Since I have yet to see the game and only had a chance to listen to roughly 15 minutes of it (I was at work all night), I can’t really comment on much of that at the moment. I’ll be watching a recording of it all on Monday and you’ll be able to read my thoughts and impressions shortly after. Just checking in to chime in on a few things before that all happens, though.
– LEE EVANS
The trade heard ’round the league, apparently. I truly didn’t imagine this deal would have such an outburst – it seems everyone, fan or not, has an opinion on the trade to dole out and I’m already sick of hearing it all. First off, the swap – Bills sent their former first round pick (2004) to Baltimore in exchange for their 4th round pick in the 2012 draft, and that’s it. The compensation alone has a lot of fans up in arms, but you have to look at things realistically. In all of Lee’s years in Buffalo, his fault or not, he only had two 1,000 plus yard campaigns. He’s thirty years old and racked up a walloping 37 catches in 2010, and next year will be a contract year for him – where, (now this is where it gets tricky, stay with me here) he’ll be 31 years old. 31 is not a sexy age for a speed receiver, a one-dimensional speed receiver. Don’t get me wrong, Lee, at one point, was one of the best route runners in the league. He’s simply not anymore and has degraded into nothing short of a deep target.. who doesn’t catch deep passes. He had one of the higher drop percentages per targets amongst starting wideouts in the league last year, which may factor into why quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick NEVER threw him the ball. The team seems serious about this whole Fitzpatrick-running-the-offense thing, so why hand out the big money to an older guy (in football years) with little – very little – impact and camaraderie with the starting quarterback when you have a full stable of capable near unheard-ofs waiting behind him? I understand he was a good guy, he was a popular figure in the locker room and among fans, but this is a business and business decisions aren’t always light and fluffy and appealing to the hearts and minds. Nix wants to build a winner. He knows that isn’t viable in 2011, and he’d have been silly to wait through two more, possibly, miserable years of Evans on the decline while the youngsters behind him move on to bigger and better. Thus, move him now – the team has been drafting well since the new regime arrived, and the fourth rounder coming back in return could be used in a couple of ways – whether it be to simply snag a player they covet or to trade for another piece to the puzzle. Buffalo is no longer ‘re-building’ mode, but are in the process of building a winner. That said, receivers with legitimate stats have been getting moved for the past couple of years for peanuts – Moss for a 4th, Holmes for a 5th, et cetera. The folks clamoring for the necessity of bringing back a quality starter or higher pick were delusional, though it would have been nice. I wish him the best of luck with the Ravens, and I think with weapons all over the field and (with all due respect to Fitzpatrick) a phenomenal quarterback in Joe Flacco, he’ll enjoy a couple of solid, productive years with a team that has a shot at going deep in the playoffs annually.
– WHO’S REPLACING LEE?
Obviously, for the first Evansless outing of the past seven years, the team went with second year undrafted free agent Donald Jones of Youngstown State to try to fill the void opposite Stevie Johnson. Jones was, in his 16 plays on the field (equal to the rest of the offensive starters), widely invisible. He had a blatant pass interference call against him that he stupidly tried to dispute, but other than that was nonexistent. Still, it’s preseason, it’s limited time, it’s early, yadda yadda yadda. Things I haven’t liked about Jones before, though, like his tendency to catch with his body and not his hands, still prevail. You can’t do that as a starting wideout in the NFL. He’s still young, and he’s still raw. He’ll learn. The other option that a lot of fans have been vying for, and will likely see some time this pre-season on the outside, is fellow second year UDFA David Nelson. Nelson has much better hands and instincts, and had a lot more opportunities and playing time last year. The thing with David, though, is that the team likes him out of the slot – a lot. He lined up inside on almost every play he was in on during his rookie year. He doesn’t have the proper speed needed to traverse the sidelines, and a speedy guy is what Johnson needs to complement him. Speaking of speed – we still have Roscoe Parrish. Parrish is currently banged up, but should be back to practice soon, and he’s my target to win the number two job. When he played on the outside last year, he was good. Gailey knew how to utilize him and he made the most of his time out there before getting hurt and making way for Johnson to have his breakout year. I’d like to see the former Miami Hurricane get another chance as the number two target that he showed he can be, and I think that you, me, and everyone else, collectively, will see a lot of that soon and throughout the season. A lot of people are wondering about Marcus Easley here, as well, and this is all that can be said about that – the kid needs time. He didn’t play at all last year, only practiced for around a week this year, and is still fairly new to the wide receiver position. He’s shaky yet and needs to have little things coached into – and out of – his head before he can be trusted with such a high responsibility. He has all the potential in the world, just let it grow before you throw him into the fire.
– NEW-LOOK OFFENSE
Not having seen the game, I can’t say a lot about it yet, but I love what I saw in camp with the different formations, shifts, and versatility of the weapons that 14 has at his disposal. Spiller and White lining up wide and in the slot, Smith at QB and WR, and brace yourself, darlings – WE USE A TIGHT END NOW. Scott Chandler was thrown to four times tonight. Last time we threw to a single tight end four times in one game, Robert Royal was still in a Bills uniform finding ways to drop four passes in one game. The offensive line does need to be patched, though, and I fully expect them to explore the trash heap as teams begin making their cuts to look for tackle depth and potential starters on the right side. Kraig Urbik hasn’t been good in camp and was horrendous tonight, getting blown up like he was a.. well, a lineman for the Buffalo Bills. I give it two weeks before he’s straight up depth behind Levitre on the left and Hangartner on the right – and yes, I do think they’ll move the Hangman out from under Wood on the depth chart to have him start elsewhere. The ‘battle’ for offensive center is a nice way of saying they gave the better player the job and need camp depth, so 63 gets to keep getting reps with no real hopes of actually supplanting the 2008 first rounder and reclaim his starting role. I think the opening day line is Bell, Levitre, Wood, Hangartner, and Pears… but hope that something happens that makes Pears a bench player, as well, because a glaring weakspot on the line could quickly derail an otherwise promising season for a quarterback in his contract year and the rest of his explosive offense.
– SHINY NEW TOYS
Definitely more coming on this when you see me again this week, but lord we have been waiting years for players like this here. Merriman and Dareus are men among boys out there and are really exciting to watch. Even in practice, seeing how huge they both are and the way they can dominate how they both do with ease is phenomenal. They combined for 3 sacks tonight, and though it was in limited time, it was still against another team’s starters and that’s always a plus. AJ Williams had his lapses and still made an interception late in the game, showing off his great athleticism, and Brad Smith was as effective as you’d imagine he’d be out there, maybe even more. Barnett was quiet, but another fairly new (he spent 2010 on injured reserve) linebacker stepped it up and delivered in Danny Batten. He was, from what I’ve heard, all over the field making good reads and came away with two sacks. I’d love to see more of him and the rest of the new pieces.
I can’t wait to watch the game, and I know that sounds weird considering it was a 10-3 loss in August, but I’m really excited to be able to pick apart what these guys all did in live situations against unfamiliar players and schemes. Plus, I’ve heard that the new threads are too legit to quit under the lights, and I’d like to see that with my own two eyes.
Now go enjoy yourselves for the next day or two before you have to hear me complain about how awful the pairing of Steve Tasker and Ray Bentley are at calling a game for a good paragraph or two. Until next time, you stay classy, Rockpilers.