This week I traded 5 questions with Brain from Buffalo Rumblings, our Buffalo Bills blog. Brian runs one of the best sites on the entire network. You can view his questions with my answers here. Here are the questions I asked him about his team:
Had it not been a joke, I'd be concerned about your sanity - I think it's pretty clear that Vick's tenure in the league is finished. But I digress; let's talk J.P. Losman.
Nobody knows for sure how good Losman really is. What we do know is that he has proven that he can at least be a playmaker (Losman to Evans was one of, if not the , most explosive deep combinations in 2006). We also know that he can take this team on a winning streak - the Bills started 3-6 last season, but surged to 7-7 before losing their last two to fall out of the playoff race. So there's a very good chance that he can excel at this level. The talent is certainly there.
The Bills have put the puzzle pieces in place. The O-Line has been upgraded, his skill positions are very versatile and he's locked in as the starter for the next year or two. What will make or break Losman is his ability to be a leader - if he can't be the headstrong, mature quarterback on a young football team and lead the Bills to victories, then he won't last long as our starter. But I have faith in the kid - he's a fun quarterback to watch, and he's got a great work ethic. I think he's ready to break out this year.
2. How has Marshawn Lynch looked so far?
Lynch is exceeding expectations right now. We knew coming in that he was versatile, quick, and a great receiver, but he's proving to be more than that in practices and the pre-season. The kid can pick up a blitz - something that Willis McGahee could never do. McGahee looked more like a matador than a blocker; Lynch, when he's got his assignment right, more closely resembles a brick wall in pass protection.
As good as Lynch is all-around, I've been attempting to caution Bills fans to temper their expectations - rookie running backs are very rarely saviors. Marshawn never carried a full rushing load in college (splitting time with J.J. Arrington and Justin Forsett), so it's unfair to think that he'll suddenly be a workhorse at the NFL level. But there's a very good chance that he'll bring large quantities of an element this offense desperately needs - playmaking. This kid has got a bright future.
3. Most NFL fans only know Lee Evans from their fantasy football leagues and couldn't pick him out of a line-up because of the lack of Bills coverage nationally. You get to watch him every week, is he a top 10 NFL receiver?
Short answer - no. Long answer - no, and I don't hold out much hope that he'll ever be recognized nationally as an elite NFL receiver. That's not close to being a knock on Lee - he is obviously the best player on a young offense and easily ranks amongst the top deep threats in the league. He has superb speed, a knack for big plays and has pretty unbelievable body control on the sidelines, where he's often walking tightropes on his longest touchdown receptions.
What keeps Evans out of the "elite" WR group - if only temporarily - is the fact that he's not yet an all-around receiver. He does not have much short-yardage presence, and believe it or not he often has trouble getting significant chunks of extra yardage on shorter receptions (though he became much more adept at this at the end of the '06 campaign). He's not a guy who can take over a game and dominate any type of cornerback - he's a system wideout, and that in my mind doesn't make him elite.
Lee Evans could be a Number One wideout for any NFL team. He very well could be a Pro Bowl wideout in the near future. But there will always be "sexier" wideouts from the national perspective.
4. Tell us about the best position battle that has been going on in Bills camp.
Probably the most heated battle in camp has come at one of the most boring positions in football - right guard. At one point there were three contenders for the last remaining starting spot on a revamped O-Line; now, with second-year man Brad Butler (a fifth-round pick last season) missing considerable time with injury, that list is down to two. Veteran Jason Whittle appears to be the leading candidate for the job at this time, but young Duke Preston - who started there for much of the '06 campaign - is giving him a run for his money.
I'm sure that the Buffalo Bills' right guard battle is boring Titans fans to tears, but it's pretty unbelievable just how important it is for the Bills to pick the right player to start at this position. The team went out and spent $75 million on the first day of free agency to sign Derrick Dockery (left guard) and Langston Walker (right tackle), so it's clear that the line was the point of emphasis for improvement this off-season. With Jason Peters (left tackle) and Melvin Fowler (center) also entrenched as starters, four-fifths of the Bills' line looks set - and talented to boot. But this line will not succeed unless the right player wins the right guard job. Whittle may be just the type of veteran presence the line needs to gel as quickly as possible, so my money is on him to win the job within the next week or two.
5. Can the Bills contend for a playoff spot this season?
Yes, they can - and if they do, they will do it in much the same fashion as they did last season. The Bills started the '06 campaign on a 2-5 streak in which the offense's growth was severely stunted and the defense continued to give up more big plays week by week. But then Losman got hot, the defense bent but didn't break and suddenly the Bills were 7-7 and vying for a playoff spot. If the team is going to do that in 2007, expect a similar pattern.
Ultimately, I don't think 2007 is the year the Bills will break their playoff-less streak. It's not often that teams as young as the Bills (who will likely have 3 of 22 starters age 30 or older) make the playoffs - especially ones with rookie middle linebackers, a questionable pass rush and a quarterback that still hasn't proven much at the NFL level. But it's undeniable that this is the most talented Bills team in years. I expect an 8-8 finish for this team, with the playoffs a much more realistic possibility in 2008.