The Buffalo Bills open training camp on July 27 at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York. Here's a closer look at the Bills' camp:
Top storyline: For the seventh time since the Bills last made the playoffs -- after the 1999 season --the franchise hit the reset button by firing bombastic coach Rex Ryan and replacing him with Sean McDermott. Formerly Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator, McDermott has brought a more meticulous and measured management style he hopes will begin to change the culture around the NFL's seventh-worst team (66-94) since 2007. Training camp will begin to reveal whether the Bills, who finished last season with a 7-9 record, have any hope of ending their 17-year playoff drought in a division that again projects to be dominated by the New England Patriots. As a first-year coach facing the NFL's fifth-hardest schedule, the odds are stacked against McDermott succeeding in the short term, but he refuses to use the word "rebuild" to describe the philosophy being embraced by him and new general manager Brandon Beane. "That's not it at all. It's about winning football games," McDermott said in June. "Our goals are to win now, because winning now helps you sustain success down the road."
QB depth chart: If McDermott and Beane want to win immediately, it will likely take a significant step forward this season from quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who enters his seventh NFL season and third as the Bills' starter. Taylor took a $10 million pay cut and slashed several years off his contract this offseason, making him a free agent after 2018 -- or next offseason if the Bills release him before a $6 million roster bonus is due in March and save $14 million of his $18.1 million cap number. McDermott and Beane have hesitated to label Taylor as their franchise quarterback, or even their starter this season. However, it is unlikely Taylor will face much competition from veteran No. 2 quarterback T.J. Yates or 2017 fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman, who projects to the No. 3 role. Cardale Jones, a 2016 fourth-round pick, looks to be in his final weeks with the team after seeing limited reps this spring.
Bubble watch: In making roster decisions in late August, McDermott and Beane must make a realistic determination of how much their team can compete this season. Their 90-man roster, which includes 40 returning players from last season, is thin enough that the Bills could use all veteran hands on deck. However, the Bills can help build for the future by making certain moves before the season. For example, releasing veteran center Eric Wood would save $4.5 million in cap space next offseason, when Wood's contract expires. Moreover, cutting three of the team's unrestricted free-agent signings from this spring would likely net the Bills a third-round compensatory pick in the 2018 draft.
That rookie could start: CB Tre'Davious White. The first-round pick, selected 27th overall in April, began spring practices by rotating with other players on the first team. He ended minicamp in June as arguably the team's top cornerback. White was impressive in all six practices watched by reporters, snagging two interceptions of Taylor and making countless other plays on the ball. After one of White's interceptions, on the final day of minicamp, McDermott told intended target Sammy Watkins, "He made a great play, huh? He [was] cheating." After losing No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a monster, $65 million deal to New England, the prospect of replacing him with the lower-cost White should bode well for McDermott's defensive rehab.
How much gas is left in LeSean McCoy's tank? For the past two seasons, the Bills have typically lived or died with McCoy. They are 8-2 in games in which he runs for 100 or more yards. When he has not played or not surpassed 100 yards rushing, Buffalo is 7-15. McCoy turned 29 this month, an age at which most running backs have begun to decline or start to slow down. In an interview with ESPN last month, McCoy insisted he hasn't reached that point. "I'm not done yet. I'm not done at all. I feel young still. I've been one of the best backs in the league since I got in the league. That hasn't changed," he said. "I’m still young. The way I play, you see people look at these numbers for running backs -- carries, and all that -- I play different. I set myself up for right now because I know with my style of play, I can play for a long time because I don't take many blows. You're not going to see me slow down." McCoy did not lack any explosiveness in spring practices, but it will bear watching how the Bills manage his workload in August. Only three active players -- Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte -- have more career rushing attempts than McCoy.
Is this the end of the road for Watkins? Whether it has been releasing 2014 second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, demoting 2015 third-round pick John Miller to the second-team at one point this spring or relegating Jones to a fourth-quarterback role, the Bills' new regime has shown little regard for the draft status of former general manager Doug Whaley's hand-picked players. That turn-the-page mentality is most evident with Watkins, for whom Whaley traded the 2014 No. 9 overall pick as well as first- and fourth-round picks in 2015 to select No. 4 overall in 2014. Prior to Beane's hiring in May, McDermott decided not to exercise Watkins' fifth-year option for 2018. That schedules Watkins for unrestricted free agency next March and puts the oft-injured wideout on the spot to stay healthy and perform. He recovered from January foot surgery to participate nearly fully by the last day of June minicamp. The next test is whether Watkins will be able to withstand the physical rigors of training camp.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Buffalo Bills' clubhouse page.