The AFC East should be more competitive than it has been for years. To help preview what to expect, Joe Caporoso had a conversation on the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills with Chris Trapasso, Bills columnist and NFL.com homepage editor.
JC: Chris, after a highly active off-season and the inevitable buzz Rex Ryan brings, is this the most hyped Bills team in your recent memory or the one with the highest expectations?
CT: Yes, this is the most hyped Bills team with the highest expectations in, at least, a decade. Last year, I thought Buffalo’s roster was the most talented it had been since the 2004 team that had Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds, London Fletcher and Takeo Spikes… and, on paper, the 2015 roster has improved from a year ago, mainly due to the ferocious defense being kept intact and the widespread additions on offense which certainly were needed.
With an established head coach at the helm and a group of well-respected assistants who’ve recently roamed the sidelines for highly successful teams — mainly referencing OC Greg Roman and OL coach Aaron Kromer, the latter having spent time with the New Orleans Saints before his time in Chicago — there’s rightfully a significant buzz in Western New York for the upcoming Bills season.
CT: Most hyped Jets team in a long time? Even more than teams after trips to AFC title game?
JC: I don’t think the hype this year matches what we saw post 2009 and 2010. Due to his post-season play, there was more general confidence in Mark Sanchez than there currently is in Geno Smith. The understated Todd Bowles is also not going to provide the weekly headlines that Rex Ryan did back in the day. I do think there may be more defensive talent on this roster than they had in the peek Rex years but the offensive line is not in the same ballpark, which is extra concerning with a question mark at the quarterback position.
However, this is the first time since before the 2011 season that it feels reasonable to expect this team to compete for a playoff spot. The infusion of talent on both sides of the ball has been head turning and should have the Jets playing meaningful football in December, at a minimum.
JC: Interestingly, the Bills and Jets seem to have a similar construction. A defense that should be among the NFL’s best, immense talent at the skill positions and big fat question marks at quarterback and offensive line. How concerned are you about the situation at both of those positions for the Bills?
CT: Right now, there has to be a little more concern regarding the quarterback position than the offensive line. Cordy Glenn, Eric Wood and Richie Incognito are players who’ve experienced long stretches of sound play in their NFL careers, while E.J. Manuel and Tyrod Taylor are much more unproven, and in his mid-30’s, everyone knows what a team’s almost assuredly going to get from Matt Cassel, and that’s a below-average quarterback who’ll sprinkle in some positive flashes among general inconsistency and inaccuracy.
Interestingly though, the offensive line and quarterback play are tied together, and Buffalo’s blockers have to take the lead in this “situation”. If the Bills’ new additions in the trenches precipitate much-needed improvement from a season ago, the starting signal-caller, whoever it may be — my guess is Manuel — will be in a nearly ideal situation — good protection, running game, offensive weapons and defense — and I think will perform well enough for Buffalo to be in playoff contention.
CT: Same question back to you, as I think you’re right about the Jets and Bills having similar makeups.
JC: The offensive line worries me because it is reminiscent of the cornerback situation last year, which turned out to be a disaster. It is built on “ifs.” IF, D’Brickashaw does not continue his decline, IF James Carpenter can be more consistent in the Jets system than he was in Seattle and IF somebody can grab the other guard spot by the throat…then the Jets should be okay. However, it is rare for multiple borderline positions to break the right way. The best hope is the group can be middle of the pack, particularly in pass protection.
At quarterback, I am more bullish on Geno Smith than most in a similar way that you seem to be more bullish on Manuel. I do think Smith can be competent this year with an improved supporting cast and if he follows through on that, this team should be in the playoff mix. The talent is there and I’m cautiously optimistic about what Chan Gailey and his offense can bring to his game.
JC: Why do you think people have been so quick to bail on Manuel and what gives you hope with him long term?
CT: In my estimation, many fans in Buffalo have be relatively quick to bail on Manuel for a few reasons. First off, as the first ever quarterback taken with the team’s first draft pick in franchise history — Jim Kelly was the second of two first-round selections the Bills had in 1983, Manuel entered 2013 with high expectations. Then again, because the Bills haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Kelly, and we’ve all seen a myriad of abysmal-to-mediocre quarterbacks come through Buffalo ever since, the high expectations that come with being the 16th overall pick were inherently juxtaposed against a short leash.
What I’m getting at in the latter portion of that sentence is — the first sign of Manuel struggling was bound to signal to Bills fans “here we go again” and to outside onlookers that he was simply “another Bills quarterback dud.”
Lastly, I think all players are “expected” to perform well immediately if for nothing more than the fact that we now live in an instant gratification society. Because of that, the classic, time-tested method of developing quarterbacks has been marred over the past five-to-seven years.
In actuality, Manuel has played fewer NFL games (14.5) than Derek Carr and the same amount as Blake Bortles…and no one is ready to give a concrete opinion on either of those 2014 rookie signal-callers.
I don’t have a crystal ball, and it’d be reckless for me to write I know he can be a franchise quarterback for the Bills.
However, having watched and re-watched all of the throws he’s made as a professional — when clumped together, they aren’t nearly as bad as the national perception of him, which has been reduced to replayed highlights of the clumsy J.J. Watt interception — and I’ve seen “enough” flashes, arm strength, pocket poise and accuracy to be confident saying he’s warranted more of a chance than less than a full season of games under center.
Basically, I think it’d be preposterous for the Bills to “give up” on him so soon… if he’s underwhelming in 2015, then fine… at least Buffalo would have had a larger– and thereby more reasonable — sample size on which to judge him, and the front office can handpick a quarterback in the first round of the 2016 draft.
However, Manuel’s in a legitimate, truly wide-open quarterback competition, and if he can’t beat out Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor then he wouldn’t have “earned” another shot.
To end, I do think he’s the Bills’ best option at quarterback this season.
CT: What are you’re general thoughts on Geno Smith for 2015? NFL.com recently had him in their ‘Making the Leap’ series. This is easily the best supporting cast he’s had.
JC: I couldn’t agree more with what you said about Manuel, particularly in comparison to the runway people are still giving to Bortles and Carr. One of the money lines from that linked NFL.com article is “Smith showed more last December than Bortles and Carr showed all season”, which is right on.
Similar to Manuel, people have jumped the ship on Geno too early and basically reduced him to a caricature of the player he has actually been. There has been some ugly lows but this is a second round pick who was immediately thrown into the least talented offense in the NFL back in 2013 and then asked to drop back over 30 times in six of his first seven starts. He still had a few head turning early season games and then finished the season strongly, flashing pocket presence, athleticism and a powerful arm in the intermediate to deep passing game.
Last season, he was inconsistent before bottoming out in a curious game against your Bills. He did a poor job handling adversity but returned after being benched for Mike Vick’s corpse to again play well in the final month of the season.
Smith is now getting a fair shot in a make or break season. He has a quarterback friendly offensive coordinator who has generated production from middling talent (Tyler Thigpen, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kordell Stewart), a deep, multi-talented group of pass catchers and a defense that should be top five in the league. If Smith can’t be a competent starter this season, it may never happen.