Bills Looking Forward, With Playoff Drought Behind Them
ORCHARD PARK — The Buffalo Bills’ 17-year playoff drought is finally over, and Kyle Williams has no time to be sentimental.
The defensive tackle and unquestioned team leader is approaching his 13th season in Buffalo no differently than his previous 12, even though it’s Williams’ first coming off a playoff appearance.
Whatever memories of unbridled joy he had celebrating the moment with his children and teammates — including the picture of Williams and center Eric Wood posing arm in arm and shirtless — after a win at Miami, followed by Cincinnati eliminating Baltimore on a last-minute fourth-down touchdown pass on New Year’s Eve have been long packed away.
“I’m really good at compartmentalizing a lot of different things,” Williams said. “We’re preparing for this year. And really, last year was last year, and we really don’t talk about it.”
He doesn’t miss having to discuss the team’s playoff futility after Buffalo ended the longest active playoff drought in North America’s four major professional sports, and yet Williams understands there will always be some new concern to address.
“If it’s not a drought question, it’s another question,” he said. “It comes with the territory. It’s part of the deal.”
There are numerous questions, though Williams’ focus of looking ahead reflects that of the franchise’s approach under the second-year tandem of coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane.
The two spent the offseason continuing a major roster overhaul in a bid to rebuild through youth.
The Bills entered training camp with just 15 players with more than one season of experience in Buffalo.
The most significant change comes at quarterback, a position that has remained unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired following the 1996 season.
Third-year starter Tyrod Taylor was traded to Cleveland, and Beane pinned the team’s future on Josh Allen. Putting aside questions of Allen’s accuracy issues during his three seasons at Wyoming, Buffalo traded up five spots to choose him seventh overall — the highest spot in the draft order the Bills have ever selected a quarterback.
Now comes the question of when Allen might be ready to start.
Allen showed signs of being a strong-armed but raw rookie during his first three preseason appearances while failing to separate himself in a three-way quarterback competition rounded out by returning backup Nathan Peterman and free agent addition AJ McCarron.
McDermott has provided no hints regarding who his starter will be when Buffalo opens the regular season at Baltimore on Sept. 9.
Uncertainty at quarterback and the amount of roster turnover opens questions as to whether the Bills might take a step back a year after a 9-7 finish.
Beane refutes the notion of having lowered expectations in what might well be a transitional year in Buffalo.
“We’re trying to win harder now than we were a year ago,” Beane said. “We’ve set the standard, and if we drop down, we’re pointing back on ourselves. If anything, we’ve got to try to make it an even higher standard.”
Here are some things to know about the Bills.
Aside from Allen, the Bills are in a position to potentially have two other rookies earning regular playing time. First-round pick Tremaine Edmunds has already won the starting middle linebacker job. Third-round pick Harrison Phillips will be Williams’ primary backup at defensive tackle.
McDermott revealed how much of an emphasis he placed on improving the Bills’ culture upon his arrival last year. McDermott said he noticed how poor a number of the players’ habits were while reviewing tape of the team’s practices under his predecessor Rex Ryan.
“Culture’s always changing, it’s always growing, whether you like it or not,” he said. “And if you don’t manage it, it’ll grow up in the form of weeds.”
The one thing Williams appreciates about the Bills breaking their playoff drought was what it meant to the fans, who no longer have to be reminded about it.
“When they want to watch TV or watch the NFL, that’s not what they have to hear every time they turn it on. I think that’s the best thing for me,” Williams said. “For me, it doesn’t really land on my radar. But for them, I’m happy for that.”
The offensive line remains a concern in having to replace two key spots after Wood retired because of a career-ending neck injury and left guard Richie Incognito forced the Bills to release him. Ryan Groy is in the mix for both jobs. He’s competing with Russell Bodine at center and Vladimir Ducasse at left guard. The starters gave up five sacks for 39 yards in the first half against Cincinnati on Sunday.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The Bills face a daunting schedule in the opening two months. They play five of their first seven games on the road, before returning home to host AFC East rival New England for a Monday night game on Oct. 29.