The countdown to training camp is on. It might not feel like it, but as of Tuesday, the Buffalo Bills will begin training camp in around two months.
The Bills still have one more week of Organized Team Activities and the three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June, but that's all that's separating them from the start of a brand new campaign. And with a new head coach and general manager, there have been wholesale changes up and down the roster.
As we begin to get closer to training camp, WKBW.com will take an enhanced look at the roster, and who you need to know about as we get closer to late July.
The first step, a position that will be critical to the success of the offense of the Bills in 2017... running back:
- The Buffalo Bills will be heavily relying on LeSean McCoy in 2017, and if he stays healthy, he could be in for a humongous year -- perhaps even one of the biggest of his career. Why? Well, it's the perfect storm. A brand new offensive system that needs the running game to be an efficient unit, a renewed duty to get running backs involved in the passing game, and because the Bills do not yet have a backup option that has proven themselves to be a dependable option to take carries away. Soon to be 29, McCoy still has one year to operate before his age will become a defining characteristic of him -- unfair or not. The league looks at the age of 30 as a steep cliff, but McCoy -- who really doesn't take a lot of big hits, could be a candidate to buck that trend when it gets here. However, in 2017, it's all forces go with LeSean McCoy as the top running back option -- and by a country mile, too.
Main Reserve... for now
- Really, Jonathan Williams is in this position by default. As compared to the other players on the roster at running back, the only one that the Bills might have any sort of loyalty to would be Williams, simply for the fact that he was a fifth-round pick of theirs in 2016. Other than that, this race is wide open to be LeSean McCoy's top backup. Coming from more of a power scheme both in college and with his one year in Buffalo, Williams will now need to prove that he can adapt to a zone blocking system and read the plays as they happen and have the vision and speed to cut it up the field to maximize the play. He's starting at square one, which could make this into a really interesting competition this summer.
The #Free Candidate
- As most of you know, I like to put certain players into the #Free program on Twitter from time to time. For example, #FreeRandellJohnson was a thing for a while. Essentially, these are the players that are young but either show promise during practices or have plus attributes that make them such a fascinating player to track. And, most importantly, because of the way the roster is set up, they have an opportunity to be #Freed. For the running backs, Cedric O'Neal gets the nod because of how good he has looked through both rookie minicamp and the first two weeks of OTAs. As running backs go, you have to take it with a grain of salt because they are running without any fear of getting hit by opponents. However, the reason why O'Neal has stood out is due to his vision in the zone blocking scheme early on, in addition to how he displays both quickness and explosiveness when he plants his foot in the ground. There is a long way to go, but I've liked what I've seen so far.
Joe Banyard, Jordan Johnson
- This could be one of the final opportunities that Joe Banyard gets in the NFL. He's only four months younger than LeSean McCoy and has never stuck with an NFL team to the point where he made an impact on offense. His best chance at this point might be to become a core special teams player for coordinator Danny Crossman. Jordan Johnson is a good story of a local guy trying to make it with his hometown NFL team, but the other guys on the roster have just seemed a bit quicker in decision making and with their first step. However, I must stress this: there is still a long way to go, and there is potential for a lot of depth chart mobility at this position in particular.
On the fullbacks
Patrick DiMarco, Mike Tolbert
- The Bills seem set here with both Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert, and the presence of Tolbert likely makes keeping more than three regular running backs a bit of a luxury. Tolbert can be a short-yardage back if need be, and also will likely chip in on special teams. DiMarco signed as a free agent and is likely safe to make it to the regular season in the lead fullback role. The only wildcard scenario is if the Bills want to try and recoup a compensatory draft pick or two in 2018 for Stephon Gilmore and Robert Woods, DiMarco is one of the only seven qualifying signed free agents that could help the Bills if they were to walk away from him. As it stands today, according to OverTheCap.com, the Bills would have to release three of those seven players before Week 10 of the NFL season to potentially get a pick back for Gilmore. You can read more on that here, at ESPN.com's excellent look at the Bills' compensatory pick situation.