ORCHARD PARK — Bills coach Sean McDermott promised he’d build a winner in Buffalo. He didn’t exactly say when.
Though McDermott refuses to come out and say it, this season has the hallmark signs of a rebuilding year.
The coach is new, so is general manager Brandon Beane, as is more than half the roster.
The Bills prepare to open against the New York Jets on Sunday with a 53-man squad of 27 newcomers.
McDermott made no excuses outlining the reasons behind the wholesale changes made even at the risk of Buffalo extending its 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
“I think it happens quite a bit out there where you come in and say, ‘Ah, let’s err on the side of not rocking the boat,'” he said, referring to some coaches preferring to maintain some semblance of roster continuity.
“Some of those are difficult decisions and unpopular in some ways,” he added. “Short-term gain sometimes doesn’t equal long-term success.”
The Bills have made several franchise-altering decisions. The most notable happened Aug. 11, when starting receiver Sammy Watkins and starting cornerback Ronald Darby were dealt in separate trades.
In return the Bills acquired receiver Jordan Matthews from Philadelphia and cornerback E.J. Gaines from the Rams. They also gained a second- and third-round pick leaving them with two selections in each of the first three rounds next year.
With 16 players left who were drafted by Buffalo, the offseason purge erases much of the legacy of former GM Doug Whaley’s four-year stint. Also in the past is coach Rex Ryan’s era, which was big on bluster and short on success the past two seasons.
Buffalo’s secondary is entirely revamped, as is its receivers. The strength on defense is a front four, made up of veterans Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes and second-year player Shaq Lawson.
Having led the NFL in yards rushing each of the past two years, Buffalo will rely heavily upon 29-year-old running back LeSean McCoy.
Veteran center Eric Wood is on board, even though he expressed concern late last season over how much time another franchise makeover might take.
“I really like who’s in charge of this organization. That’s one of the reasons I was so anxious to re-sign with them,” said Wood, who signed a two-year contract extension last month. “We’re going to be very tough to beat because we’re going to be disciplined, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to play physical. And we have a few superstars. I’m all for that.”
Here are a number of things to watch out for this season:
Starter Tyrod Taylor returns for a third season, though his future in Buffalo beyond this year remains uncertain. The Bills were considering signing free agent Brian Hoyer in March before Taylor restructured his contract, going from a five to a two-year contract.
Though Taylor has a 14-14 record in Buffalo, his scrambling style isn’t considered an ideal fit in new coordinator Rick Dennison’s quick-drop passing philosophy.
The Bills used a fifth-round pick to select Nathan Peterman, who is more of a pocket passer. And don’t rule out Buffalo using one of its two first-round picks to draft a quarterback next year.
First-round draft pick Tre’Davious White has had a lock on one of the two starting cornerback jobs since spring. Second-round pick Zay Jones has been pegged as a starting receiver since before Watkins was traded.
Third-round pick Dion Dawkins will play a backup role after losing a competition with Jordan Mills to start at right tackle.
The Bills’ defense is returning to a four-lineman, three-linebacker scheme under McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator. The switch is considered a welcome change after the defense underachieved in Ryan’s 3-4 system by finishing 19th in yards allowed each of the past two years.
Dareus, Buffalo’s top-paid player, was unable to get through the offseason without landing in hot water. Dareus violated a team rule and ordered to travel home alone an hour before Buffalo’s preseason game at Baltimore on Aug. 26.
Dareus says he received McDermott’s message loud and clear.
The 2011 first-round pick opened the previous two seasons serving NFL suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
McDermott has lived up to his reputation for being a stickler to details. The Bills spent a 10-minute session in training camp focusing solely on practicing personnel changes between snaps. Last year, Buffalo was caught on numerous occasions for having 10 or 12 men on the field.
On Monday, McDermott switched from the norm by having offensive players wear blue practice jerseys and the defense white ones. The reasoning was getting quarterbacks accustomed to targeting blue jerseys because the Bills will be wearing blue tops in their opener.