NFL 2016: Bills coming off distraction-filled offseason

BY foxsports • September 5, 2016

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) When explaining how well the Buffalo Bills handled a string of adversity this offseason, coach Rex Ryan couldn't resist acknowledging how much went wrong.

''We don't want to major in putting hurdles out there,'' Ryan said during training camp. ''But we seem to be doing a pretty good job of it right now.''

Troubles, the Bills encountered more than a few.

Injuries thinned Buffalo's already young group of linebackers when rookie second-round pick Reggie Ragland and backup IK Enemkpali sustained season-ending knee injuries over an eight-day stretch.

Suspensions became an issue.

Starting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus checked into a rehab facility, and will miss the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Second-year running back Karlos Williams, who reported to camp out of shape, faced the same suspension before he was cut three weeks ago.

Then, there was the surprise move made last Friday, when Buffalo released veteran linebacker Manny Lawson, who was initially pegged to start in place of injured rookie first-round pick Shaq Lawson. That job now goes to 10-year journeyman Lorenzo Alexander, who was signed to fill a special teams role in April.

It didn't help that Manny Lawson missed the first two weeks of training camp with a partially torn pectoral muscle, or that the league was investigating whether he violated the personal conduct policy.

This wasn't the type of news Ryan had in mind in June, when he suggested the Bills won the offseason.

Winning the regular season won't be easy, either, for a team seeking to snap a 16-year playoff drought. It's the NFL's longest active streak, and sixth-longest in league history.

Not all the news was bad. Receiver Sammy Watkins is confident his left foot is fully healed after having surgery in April to repair a stress fracture.

The most positive development occurred on Aug. 12, when quarterback Tyrod Taylor signed a six-year contract extension that included a $6 million raise negotiated into the final year of his contract this season.

Here are some things to look out for as the Bills open the season at Baltimore on Sept. 11:

TAYLOR MADE: Taylor has been more assertive on and off the field in accepting more of a leadership role a year after establishing himself as a first-time starter. He has also spent time working on making throws over the middle, something the 6-foot-1 player was hesitant to do last year.

Taylor has plenty to prove to earn his new contract. Buffalo has an opt-out clause in each of the first two years of the extension.

ON THE DEFENSIVE: Despite injuries and Dareus' suspension, Ryan insists his defense will be improved from last year, when it finished 19th in yards allowed and managed just 21 sacks - a franchise low for a 16-game season.

Ryan said on-field communication issues have been resolved, and players better understand their roles.

Ryan also shuffled his defensive staff by hiring twin brother, Rob (assistant head coach/defense), John Blake (defensive line) and former NFL star safety Ed Reed (assistant defensive backs).

MR. OCTOBERS?: The Bills will have to wait until at least October before their projected starting defense takes shape. Dareus won't be eligible to return until Oct. 9, when Buffalo travels to play at Los Angeles.

And then there's Shaq Lawson, who had surgery in May to repair a shoulder injury that nagged him at Clemson. He began working out individually two weeks ago. He opens the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and won't be eligible to begin practicing until after Week 6.

GROUND GAME: A year after being nagged by knee and hamstring injuries, LeSean McCoy is healthy and the offensive line returns intact. That's the good news for a running game that produced an NFL-leading 2,432 yards last season. What's missing is primary backup Williams, who had 517 yards rushing and scored nine TDs, including two receiving as a rookie.

The Bills signed veteran Reggie Bush who, as a result of injuries, has been limited to playing 29 games over the past three seasons. Mike Gillislee, a late-season addition last year, and rookie fifth-round pick Jonathan Williams round out the depth chart.

NEEDED REST: Ryan took a cautious approach in limiting practice and playing time of numerous starters to have them rested entering the season. Taylor was limited to playing just 35 snaps in three preseason games, and went 11 of 18 for 150 yards and a touchdown. Ryan noted one reason for his approach is the condensed schedule. Buffalo hosts the New York Jets in prime time on Sept. 15, four days after opening at Baltimore.


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