For years, there's been something in the water. Or maybe it's a case of pure rotten luck.
For whatever reason, the Bills have suffered an above average number of injuries over the past several years, a contributing factor to their playoff drought reaching an NFL-high 12 seasons. Not that anybody in professional football is sympathetic.
The good news for the Bills heading into training camp is that all of the key injured players from a year ago, when Buffalo placed 17 players on injured reserve, are expected to be ready when camp kicks off July 26 at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.
"Yes," said coach Chan Gailey when asked if he anticipates everyone being ready for training camp. "Now whether they can practice every day, it might be every other day to start with and then work them slowly in. But I expect them to be ready to go at camp."
The seven starters coming back from season-ending injuries were all able to get some quality work in during offseason organized team activities and minicamps. They are running back Fred Jackson (leg), wide receiver Donald Jones (ankle), center Eric Wood (ACL knee), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (foot), linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles), cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) and kicker Rian Lindell (shoulder).
"I feel good," said Merriman, the former San Diego All-Pro whose two years with the Bills have been hampered by the same leg issues that ended his time with the Chargers.
"Obviously (I was) out there every day. I know it's going to be a question for a long time but I've been working every day. I've been very happy being able to come every day during offseason workouts and through the OTAs and minicamp. I'm just going to keep working and keep progressing."
The Bills need the same thing to happen with all their key injured veterans.
Wood on offense and Williams on defense are the anchors of their respective lines and each is trying to come back from serious injuries. How well they bounce back will be a closely watched story. Buffalo's depth and talent level just isn't good enough to not have Wood and Williams bounce back 100 percent.
There is depth behind Jackson (C.J. Spiller) and Jones (rookie T.J. Graham among others). The same goes for McGee, with Leodis McKelvin and Aaron Williams capable of stepping in at one of the starting corner spots. Rookie first-round pick Stephon Gilmore will be given the opportunity to start at the other spot.
Lindell, one of Buffalo's top two kickers ever, is fully recovered and was retained with a four-year, $11-million deal.
Meanwhile, No. 1 wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who had offseason groin surgery, also is expected to be ready for camp. He was able to partake in minicamp on a limited basis. Johnson played all last year with a nagging groin issue and still managed to catch 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns.
"It popped in training camp and for a week I was just feeling like 'Dang, is this serious? I have never felt anything like this before,'" said Johnson, who signed a five-year, $36-million contract to remain a Bill. "I ended up going into the season and I was already two or three weeks into the groin injury. During the season I was really (plagued by the groin), I was just getting work done. Right now I think all it is going to take is about a week and then I'll be back to what I usually do."
As a team, the Bills are feeling well prepared and confident, infused by the additions of free-agent defenders Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, backup quarterback Vince Young, a promising draft class, the promotion of Dave Wannstedt to defensive coordinator and a full offseason of work as a team.
Last year, the labor lockout prevented teams from gaining much traction heading into the season.
"It was a little bit frustrating at times just because you are going in with a lot of unknowns," said Gailey of what last year, his second in Buffalo, was like. "It was not like we had everything in place going into it. We had a few things in place but not a lot of things in place. We needed the work. We were a team in transition, in progress and we needed the work and did not get it. (So) I think we are ahead. I do not know how much quantum is - I am from south Georgia (laughing) - but we are ahead for sure."
--Being it voluntary organized team activities or mandatory minicamps for rookies or veterans, there is a certain amount of grumbling that goes on among players and coaches. The NFL regular season is long enough and offseason down time is precious.
But take football out of the offseason equation completely and it's clear how much is lost. That was the case last year during the NFL's shutdown over labor issues, and teams like the Bills are making up for lost time.
"We've learned a ton about individual players over the last few weeks," said coach Chan Gailey before the start of a three-day minicamp for his team that added to that knowledge. "We've been able to install a lot of our offense, defense and special teams so we've gotten a ton out of this. It's certainly a lot better than last year's offseason work."
Minicamp ended June 21. The Bills will convene again as a full team on July 26 at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.
This is a critical year for Gailey, who enters year three with the Bills, a year where owners and general managers expect to be watching a playoff team. With 4-12 and 6-10 seasons under Gailey, Buffalo's playoff drought is an NFL-worst 12 seasons.
Gailey's previous stint as an NFL head coach (Dallas 1998 and '99) wasn't this daunting. Those much more talented Cowboys teams were 10-6 and 8-8 and made the post-season both of Gailey's years.
With an offense returning almost intact and a defense bolstered by the additions of high-priced defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, expectations are soaring in Western New York.
"You want expectations to rise," Gailey said. "When I came in here I said, 'We want to expect to win, not hope to win.' I want expectations to be high not only from without but from within and they are. I think that we understand it. I think we have a mature enough team to understand where we are. Yes, there are expectations and yes everybody's excited. But we haven't proven anything yet and we've got to go out on the field and prove it then. We've got a long way until we get to that point."
That's why Gailey and his staff have put great emphasis on this offseason of work. Practices have been very productive in terms of installation, particularly on defense where new coordinator Dave Wannstedt will be playing a 4-3 look. The Bills were a base 3-4 last year when they allowed a club-record 5,938 yards.
"The walk-through meetings that we had prior to OTAs gave us a chance to get a little bit of a jumpstart with it," Wannstedt said. "The coaches on defense have done a great job. We've spent a lot of time obviously going through this and the players have been outstanding and responsive to what we're doing. And we're not taking it too fast, obviously taking it probably at a little slower pace. I think at this point where we're at that's the best way to approach this thing. We've got competition. It's tough really to talk much about it because of the pads and we're not banging or doing any of that. When we get the pads on at training camp it's obvious that we've got good speed on defense and the completion (of plays) is a lot better on defense."
Despite not hitting, defensive end Shawne Merriman can sense progress.
"I think we're gelling a lot more," he said. "Guys are understanding more of their responsibilities, where we have to be and where we have to get to. And that's happening a lot faster for us now. It's been fun because a lot of us haven't played together yet; me, Mark, and Mario. We haven't really had a chance to play with each other and also in the different schemes. It's happened pretty fast."
On the offensive side, most of the players have played together. Still, there is work to be done for a unit that struggled the second half of last year.
"I think consistency happens in the offseason when we are out here with the 10 OTA sessions and the minicamp, being able to build on what we did last year," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "Me as a quarterback, I cannot have enough practice. To get out there against a live defense, especially our guys, the No. 1 (unit) defense out there flying around and getting a look versus them. It is good competition. That is something that I cannot get enough of."
Gailey was most pleased that attendance at voluntary sessions was near 100 percent.
"I think they have a mindset of wanting to be a championship football team and you can't be a championship football team unless you take the proper steps to get there and this is one of the proper steps for everybody to be here," he said. "When you have your great players showing up all the time it gives you a chance to be a successful football team."
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