Until their last series of the preseason, the Bills' first-string offense had done very little and there was consternation among the fan base regarding the viability of a unit led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw an NFL-high 23 interceptions a year ago.
Coach Chan Gailey, however, wasn't worried at all.
"Everybody else, I think, was a lot more worried than I was," Gailey said after Fitzpatrick directed an 11-play, 83-yard drive which he capped with a 4-yard touchdown pass to his No. 1 receiver, Stevie Johnson, in the preseason finale at Detroit.
"I think I had seen improvement and the little things getting better each week. I have a great deal of confidence in our offense about getting the job done. I do not put any expectations, numbers or goals out there. We just are trying to score one more point than the other team each week. I think our offense is on the right track."
For the preseason, the first unit produced three touchdowns and a field goal in 16 possessions, and there were stretches of complete futility. Still, Gailey fell back on the theory that he used barely a fraction of the playbook in the preseason, and when the Bills head to New York for their opener against the Jets, it will be a vastly different looking offense that takes the field at MetLife Stadium.
"We have a lot of confidence," said Fitzpatrick, who completed 26 of 48 passes (54.2 percent) for 247 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. "I think on offense we feel we are light years ahead of where we were in the past. We are looking forward to getting off to a fast start to the season."
That may be true, but while Fitzpatrick and some of the regulars may be comfortable with the system, the Bills have a couple issues they must work through early in the season. Rookie Cordy Glenn is the new starting left tackle as he won a competition with second-year pro Chris Hairston, and it will be a tall order for him to succeed right away. Of course, Hairston didn't have much of a chance because he wound up taking the bulk of his practice and game snaps at right tackle with starter Erik Pears nursing a groin injury most of the summer. Hairston would start against the Jets if Pears can't go, and his status remained unclear as the first regular-season work week got underway.
Also, the Bills' receiving corps has a lot to prove. Gailey kept only five receivers on the active roster, and one of those, Brad Smith, is actually considered the third-string quarterback who is now battling a groin injury. It was a curious move given all the four-wide sets Gailey likes to use. So among Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, rookie T.J. Graham and Smith, the Bills have to make it work.
--As usual, nothing went exactly as predicted when the Bills cut their roster to 53 players for the start of the regular season on Sunday at the New York Jets.
Only four wide receivers were kept despite the fact the team operates a spread attack. Four quarterbacks were kept because designated third quarterback Brad Smith suffered a groin injury in the team's final preseason game at Detroit. And for the first time in coach Chan Gailey's long coaching career, he kept two kickers as rookie John Potter performed too well to ignore.
All the moves come with a caveat, Gailey said.
"I think if you have been around (general manager) Buddy (Nix) and me long enough to know that nothing is ever set. We are always looking for different ways to improve our football team. I doubt what you see today will be what shows up next Sunday," Gailey said.
For now, Buffalo's receiving corps consists of starters Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones and backups David Nelson and T.J. Graham. But there are options, like splitting out running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller and using H-back Dorin Dickerson, whose 4.4 speed earned him a roster spot.
"We have enough to play," Gailey said confidently of his receiving depth.
Five receivers were cut, including third-year pro Marcus Easley who had a 100-yard kickoff return against the Lions and also caught a two-point conversion pass. Veterans Derek Hagan and Ruvell Martin also were let go but remain on Buffalo's radar screen.
At quarterback, the team had no choice but to retain Tyler Thigpen, who had a sketchy training camp. Smith, who plays quarterback, erceiver and is a kick returner, is the designated No. 3 quarterback but his injury will keep him out of the Jets opener. With Tarvaris Jackson, who joined the team in a trade early last week from Seattle, still getting up to speed, Thigpen was needed to provide some decent insurance behind Tyan Fitzpatrick for at least Week 1 of the NFL season.
"The injury to Brad (Smith), Tarvaris (Jackson) not being here but a short amount of time - all of that played into it," Gailey said. "You deal with what you are having to make a decision with at that time. A month from now it may be different but today that is where we are and where we need to be. I have a hard time going into a game without a third guy that can take a snap. We did not know if we would have Brad this week or not."
Five draft picks made the squad: cornerback Stephone Gilmore, left tackle Cordy Glenn, wide receiver Graham, linebacker Nigel Bradham and Potter. Right tackle Zebrie Sanders was placed on injured reserve and cornerback Ron Brooks is expected to follow. Roster cuts guard Mark Asper and linebacker Tank Carder would have been candidates for the practice squad, but Asper was claimed on waivers by the Vikings and Carder by Cleveland.
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