Bills' "No-Name" offense has top 10 objective
Receiver David Nelson can still recall the giddy times of last season, when he and the rest of the Buffalo Bills' collection of castoffs and journeymen began shedding their no-name label on offense.
For two months, the so-called ''Mis-Fitz'' - named after quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick - showed they could be one of the NFL's most productive offenses with a prolific spark in helping the Bills get off to a surprising 5-2 start. That was before injuries and inconsistencies caught up in a season that ended with a 6-10 thud.
With all of the key members returning, and being a year older and a whole lot healthier, Nelson doesn't see why the Bills can't go further this year in proving themselves over an entire 16-game season.
''That's what's exciting. Last year, we just kind of wanted everybody to know we were legit,'' Nelson said. ''Now that we've made that known, and people have to take account of who we are and what we're capable of, now we have to take that next step and be that dynamic offense.''
The first steps toward meeting that objective were taken over the past month during a series of voluntary and mandatory practices, which wrapped up on Thursday. The process will continue on July 26, when the Bills open training camp in Rochester for a team brimming with the expectation that it is on the cusp of being a contender and in a position to snap a 12-year playoff drought.
''Our team knows we can win. Our team knows we can play with the best teams in the league,'' Nelson said. ''It's just about going out and doing it.''
With much of the focus being placed on how much the Bills invested this offseason - signing defensive end Mario Williams and selecting cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the first round of the draft - to improve its defense, the significant strides made by the offense last year can't be overlooked.
It's a unit that got off to an eye-opening start in averaging 30 points and 380 yards over its first seven games. That's a stretch in which the Bills rallied from double-digit second-half deficits to beat Oakland and New England on consecutive weekends.
Despite an inability to sustain that momentum in losing eight of their final nine games, Buffalo's offense still produced 5,624 yards, the most by the Bills since 1992, and finished 14th in the NFL in yards, the best finish since Drew Bledsoe's first season in 2002.
Fitzpatrick considers a top 10 finish to be a legitimate goal.
And the quarterback, a former seventh-round draft pick out of Harvard, is putting much of the onus on himself to be better in entering his second year as the team's unquestioned starter.
''A lot of that is on me,'' said Fitzpatrick, whose production tailed off in finishing the season with 24 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. ''We know we have the talent, we know we have the system and the pieces. It's just a matter of going out there and being consistent.''
What provides him and his teammates confidence is that many of them should benefit from the continuity and familiarity of entering their third year in head coach Chan Gailey's offensive system.
Being healthy helps, too.
Running back Fred Jackson (broken leg), receiver Stevie Johnson (groin) are already back practicing, while center Eric Wood (knee surgery) is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.
They've added experienced depth, with Vince Young competing for the backup quarterback job. And they are counting on rookie second-round pick Cordy Glenn to take over at left tackle after losing Demetress Bell in free agency.
The only significant question mark is at the No. 2 receiver spot, which remains unfilled.
Gailey acknowledged the success his offense enjoyed through the first half of last season was important in establishing the expectations of what the players can be capable of this year.
''When you have done it, it's a lot easier to sell it,'' he said. ''I think there is a lot of confidence. I think our guys believe they can move the football and believe that they can score points.''
That doesn't mean his job is complete.
''Believing it and doing it are two separate things,'' Gailey said. ''You have got to go do it. But we are all on the same page that we believe we can go get that done.''