Pittsford, NY -- It's been a long and fun off-season for most fans of the Buffalo Bills, and on Thursday the off-season comes to a close as the team opens up with their first practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Ask any coach or player on this year's team, the expectations for the Bills are higher than they have been in recent memory. It leads to players like Fred Jackson to build up anticipation for training camp to get underway.
"I think this year might be the most excited I've been about it in a long time, just because my season being cut short last year," the running back said. "I've been looking forward to getting back out here. I'm excited about it, especially with all the buzz we've got going on. Everybody's behind us, fan base is behind us -- we want to go out and make some plays. I'm looking forward to getting back out here."
That buzz Jackson describes is palpable to most that follow the team. General Manager Buddy Nix said on Tuesday that now is the time to put up wins, players in the locker room have repeatedly used the 'p' word that has evaded the Bills for 12 seasons, and Chan Gailey knows it's on him to keep the ship on it's course.
"I think our mindset is where it needs to be," said the head coach. "But you can have mindsets, you can have attitude changes, you can have culture changes -- but until you do it on the field on Sundays, it doesn't count. We've got to go with the mindset and the attitude that we're going with, but we've got to make it produce in to victories on Sundays."
To open up camp, the Bills will have almost their entire roster participating in varying degrees.
Following a successful stretch of workouts in Organized Team Activities and at mini-camp, both Kyle Williams and Shawne Merriman will be a full go for practice on Thursday. During the team's conditioning workouts on Monday, Gailey concluded that both players looked well enough to warrant the thought that they're back to playing at a full-time level.
Williams had his season cut short with bone spurs in his foot, while Merriman continued to struggle with setbacks to his long-term Achilles tendon injury. Both injuries were corrected with a procedure after each were put on injured reserve.
Three other players coming off of surgery within the past year are getting closer as well.
"[Torell] Troup, [Eric] Wood, Terrence McGee all went through it and made it through and did pretty good," Gailey said of Wednesday's conditioning workout. "I think we'll be smart with all three of them. Troup's probably the furthest along of all three, but I thought all three of those guys looked good out here to start with."
The head coach also confirmed only one player would be missing practice on Thursday. Reserve tight end Mike Caussin, who was placed on the active/physically unable to perform list Wednesday, will not be participating.
The Bills made a minor roster move on Wednesday as well, signing undrafted free agent rookie defensive end Sean Ferguson to the active roster. Ferguson, 6-foot-3 and 248-pounds, is a product of Mississippi State where he had 101 tackles, 17 of which for loss. He participated in the team's rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis.
To make room for Ferguson, Buffalo released defensive end Lionel Dotson.
The Bills have a walk-through on Thursday morning which is closed to the public, then will take part in their first practice at 3 pm on the grass fields. The afternoon session is open to the public.