I'll be honest with you. I always get excited about the start of training camp. Even in years when expectations were low for the Buffalo Bills, I would still look forward to the beginning of the workouts at St. John Fisher. Then I would spend a few weeks trying to convince myself the Bills would contend for a playoff spot. I don't need to trick my mind into thinking that this year and that is why everyone is excited for what is about to unfold in Pittsford beginning on Thursday.
There's more excitement surrounding this camp than any other in recent memory due to a number of reasons, not the least of which is the Brinks truck the Bills gave to Mario Williams last March. That isn't the only reason Bills fans are day dreaming about seeing the team in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and it certainly isn't the only story line to follow in camp.
There are plenty of stories I will be checking out as we cover camp and broadcast live from St. John Fisher over the next four weeks.
At the top of the my list(and probably all of yours) is the Bills debut of Mario Williams. The biggest impact addition on defense since Takeo Spikes will have plenty of eyes on him as we see how he is utilized by new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Buffalo's $100 million investment($50 million of which is guaranteed) needs to pay off immediately. I'm sure there will be plenty of #94 jerseys in and around the stands at St. John Fisher.
The prospect of Mario Williams on a line with Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson/Chris Kelsay should make opposing Offensive Coordinators lose sleep the week they prepare to face the Bills.
While on the subject of the line, I'll be keeping my eyes on the "other Williams." Kyle is coming back from Achilles surgery and a bone spurs injury that clearly limited his game last season. A Pro Bowler via the alternate route in 2009 and 2010, a return to full health will give the Bills a force in the middle. Make that two as he pairs with Dareus.
I'll be watching Mark Anderson because I need to know if I am underestimating that signing. Anderson had 10 sacks for New England last season and the combination of his burst and pass rush moves off the other edge could give the Bills tremendous balance along the front. The question is was that double digit sack total really who he is and was he playing well in a contract year? Anderson had 12 sacks as a rookie with Chicago in 2006 but then registered only 13 1/2 over the next four seasons with the Bears and Houston.
He isn't near the top of my list but I'll be checking in on Shawne Merriman too. However, if I get excited about what I see, I want you to stop me. Last year I predicted the defense would be "worlds better" in large part due to how Merriman looked in camp as well as the exhibition games. This tine around I'm going to expect nothing and will hopefully be pleasantly surprised.
If the defense is to be "worlds better" this season(I will claim that I was simply ahead of my time) it can't just be because of the play up front.
Second year linebacker Kelvin Sheppard will need to show he can make plays in the middle and handle the responsibilities given to him in this scheme by Wannstedt. The LSU product showed some ability last season and made nine starts while playing in mostly a two down role. The lack of off season OTA's and an injury during the first week of training camp that forced him to miss valuable practice time curtailed his development.
Lastly on defense, it will be interesting to monitor the development of the young cornerbacks. I think the Bills want Terrence McGee to be one of the starters but you can't bank on that given his injury history over the last few years. Factor in the off season release of veteran Drayton Florence and the inconsistencies of former first round pick Leodis Mckelvin, and the Bills starting tandem could be 2011 second round pick Aaron Williams and this year's first rounder, Stephon Gilmore.
Former CB Troy Vincent was a guest on our show last month and said cornerback is the second most difficult position for a young player to learn next to quarterback. A strong pass rush is a cornerback's best friend and that could make life much easier for Williams and Gilmore. They also have a pair of solid safeties to help them out in George Wilson and Jairus Byrd.
That's my camp plan for watching the defense. Tomorrow I will give you my thoughts on the offense.