hosting Indianapolis on Sept. 13.
The start of camp marks the resumption of a three-way quarterback competition involving EJ Manuel, who lost his starting job last season, and new additions, journeyman Matt Cassel and former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor.
Ryan hasn’t provided a timetable for when he intends to pick a starter, and has said the competition leading right up to the opener.
The offensive line is unsettled when it comes to coach and players. Offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was placed on indefinite paid leave two weeks ago for allegedly punching a boy and threatening to kill his family during an altercation in Florida. Kromer’s assistant, Kurt Anderson, will fill in at the start of camp.
The Bills and NFL are investigating what occurred, and the team hasn’t ruled out the potential of firing Kromer, who is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 12.
”We’re just going to try not to make it a distraction at all. Move forward,” Wood said. ”But as of right now, I don’t really know any more than you all do.”
No matter what happens, Wood doesn’t expect ”radical changes” to alter the philosophy Kromer put in place last spring.
The Bills haven’t stopped attempting to tinker with their line after releasing guard Chris Williams, who failed his physical on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, veteran free-agent tackle Gosder Cherilus visited with the Bills before leaving Buffalo to meet with other teams, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Bills haven’t announced the player’s visit.
The defense, which allowed the fourth-fewest yards last season, returns mostly intact.
The offense will feature numerous new wrinkles with a run-first approach being introduced by Ryan and new coordinator Greg Roman. The Bills acquired running back LeSean McCoy in a trade, and also added tight end Charles Clay, receiver Percy Harvin and fullback Jerome Felton.
The newcomers are being counted upon to provide a spark to an offense that ranked 26th in yards gained, and managed 1,482 yards rushing to set a franchise-low in a 16-game season.
Receiver Sammy Watkins is confident the offense can deliver.
”We’ve got to win now. We can’t win next year or the following year by saying we don’t have the team,” Watkins said. ”We have the players and the coaches. We’ve just got to put the work in.”
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