The Bills rookies toured the city yesterday. The outing brought them to the downtown Naval Park and New Era headquarters on Delaware Avenue. The 22 members of this year’s rookie class then went to the Buffalo Zoo where the Bills presented a $10,000 check to underwrite the upkeep of Luna the polar bear. The day ended with an excursion to Niagara Falls. Despite the rain, the participants enthused over what the region has to offer. We welcome them to town.
Stevie Johnson has returned to practice. The Bills star running back participated in drills for the first time since injuring his back in last month’s mini camp. The outlook for recovery is 6 to 8 weeks. It is unclear whether he will be ready for next month’s mini camp. Meanwhile he is getting his chance to work out with the team’s 2 new quarterbacks, EJ Manuel and Kevin Kolb.
Montell Owens has met with the Bills. The free agent running back and special teams player conferred with coach Doug Marrone. The 7 year veteran joined the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. Owens has made 2 Pro Bowl appearances. At 5-11, 225 pounds he has the size and experience to make a positive contribution.
The Bills draft class has potential. Expectations are running high that EJ Manuel will develop into the long sought after franchise quarterback. He has the required size, speed, and athleticism to make a difference. Kiko Alonso is an aggressive linebacker with a shot at the starting job. Kicker Dustin Hopkins should give the aging Rian Lindell a run for his money. This is the last and perhaps best draft class of the Buddy Nix era. With a new head coach, general manager, and quarterback, the franchise is poised for a turn around.
Bills defensive end Mario Williams contemplated suicide over the breakup with his former fiancee, Erin Marzouki. In a series of text messages released yesterday, he revealed his despondency and even planned to overdose on narcotics. The bombshell news was released at a mediation hearing in Houston over the return of a $785,000 engagement ring. Fortunately Williams finds solace in football. He expressed comfort in attending the recent 3 day Bills voluntary mini camp: “When I’m here, this is my haven, this is my family and this is the most important thing for me, being around these guys. It’s all about us, it’s not about anything else. Anything personal is personal. You don’t mix that with what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
Buffalo native Rob Gronkowski may require back surgery. The New England tight end is consulting specialists over a recurring disk problem. He previously underwent a back operation in 2009 which caused him to miss his senior season at Arizona. Gronk is also facing a fourth surgery on his arm to clear up an infection. The injury-prone Gronkowski last year signed a $54 million contract extension with $18 million guaranteed. The Western New York community wishes its favorite NFL son a speedy recovery.
Doug Whaley has been promoted to Bills General Manager. His elevation follows the resignation of 73 year old Buddy Nix. Whaley had served as Assistant General Manager and was being groomed for the top job. He takes over a deeply troubled franchise that is starting from scratch with a new head coach and quarterback. A native of Pittsburgh, he played college football at Pitt. He then spent 12 seasons as a scout and administrator with the Steelers. He also put in a stint with the Seahawks. As the fifth Bills general manager in 12 years, he needs to restore stability and competitiveness to a languishing organization.
The Bills have signed rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso to a 4 year contract. The second round pick had 143 tackles and 6 interceptions in his college career at Oregon. Drafted 46th overall, the 6 – 3, 238 pound Alonso was named defensive player of last year’s Rose Bowl. He will be vying for a starting position in Mike Pettine’s revamped defense. Only EJ Manuel and Robert Woods remain unsigned from this season’s draft class.
Buddy Nix will become Special Assistant to the Bills. This follows his resignation as Executive Vice President and General Manager. The move reflects the internal turmoil in the organization. CEO Russ Brandon said just 3 weeks ago that “Buddy Nix is our general manager and will be for a long time.” The 73 year old Nix was brought on board with departed head coach Chan Gailey. He oversaw the disasterous $59 million contract extension to former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Nix is likely to be succeeded by Assistant General Manager Doug Whaley, who spent 10 years with the Steelers. He led Pittsburgh to 2 Super Bowl appearances. Whether he can work similar wonders in Buffalo remains to be seen.
The Bills rookie mini camp is underway. It opened yesterday and runs through Sunday. The team has signed 5 of the rookies as of Friday. They are Dustin Hopkins, Marquise Goodwin, Chris Gragg, Jonathan Meeks, and Duke Williams. That leaves unsigned EJ Manuel, Kiko Alonso, and Robert Woods. The coaching staff will get its first look at this year’s draft class. Expectations are running high that they will make a meaningful contribution to the Bills rebuilding program.