PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Time and patience are two qualities centre Eric Wood is running out of when asked to consider how long it might take for the Buffalo Bills to become contenders following their latest off-season overhaul.
What’s wrong with this year?
“I’m going into year nine and we haven’t made the playoffs and I feel it from everyone in town. I’m as impatient as everyone else,” Wood said after practice Saturday. “And I feel like we’ve got enough talent on this team to make the playoffs and make a run at it. I like this team.”
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, entering his 12th season in Buffalo, doesn’t want to hear about two- or three-year rebuilding plans either.
“As far as tempering expectations, it won’t happen here,” the 12th-year veteran said. “My expectations are to win.”
Optimism might prevail among the Bills’ two-most senior players three days into training camp.
What’s difficult to grasp is how realistic those high hopes might be for a team that spent the off-season changing its coaching staff, front office and a roster that currently features 42 players having one or fewer season of NFL experience. And of the 89 players listed, only 30 are left from the group that opened camp a year ago.
New coach Sean McDermott isn’t interested in hearing about how little attention national publications are paying Buffalo.
“I certainly acknowledge that’s been the case out there and everyone’s got their own opinions,” the first-time coach and former Carolina Panthers defensive co-ordinator said. “I don’t really focus on that. I focus in on what’s in front of us and right now that’s this practice.”
GM Brandon Beane is so new to Buffalo after being hired just two months ago, he intends to spend camp introducing himself to some of his players.
Beane also acknowledged it takes time to build a team identity and establish a change in culture.
“It’s not an overnight thing,” Beane said. “We’re not going to stand here Week 1 and say we’ve totally jelled, everything’s ready to roll. This is a work in progress.”
Progress can’t happen fast enough for a franchise in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
“I wasn’t here for it but I sympathize with the fan base,” Beane said. “Sean and I are focused going forward because there’s nothing we can do about the past.”
Continuity would help for a team on its eighth coach and seventh GM since 2000.
Though the Bills return 16 starters, including a LeSean McCoy-led running attack that topped the NFL in yards rushing for the second season in a row, there is an overall lack of depth behind them. On defence, the secondary lost three starters and is making the switch to a 4-3 system.
At least Beane and McDermott — both in their early 40s — are on the same page after spending the past six years developing a bond while working together in Carolina.
Their arrival represents a clean break from the most recent past, when former GM Doug Whaley had differences with the last two coaches: Rex Ryan, who was fired in the final week of last season; and Doug Marrone, who opted out of his contract following the 2014 campaign. Whaley was so unhappy with Ryan’s approach, he would openly question plays during games sitting alongside owner Terry Pegula last year.
Technique and discipline were also issues for the Bills under Ryan, as was a high-priced underachieving defence that finished 19th in yards allowed in each of his two seasons.
The low-key, detailed McDermott is nothing like his predecessor in numerous ways.
There’s an uptempo precision to practices. And there have been no proclamations from McDermott that the Bills have won the off-season, as Ryan infamously did last summer, even as his team was being undone by injuries and suspensions.
McDermott steered clear of the subject last month when informed of what Ryan had said.
“I don’t know if we’ve won the off-season,” McDermott said. “I’m not into that. I’m into the process.”
Wood wasn’t surprised hearing about McDermott’s response.
“I don’t think Sean’s going to provide much bulletin-board material through you guys this year, and that’s probably a good thing,” Wood said. “We’ll fly under the radar, but I’m confident in the group we’ve got.”