Bill Wippert/AP
Bill Wippert/AP

Welcome to Camp Hope

Five months after the Super Bowl ended, football is finally back ... well, sorta. Training camps are getting started this week, and optimism is high in all 32 locales—including Buffalo, where playoffs have only been a rumor since 1999

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Sunday night was precisely what the NFL wants out of the preseason. The night of the first practice of the NFL summer simply couldn’t have gone better. Hope was for sale everywhere on the St. John Fisher campus here, the same way it will be in 31 other camps starting with the Giants today in New Jersey, and there were thousands of consumers, happy to buy that hope.

There were fans, boisterous ones. About 4,000 fans jammed the stands on this football field in bucolic Pittsford, a southern Rochester suburb, for the 2.5-hour practice that ended as the sun was setting over the shade trees in the distance. One guy called me over to show me the Ralph Wilson tattoo he just had etched on his arm this off-season, in tribute to the late Hall of Fame owner of the team. “E.J. [Manuel]!! I love you!!” cried out one fan early on. Not to be outdone, another fellow yelled to the second-round Alabama tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio, who’d hoped to be a first-round pick last May, “Hey Cyrus! Prove everyone wrong buddy! We’re gonna road-grade people this year!!!”

There was the promising quarterback (the Bills hope), Manuel, getting the benefit of the doubt from the adoring crowd. He’d missed six games last year due to injury, and never played as well as the Bills had hoped, and he enters this summer with a giant question mark over his head. As Manuel goes, so will this team. You can say that for so many teams, but it’s especially true for a team that has playoff talent at running back, receiver, pass rusher and cornerback. It’ll be wasted if Manuel isn’t good, and he had some good moments on this night. In a team period, he hit exciting rookie Sammy Watkins on four throws out of four.

The Bills traded up five spots in the first round to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins. (Bill Wippert/AP)
The Bills traded up five spots in the first round to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins. (Bill Wippert/AP)

Speaking of Watkins, he’s the belle of the football here. They love him. And they love GM Doug Whaley for overpaying to move up to get Watkins in the first round last May. To move up five spots in the first round, from nine to four, Whaley paid next year’s first-round and fourth-round picks to Cleveland. “Hey Whaley!’’ a fan yelled. “Thank you for Watkins!” On night one, Watkins was as electric as advertised. Especially interesting was the way he got off jams at the line. He juked lightning-quick on some snaps, and powered into unsuspecting corners on others. “You can never let cornerbacks read you,’’ he said later.

There was a happy vibe because of music. The Bills, following the lead of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, played loud tunes—U2, Macklemore, Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, House of Pain—for more than half the practice. Coach Doug Marrone’s a fan of practice music, which Seattle’s used in the Carroll era. (The Bronx-born Marrone, though, didn’t like one of the selections across a wide spectrum of the music world: “Sweet Caroline,’’ the last song of the night. You know, the eighth-inning fan anthem of the Red Sox.)

There were other reasons to be excited. Running back Bryce Brown, supposedly a spare part acquired in a trade with Philadelphia, ran like he had rockets in his shoes. Former first-round corner Stephon Gilmore covered like the franchise guy he was drafted to be. New linebacker Brandon Spikes played with passion. “I just wish we had pads on today,’’ he said. “I am so ready.’’

And autographs … two players were still signing 50 minutes after the session ended. As fans swooned.

Get the idea? The honeymoon idea? These people aren’t hungry. They’re famished. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs in this century. They’ve had nine straight losing seasons. Imagine not winning 10 games in the past 14 years. Fourteen!

I’ve been coming to Bills camp most summers since their decline began. This is a better team than most if not all of the teams the Bills have fielded since their last playoff season, 1999. It’s a group that can win now if the quarterback plays at a B-plus level. If Manuel’s a C player, Buffalo won’t win. It’s simple.

But there are other problems. Major ones, and they’re on defense. The defense is missing three of its top players from last year—safety Jairus Byrd (gone to New Orleans in free agency); linebacker Kiko Alonso, a revelation of a three-down player last year, who tore his ACL in an off-season workout and is gone for the season; and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the talented but maddening player who might be too immature to ever be consistently great. In the last eight months, Dareus has been benched for a quarter in one game for violating team rules, a half in another game for violating team rules, been arrested in Alabama for speeding and possession of a controlled substance, been arrested again for drag-racing in the Buffalo area and leaving the scene of an accident when the racing resulted in a crash. And, on Saturday, he reported for the team’s conditioning run significantly out of shape, and failed it. The Bills placed him on the team’s Active/non-football injury list.

In other words, Dareus is a total mess.

Asked how troubling it is that Dareus didn’t report to camp in shape given how many strikes he already has against him, Marrone would say only: “He’ll be in shape, ready to play.”

When we drafted Sammy Watkins, I jumped out of my chair,” Manuel said. “C.J. Spiller calls me right away and says, ‘We got our boy!’ My phone went almost dead, because 18,000 people called me at one time.

Here’s the way I look at the Bills: Buffalo gave up 37 points to Cleveland last year, and 34 to infirm Atlanta. Their best linebacker and safety are gone. A star defensive tackle, potentially, cannot be relied upon. If this doesn’t put a mountain of pressure on the quarterback, I don’t know what would.

Manuel feels it. On the field after practice Sunday night, he said, “I understand. This is a quarterback-driven league. Even if we were an undefeated team last year, people would look at our team and think it comes down to the quarterback. I do embrace it, though. It doesn’t bother me. It’s just the job of a quarterback.

“At Florida State, we were so used to winning, it was customary. When I got here, you could just feel it, how much they want it. First day of camp, a Sunday night, you see the stands packed, you hear them for over two hours … People say Buffalo’s this, Buffalo’s that, Buffalo’s cold. To me, if you win, it’s the best place on earth. Like Tallahassee. It’s a college-town atmosphere here. All you have here is the Bills. Obviously the Sabres too. But if the Bills win, it’s a whole different city.’’

So we’ll see if Manuel and Watkins can hit the ground running together. The first team period was a start. Said Manuel: “I don’t know if you saw him out there, on a slant, stop on a dime—and he just turned the other way, on Gilmore, who I think could be an all-pro corner, and he made the play. The kid is special. I have thought that way since 2010. I was at Florida State, and he was a true freshman at Clemson, and we put our best corner on him, Mike Harris, plays in Jacksonville now. Sammy ran a stop-and-go, and he shakes loose and makes the play, and I said, ‘Who is this kid?’ So on draft day, I’m out at a restaurant with my father in south Florida, and when I saw on TV that we made that trade and drafted him, I jumped out of my chair. C.J. Spiller calls me right away and says, ‘We got our boy! We got our boy!’ Because we’d been talking about it since January. My phone went almost dead, because 18,000 people called me at one time. It’s going to be great to watch him grow.”

Bills fans showed up en masse to see the first training camp practice. (Bill Wippert/AP)
Bills fans showed up en masse to see the first training camp practice Sunday in Pittsford, N.Y. (Bill Wippert/AP)

The hungry crowd thought so too, and told the man who reeled him in several times Sunday night. Early in practice, Whaley heard it.

“Doug Whaley we love you!” a fan yelled.

Standing in the end zone, Whaley smiled. “They love me now,” he said.

And tomorrow? They’ll still love him. It’s hope season for seven more weeks, for 31 other franchises. Just the way the NFL wants it.

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233 comments
WizardofKings
WizardofKings

Tony Dungy a bigot?  why because he is espousing Christian principles and living his faith

Dicky14
Dicky14

Thank you for recognizing such an amazing man ... Nobody better than Coach Mac ... He is deeply missed

buck98
buck98

Pedroia had 193 hits last year 2nd in AL and 7th in the MVP voting.  Don't write him off for having a "down" year (.278)

jumpingtheshark
jumpingtheshark

You mean the Washington Redskins? The last I heard Daniel Snyder was alive and kicking.

zemongoose
zemongoose

Mr. King-- It's curious that you can't bring yourself to utter the word "Redskins", but you'e totally comfortable working with a bigot like Tony Dungy. 




JJRR
JJRR

Name name name name.  This year's Redskins team has a new HC, the most dynamic receiver corps in the division as well as in its recent history, its coming off a total implosion season, its got a promising but risky high draft pick QB whos been both amazing and at times awful...  There's a ridiculous number of intriguing story lines for this team going into this season.  


But... nope.  The best you have to contribute is more harping about the name thing.  


Don't even bother to show up to training camp if you can't actually write about FOOTBALL once in a while.  


Weak.

Mat X
Mat X

"Now, Kluwe has written for the site in the past, and he is a smart and engaging person, and he fiercely defends the rights of the oppressed."


Pray tell, for whom has Kluwe spoken up about is "oppressed"?  Which is to say, who has had his person, property, or freedom of speech violated or destroyed in his own country?


Show your work, Peter.

DavidHunter1
DavidHunter1

Easy to say we should do something to the Ukraine separatists. That's easy to say. Now  the hard part. Do exactly what? Bomb them? Nope. Sanctions? They're not a country so nothing to sanction. Arm the Ukraine government which even they say won't help the situation? See, its just not that easy. 

wekless
wekless

Peter, I love your weekly column.  I've read it for years.  I reserve time every Monday to read what you have to say.  I will still visit every Monday....but only Monday, and only to read your column.  I am done with SI as a website.  I will continue to enjoy my SI magazine as I have for the last 44 years.  But the new web format is a total abomination.  I refuse to interact with the way it is currently designed.  Anything I interacted with in the past (on a daily basis) is gone or impossible to easily navigate, and everything that is available now is of now interest to me.  Thanks for all the years of enjoyable Mondays.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

Peter is way off about Dustin Pedroia.  Pedroia is having an off year, but his history CLEARLY shows him to be a better hitter than anonymous guys like Dozier and Murphy.  Hasn't Peter ever heard about OPS? 

Redskins
Redskins

Tough day for the guy who writes this column (I refuse to use his name as I find it offensive).


First his "good buddy," Kluwe, turns out to have his own bigoted views, and then, his living idol, Tony Dungy, says he would not have drafted Sam I Am.

Skins'Fan
Skins'Fan

This new site sucks a$$. It's like staring at a disorienting scrapbook. Used this site 10+ times/day for over 15 years. Now? Once a week... What's with the ridiculous load times on smartphones? Somehow there's no pictures but it takes twice as long to load. Idiotic.

TheQuintessential
TheQuintessential

“We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it till it glows.” WOW

g-bye
g-bye

There is no evidence ANYONE downed the plane. Can you please wait until there is EVIDENCE. I'm done with you and MMQB based on this alone. It shows how easily you are duped, misled, and manipulated. 

luvfoozball
luvfoozball

In addition to the great stat provided on Aaron Rodgers here is why I think Rodgers is an awesome QB: he gives instant credibility to an otherwise average or even below average as far as defense goes Green Bay Packers team.

Dani
Dani

"5. Indianapolis. I’m buying the Luck hype". I'm buying it too. I'm expecting to see Luck wearing a SB ring very soon...probably around Grendale, Arizona.

Bub L
Bub L

Big Papi waylaid by the "Danny Duffy's of the world"?  Seriously?  You need to watch some baseball outside of Boston and watch Duffy pitch more often.  The kid has some electric stuff and when he's on, he's nearly unhittable.  He'll pitch a no-hitter one of these days.  No shame for Papi to be abused by Duffy.

Tbone5150
Tbone5150

I really don't get how Peter, who has been writing about football for 20+ years, and has used the term Redskins countless number of times suddenly refuses to use the name? Does that make him a former racist? Did I miss his explanation in a previous MMQB? 

eddie767
eddie767

Thanks for bringing up,his role in underpants "joke". Others skip that, in their reports. But, Vikings did have a reason for his release. Money.

Orange Crush
Orange Crush

Kluwe really does come across as a woman scorned. He asks for an independent investigation into the matter and when the investigation comes out and also finds that Kluwe himself acted unprofessionally he calls the Vikings out for playing dirty. I disagree with you Peter that his performance was too great to justify his release. I don't see how you can positively come to this conclusion. I don't think he was the worst punter out there, but he certainly was the worst for what he was being paid. It was a smart business decision on the Vikings part and you would be very hard pressed to prove otherwise. What Priefer said was horrible, but does anybody truly think he has any real plans to do these things? It was a joke as stated in the report that Kluwe had laughed off. Just as Kluwe says he was joking about the Sandusky trial. He is using his activism for his own personal gain now as well as being a vindictive out of touch Dbag.  

Mike26
Mike26

Tony Dungy is an honest, forthright person that doesn't bend to trends and popular opinion. All you can do is call him names because you realize how far from being a conscientious human you really are when you read his words.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@JJRR  So you're a Klansman who enjoys rooting for a team named after a racial slur.


Got it.

SteveRowFla
SteveRowFla

@DavidHunter1 The easy part is having an engaged president who helps head things like this off. Instead, we have an empty suit, hence the global chaos.

Wombat
Wombat

@wekless I agree. The new format for SI.com is horrible. I have moved on as well and only come back for MMQB. Sorry SI but this change was a bad move.

Mike26
Mike26

Depending on history repeating itself - or improving upon it - once a player suffers wear and tear and just the aging process, is all you can do with player unless they start using the juice (perhaps Old Papi can share his stash?).

BY
BY

@Redskins Then why on earth do you read Peter King's (there, I said it!) column? Why subject yourself to this horror?

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@Skins'Fan  I also hate the new site design, but it doesn't suck as much a$$ as the name of the team you support.

Phroggo
Phroggo

The evidence that our world isn't flat will be in next week's column.

Mike26
Mike26

@Bub L Duffy is one pitcher, mostly unproven at this point; Big Papi is a very average hitter this season.  Perhaps he needs more of his "special" vitamins & juice?

45andhatched
45andhatched

@Tbone5150 http://mmqb.si.com/2013/09/06/eli-manning-new-york-giants-dallas-cowboys/2/  What he said:  "I have no idea if this is the right thing to do for the public, or the politically correct thing to do, and I’m not going to sit here and try to preach about it and tell you if you like the name you’re wrong or if you hate the name you’re wrong. I can just tell you how I feel: I’ve been increasingly bothered by using the word, and I don’t want to be a part of using a name that a cross-section of our society feels is insulting."

Mike26
Mike26

@eddie767 You're correct on both counts - the first is because it doesn't fit the agenda that being pushed by the media that continually gives him a stage; the second because only one other team even took a flyer on him once he became available.  Great players - even kickers - get picked up quickly after a brief (and sometimes fierce) competition for their services.

CSK
CSK

@Orange Crush 

Well said-  Moreover, the Vikings had set precedent the year before by cutting Longwell- who wasn't bad- after they drafted Blair Walsh. They saved money and got a pro-bowl kicker for the future.  I am sure they were hoping for similar result by drafting Locke and cutting Kluwe.

Mike26
Mike26

@Orange Crush Wrong.  His performance was so strong that exactly ONE other team pursued him - and then cut his uncovered butt.  PK is still working to sign him to be a contributor this fall and onsite reporter in St. Louis should Michael Sam beat heavy odds and common sense and make the team.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@Mike26  Tony Dungy is an activist bigot who is honest about his bigotry.  I have no doubt that Bull Connor and Lester Maddox were also honest and forthright about their bigotry, but they were still bigots.


History will not look kindly on the Tony Dungys of our time anymore than it does on Bull Connor.  But Tony Dungy has one advantage over Connor - he still has time to grow up and get over his inane, outdated, inexcusable prejudice. 

Mike26
Mike26

Another personal attack to someone with an opinion different than yours - and you offer nothing in this world that could qualify as an analogy? You just keep trying to top yourself every week, don't you Moe?

Redskins
Redskins

@BY @Redskins 

Your hyperbolic hysteria aside, I will give you one reply.


Because this space should not be filled with "fanboys."


Because the guy who writes this column should know he does not walk on water, and is subject to critical review and opinion.


In America, we call that free speech!

Orange Crush
Orange Crush

@CSK @Orange Crush Very true. As well as the fact that a big part of the position is situational punting, which the stats show he was not good at. You can't simply look at net yd avg as an indicator of a punters success. He was horrible at pinning the opposition deep in their own territory. Peter being the great football philosopher he is should not overlook such a glaring stat so easily. It leads one to question his credibility in the matter.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@Mike26  You constantly attack me for having different opinions from yours, chuckles.  It amuses me because your atrocious sentence construction is often funny.  Don't ever change, Mikey, don't ever change.

Knowitall
Knowitall

It's not the Russian separatists, who are peasants growing potatoes - not really able to hurt anyone. And it's not the Russians - at least not all of them. It is Putin.

Those saying " there is no evidence" would probably have suspected the Canadians for 9/11.

Putin will respond to hard action driven by moral clarity. Sanctions on all fronts, ban Russian flights to the US, freeze bank accounts, mobilize US energy production and pledge support to Europeans to replace Russian gas and oil, suspend all commerce with Russia, and more. Show the Russian people their leader is a paper tiger.

I wonder where we will find the leadership to do what must be done?

Mike26
Mike26

Your words have little to no effect on anyone, least of all PK.

blynder
blynder

@Redskins

Hyperbolic Hysteria?

If you come here just to disagree and think that the writer of the column thinks that he walks on water and your writing seems to imply that there is a snark or bite or righteousness in it - then I too, must confess myself confused.  Disagreement yes, about topics and points of view yes - yours seems to me, and it's hard over the keys of a message board, to be personal.  You don't like Peter King for his views, and if that is truly the case… why subject yourself to it?  Do you believe you are doing some greater good for the world or the people who don't post or…? I mean, honestly it seems like; if you come here to a column you don't like the writer to just to disagree with his points of view you don't share - and with a bit of snark, call those who might agree with him fanboys - that borders on the trollish behavior.  

blynder
blynder

@Knowitall

Nothing says he cannot and will not do those things anyway - just not in the immediate time-table.  This president is consistent in his handling of issues like this, he takes time, waits then acts. That is a style of leadership - contrary to what has happened in the past administration where action seemed to be less thoughtful.  Should it happen sooner - maybe, but it doesn't mean that the man is an "empty suit"…


GoPSULions
GoPSULions

@Knowitall Yup, maybe we should invade like GW would do - that's worked out so well.

Knowitall
Knowitall

Don't be thick-headed. No one said anything about invading. And there is no need to. Just be a leader and show resolve for what is right in the face of what is clearly wrong.

Did they teach you about leadership at Penn State? Oh, wait......

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