If you can believe it, another Bills season is upon us. The most anticipated time of year is just days away, as Training Camp from St. John Fisher College in Rochester is set to open its doors. There are new faces everywhere, including at head coach, quarterback, receiver, safety, and cornerback.
This year also brings the excitement of new schemes, both offensively and defensively, that many feel better suit the personnel the Bills will be marching onto the field on Sundays. But what’s always stayed the same is the loyalty in the stands. What makes Bills’ Training Camp so unique is it’s only an hour or so away from Orchard Park. It’s an easy drive for those Buffalonians too eager to wait until the home preseason opener, but it also allows Bills fans from Rochester and central New York access to their favorite team they normally wouldn’t have during the season.
Much like every year at St. John Fisher, 2017 brings a new year of excitement and expectation. Whether you’ll be heading out to Training Camp or staying updated on social media, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with some new names, camp battles, and under-the-radar guys who might get a shot at making a name for themselves this season.
Key New Faces:
Hyde comes to the Bills as their prized offseason free agent addition. He brings a versatile skill set to a secondary starving for playmakers and sure tacklers. Hyde signed a 5-year deal worth just north of $30 million and will be replacing incumbent starter Aaron Williams, who was let go after suffering multiple head and neck injuries. To put in perspective just how versatile Hyde was last year for the Packers, Pro Football Reference listed him as playing CB, S, SS, and even DE.
Frasier stated Hyde is versatile, can cover TEs, RBs & has a lot of ball production. Matched up w a RB on the back side of this 3×1 form pic.twitter.com/ffSxMXvGtY
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) May 19, 2017
In Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme, Hyde will be a critical box defender, especially in nickel situations. He’ll be asked to match up against the league’s top tight ends, providing the team with a potential solution to their Gronk problem. Hyde saw his usage go up last season, but has been a mainstay on special teams for the Packers since his rookie season. Expect his usage to be at a career high this season in Buffalo.
The modern-day fullback has changed a lot since the Sam Gash, battering ram days. DiMarco fits the new mold of an athletic, do-it-all fullback who’s far more than just a blocker. DiMarco brings steady hands catching out of the backfield, adding three touchdowns over the past two seasons. If those numbers seem a little underwhelming, consider that DiMarco has only started in 16 games over the course of the past two seasons. After playing musical chairs with Jerome Felton and Glenn Gronkowski last season, the Bills prioritized finding a more modern day fit for Rick Dennison’s offense that can block, catch out of the backfield, move around pre-snap, and contribute on special teams. They found their man.
FS – Jordan Poyer
Poyer is an interesting addition for the Bills at safety. I think most Bills fans would agree there needed to be a major overhaul at the safety position with Aaron Williams gone and Corey Graham on the wrong side of 30. Poyer’s 2016 season was cut short in week six after he took a vicious blind side hit on special teams. He started all six games at FS for the Browns before injury and was a major contributor on special teams, as well. He comes into this season as the clear-cut favorite to start at FS week one.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) March 10, 2017
Maybe the most intriguing “new face” that will be in attendance this week at Training Camp is Gerald Hodges. Hodges is coming off a year in which he started 12 games (a career high) on a down San Francisco 49ers team in 2016. In a pretty underwhelming group at the linebacker position, Hodges stands out from an athleticism standpoint. He has a nose for the ball that I believe will land him on the field a lot in 2017.
Best Training Camp Battles:
RT – Dion Dawkins vs. Jordan Mills
The battle for right tackle is one of the most important camp battles to watch this year. After really tough season for Mills in 2016, he was resigned to compete for the starting spot in 2017, with a fresh start under a new coaching staff. That same coaching staff traded up to take Temple’s Dion Dawkins, who’s an ideal fit for Rick Dennison’s zone run scheme. Dawkins has the versatility to play guard or tackle on either the left or the right side. With Cordy Glenn returning from an offseason ankle injury to anchor the left side, Dawkins has a real opportunity to upend Mills as the starter on the right. Mills will undoubtedly get the upper hand early in camp, but it’ll be a position under heavy surveillance all camp long.
MLB – Reggie Ragland vs. Preston Brown
The battle between Ragland and Brown will be the most important camp battle on the defensive side of the ball. In Sean McDermott’s defense, the “Mike” linebacker plays a pivotal role not only aligning the defense, but also anchoring it against both the run and pass. Frankly, neither Ragland nor Brown offer the sort sideline-to-sideline athleticism to be the Luke Kuechly of this defense, but then again, nobody yet knows exactly what the Bills have in Reggie Ragland. We do know, however, what the Bills will likely have in Preston Brown at this point in his career. He has limited athleticism, and he can be exploited in 11 personnel, but he’s a responsible run defender and has been a vocal leader. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, but I have the feeling there will be a lot of situations in which both guys are on the field at the same time.
Gotta have him healthy-A breakdown of Reggie Ragland is definitely going to happen in the near future… pic.twitter.com/bc1aGqVJNw
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) May 7, 2017
RG – John Miller vs. Vladimir Ducasse
This was a battle that picked up steam towards the end of OTAs that took many by surprise. John Miller enjoyed a bit of a bounce back season in 2016, after an up-and-down rookie campaign due to a handful of injuries. Ducasse is a Ravens defector, playing for current Bills offensive line coach Juan Castillo last season. Due to that familiarity, I think Ducasse is getting a shot to push Miller, who’s entering his third season. Ultimately, I believe Miller beats out Ducasse, but it’ll be nice to have another solid depth guy up front.
Good to see him get some recognition | John Miller – https://t.co/udqIDI2W3d
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 21, 2017
Guys To Watch For:
P – Austin Rehkow
Really, I put a punter in the “guys to watch for” category. Rehkow enters into a sort of wide-open competition to handle punting duties for the Bills in 2017. Colton Schmidt returns after a season of up and down play. But it’s not necessarily his punting ability that makes Rehkow a favorite to make the roster. It’s his ability to kick field goals, as well. Bills fans need a feel-good camp story, and there’s nothing that can captivate the hearts of Bills fans like a good old fashioned punter duel.
DE – Jake Metz
Another candidate to be a fan favorite this year is Jake Metz. He’s had a hell of a ride on his way to Buffalo, spending a good part of his professional career playing in the Arena league and even in China. Metz is a large human being at 6’7, 265 pounds. The question remains, however, whether he can rush the passer against NFL linemen like he did against indoor players. His story makes him a fan favorite candidate, so keep an eye out for Jake Metz.
Davis is my favorite under-the-radar candidate for 2017. He’s got pure ability to rush the passer, recording 6.5 sacks in 2014 with Jacksonville. He’ll likely be the first sub in for Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes, but I could see an even larger role carved out for him as a mainstay on third downs. Watch for Davis early on to see if he’s as good as advertised.