Your Buffalo Bills open the 2023 NFL season with training camp on Wednesday, July 26th. Thank goodness, as this has been one of the weirdest, least productive offseasons in recent memory – from a fan perspective. The team, on the other hand, has been hard at work building one of the best rosters in the league yet again. That said, the burden of expectation is far less weighty in 2023, as the Bills are not the presumptive Super Bowl favorite they were heading into 2022. What are some of the questions surrounding the team that has brought their championship odds all the way down to a lowly third-best? Let’s look at some of the biggest questions Bills fans are hoping to see answered in training camp.
What is Sean McDermott like as DC?
Right off the bat is one that won’t be answered in camp. We can guess based on his track record in Philadelphia and Carolina that McDermott will be a more aggressive defensive coordinator than Leslie Frazier, but while we might get hints at how that aggression will manifest in the regular season and playoffs in camp, there is no way the public portion of training camp will divulge all that the former Jim Johnson disciple has in store for offenses in 2023.
But what can we watch for in camp to get those hints?
- Pay attention to pressure packages when you see defensive line highlights.
- Were the LBs mugging the A gaps?
- Was Greg Rousseau ever at DT?
- Is there a highlight of a DB getting a sack on a blitz?
- Was the pre-snap look showing blitz? What type of blitz?
- Was there a simulated pressure (where the defense shows a blitz but only brings four from an atypical grouping)?
- Was it a creeper pressure (similar to simulated in bringing a mix of four DL/LB/DB but without the blitz look)?
The Panthers had years where they were in the league leaders of pressures generated and sacks. Bring it on.
Who Is the MLB?
This is the most unanswerable question of the offseason. After Tremaine Edmunds got a bag from Chicago, it left a 6’4″ 250lb hole in the middle of the Bills’ defense. The list of Edmunds’ possible replacements might surprise you, because it’s nobody. No one on the Bills’ roster has the same combination of size and athleticism to match what Edmunds brought with his pterodactyl profile. The Bills D will have to operate differently in 2023 because the skill set grouping available to them is different. Whether the answer is rookie Dorian Williams, second-year player Terrel Bernard, or veteran Tyrel Dodson, the way defense approaches stopping the pass in the middle of the field, covering RBs and TEs, who makes the defensive calls, communication with Matt Milano and others, run fits, blitz packages, and a number of other factors will change without Edmunds at the Mike.
How can we tell who has a leg up on this competition in camp?
Who each player is with on the field can indicate where they stand on the depth chart. When you catch clips of linebacker play, is Bernard rallying to a tackle with Milano? If yes, he at least spent that play with the defensive starters, the ones. Did Williams stop the RB while Kendal Vickers occupied the LG? That is likely a rep with a group that isn’t the ones. Who did Tyrel Dodson sack? Was it Josh Allen or Matt Barkley? Pay attention to who else is in the clip or highlight you’re watching to gain some insight into where that player ranks relative to his teammates fighting for that job.
Has Spencer Brown Advanced?
Spencer Brown is my most important question of the season. The Spencer Coaster was in full effect in 2022 with both jaw-dropping pancakes and mind-numbing misfires.
There were 159 players with at least 500 blocking snaps in 2022. Spencer Brown had the 11th highest blown block % in pass pro at 5.1% (bad) but was tied for the 24th lowest blown block % on run blocks at 1.1% (good)#Bills #BillsMafia #GoBills— Anthony Cover 1 (@Pro__Ant) May 16, 2023
All we are looking for from Brown is consistency, primarily reliability in pass blocking. He doesn’t need to become Trent Williams or Jason Peters, but the Bills do need him to develop better on-average results on a play-to-play basis. If you’ve followed Ant Prohaska this offseason, you’ve gotten a number of stats that describe the good and bad of Brown’s season, but there is still reason for optimism. We all know Brown’s small school story that offered him limited experience relative to his peers, but this was his first full, non-COVID, non-injury-hampered off-season, and the belief is that the opportunity for a full offseason with OL Coach Aaron Kromer might help Brown establish some fundamentals that raise his baseline. So, what can you watch for to get a sense of the impact of a full, healthy, off-season?
- How does he get beat? One of the primary concerns about Brown is that he gets beat in a number of ways: he doesn’t have a method or approach that he can fall back on. When you catch him on tape in camp, is getting beat outside and inside, by bull rushes and hand fighting to the outside, one-on-one, and stunts? Or does it seem like he’s only getting beat one particular way? Or, please dear sweet baby Jesus, does it seem he’s not getting beat very often at all, or you’re at least not noticing him that much, which is the offensive lineman’s holy grail?
- Does he look like a guy with a perfect athletic score? By now we all know about his perfect 10 RAS score, but there are times when he has looked more like a player limited by a back injury. Can he really drop his hips in his anchor? Can he move out quickly to match rushers going wide with speed? Is he too far over his toes or maintaining balance?
There are a number of other questions fans would like answers to from training camp 2023:
- Who is WR3?
- How does Dalton Kincaid look? How does he fit in the offense?
- What changes has Ken Dorsey cooked up?
- Will Kaiir Elam lock up CB2?
- Who is the main kick returner and punt returner after Nyhiem Hines’ injury?
Hopefully, we get positive, definitive answers from all of these and the Bills look ready to roll through the regular season and post-season, but we should all be prepared for some of them to go unanswered or to be answered in ways we could not have foreseen. No matter what, as you search for answers to your most pressing camp questions, the tactics for interpreting camp news included here will get you more input than the average fan.