New-look Buffalo Bills seek to end losing ways
New general manager. New coach. New quarterback.
These are certainly not the same old Buffalo Bills after newly promoted team president Russ Brandon delivered on his New Year's Day vow to transform a team whose relevancy he described as ''tarnished.''
The familiar question is whether this latest fresh start will work any better than the many that preceded it. This is a Bills team, after all, that's not made the playoffs in 13 seasons - the NFL's longest active drought - and hasn't posted a winning finish since 2004.
The Bills are on their fifth GM (Doug Whaley) and coach (Doug Marrone) since 2001. And the team is counting on rookie EJ Manuel to fill a quarterback spot that's been mostly unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season.
The Bills offseason overhaul included a significant purge of a roster that features only nine players who were still on the team since 2009.
Five things to know as the Bills prepare to open camp this weekend in Pittsford, N.Y.
1. THE DOUG AND DOUG SHOW: Whaley spent the past three seasons in Buffalo groomed to replace Buddy Nix, who stepped down in May. It'll be on him to oversee a young roster and have input in a front office that still includes Jim Overdorf, who handles contract negotiations and has sway over salary cap-related decisions. Marrone takes over after Chan Gailey was fired, and comes to Buffalo after spending the past four seasons breathing new life into a losing Syracuse program. Having previously served as the Saints offensive coordinator under Sean Payton, Marrone is introducing an up-tempo approach to the Bills attack.
2. IS MANUEL AUTOMATIC? Manuel was the only quarterback selected in the first round of the draft. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, the Florida State product has the size and showed in spring practices that he has the arm to play at the NFL level. But Marrone has questioned whether Manuel is ''polished'' enough to win the starting job. The Bills hedged their bets before the draft by signing free agent Kevin Kolb, a six-year NFL veteran, to fill the role if the rookie's not ready. The two will spend training camp competing for the job.
3. NO WORD ON BYRD: Free safety Jairus Byrd remains a no-show. Though the Bills retained the two-time Pro Bowl player's rights by designating him their franchise player in March, Byrd has yet to accept the $6.9 million one-year offer. What's worse, the window of opportunity for the two sides to negotiate a long-term deal expired July 15. It's unclear when or if Byrd will accept the Bills' contract tender, though it's likely that he'll miss most if not all of training camp.
4. THE PETTINE EFFECT: Mike Pettine becomes the Bills third defensive coordinator in three seasons, and comes to Buffalo after spending the previous four seasons at the same position with the New York Jets. He inherits a high-priced, under-achieving Mario Williams-led unit that finished 22nd in the NFL in yards allowed and 26th in points. Williams, in the first year of a six-year, $100 million contract, led Buffalo with 10 1/2 sacks, but was ineffective through the first half of the season because of a wrist injury. The Bills have allowed an average 365 yards and 27 points per game over the past three years. Pettine established a reputation for having an aggressive approach to defense with the Jets under coach Rex Ryan, another defensive specialist.
5. YOUTH AT WR: Take away starter Stevie Johnson and veteran backup Brad Smith, and the remaining 10 receivers entering camp have a combined 53 catches for 1,532 yards and a touchdown in the NFL. The Bills invested heavily in adding youth to the group this offseason, drafting USC's Robert Woods and Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin in the second and third rounds. Then there's the addition of undrafted free agent Da'Rick Rogers, whose college career was slowed by off-the-field issues. The Bills are counting heavily on one of those players, particularly Woods, to step in and fill the No. 2 spot opposite Johnson.
Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org