NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps over the next few weeks. Kim Jones details her visit with the Buffalo Bills. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)
WHERE IS NFL.COM?
The Pittsford, N.Y., campus of St. John Fisher College, alma mater of Buffalo Bills CEO Russ Brandon (more on him later), provides a picturesque setting for Bills camp. The newly installed grass field has been a big hit over the past week. The local community embraces the Bills, and the team loves it back.
1. Put it on Fitz. The team's fate in 2012 rests largely on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the quick-witted Harvard grad. "I don't feel a tremendous amount of pressure ..." he told NFL.com. But he might be the only one who doesn't. His teammates know two things: Fitzpatrick has to play well and they have to help him do so.
2. Super Mario has company up front. Prized free-agent acquisition Mario Williams anchors a defensive line that is expected to have a big impact. Like on every play.
3. There's Stevie ... and then what? Stevie Johnson is locked in, but the second starting receiver job remains open. Donald Jones, who was injured last year, is battling Marcus Easley and T.J. Graham for the spot. Easley, a physical specimen, could emerge as the best choice. He's a great story, battling back from a heart condition that sidelined him in 2011.
THE NEW GUYS
Stephon Gilmore: The 21-year-old rookie cornerback is mature and has impressed on the field with his even-keel approach. He's spent most of camp shadowing Johnson, who compares him to -- get this -- New York Jets star Darrelle Revis. "They're probably about the same speed, they have great balance, they can stay over (the) top, but Gilmore is taller," Johnson said, then smiled. "I don't want to say too much ..."
Mario Williams:Bills fans are grateful that the veteran defensive end chose Buffalo. They expressed that gratitude during a recent practice, at which they chanted his name. They'll like him even more if he impacts the team's pass rush as significantly as is expected. "If (someone else can) get (to the passer), cool. If I do, fine," he said. "But we're definitely going to be back there. That's our mentality."
"There's no doubt in my mind about it, we will contend. I wouldn't think we'd accept anything else. We expect to."
-- Buddy Nix, Bills general manager
- Kyle Williams says he's the best athlete on the team, and he just might have a point. He's a plus-one handicap in golf and a former champion swimmer who slammed home runs while taking batting practice with the Toronto Blue Jays. In center Eric Wood's words, "He's as strong as it gets at defensive tackle."
- Healthy and in great shape, Johnson has the season opener against the Jets on his mind. "I'm definitely thinking about Revis," he said, "because I know once we line up, he'll be on me the whole time."
- Veteran defensive back Bryan Scott is now listed at outside linebacker. Asked about making that unlikely transition, he laughed. "I think I'm the first player in history to go from corner to safety to linebacker," he said. "But I accept it with open arms."
- Brandon was inducted into the St. John Fisher Hall of Fame in 2004 for his accomplishments as a baseball player. He recently competed in a celebrity home run derby as part of the Class AAA All-Star Game, which was held in Buffalo, and finished second to New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, who is from the area. The defeat still doesn't sit well with Brandon. "I expected to win," Brandon said. "I really wanted to beat Gronk. And yes, he did wear a shirt," he added, referencing the attention-getting photo of Gronkowski that capped off his high-profile summer.
The Bills will be as good as Fitzpatrick, and he wouldn't argue with that. However, Buffalo also has a defense that should keep the team in games, give Fitzpatrick more opportunities and maybe even win a game. Or two.