There are still six weeks of preparation to go before the Bills head to Chicago to kick off the 2014 season against the Bears at Soldier Field.
Based on the way the offense has looked in the first week of training camp at St. John Fisher College, you have to wonder if six weeks will be enough time to get things on track.
No one should be jumping to any conclusions about the offense at this early stage, mainly because unless your quarterback is someone like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees, defense is almost always ahead of offense at the start of training camp.
And that's certainly the case with the Bills, never more evident than at Saturday night's practice under the lights in front of a sellout crowd inside Growney Stadium that had very little to cheer about.
For the first time since camp began, the Bills played real tackle football and conducted one full "live" period of close to 20 plays where the defense was allowed to tackle to the ground. Throughout that session, there very few highlights for the offense, though the prime emphasis was on the running game and Bryce Brown and Ronnie Wingo got the bulk of the carries.
Later, in an 11-on-11 third-down drill that lasted 17 gruesome plays, the defense — led by a ravenous front line — recorded what would have been eight sacks had the officials not blown the play dead before one of the quarterbacks was taken down.
"It's the beginning of camp," said Brown. "We have a great defense and they're really challenging us, and that's only going to make us better. We're only six days of practice in so we've got a lot of room to improve, but that's what we're here for."
Brown is correct in that the defense is playing well, and what should be noted is that several defensive players admitted they threw a variety of different looks at the offense which helped tilt the field a bit in their favor Saturday. Things were a little better Sunday afternoon as the offense studied the film and made some adjustments that produced a bit more success.
"It was a much better day," quarterback EJ Manuel said of Sunday. "Working the red zone we scored a bunch of touchdowns. The defense still made some good plays, but we did a good job. We don't gameplan for our defense, it's still practice, but they got the best of us yesterday, they had some different looks, and we went back and worked on the protection aspect so we could get the pocket a little better."
Despite the improved results, one week in, there are some red flags on offense.
• Manuel is this team's starting quarterback, there is no doubt about that, but he is very much a continuing work in progress. Coach Doug Marrone has expressed faith in the second-year man and claims he is light years ahead of where he was last year. Of course, you would hope that's the case since he was a raw rookie in his first NFL training camp in 2013.
Manuel remains upbeat, but he seems to be struggling with some of his decision making. Even in 7-on-7 drills where there's no pass rush, there have been an alarming number of plays where he can't decide where to throw the ball and he runs out.
There's also the issue of his accuracy. He has not been particularly sharp, which is a trend that carries forward from his shortened rookie year when he completed just 58.8 percent of his passes, and a league-worst 47.5 percent on third down.
• That said, Manuel is by far the best option and if he were to get hurt, the Bills are in serious trouble. Thad Lewis is already losing second-team reps to Jeff Tuel, and Tuel, though improved from last year, still isn't ready to play regularly if need be. In essence, the Bills have a pair of third-stringers behind Manuel. Given Manuel's injury-plagued debut year, general manager Doug Whaley's refusal to sign an experienced and competent veteran backup quarterback could come back to haunt the Bills.
• The offensive line is a mess. Left tackle Cordy Glenn still isn't ready to practice, and that has created some shuffling up front. Rookie seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson has drawn the bulk of the reps at that key position, and while he may have plenty of untapped potential, he looks lost right now.
The same holds true for second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, who was looked at as the solution at right tackle. Kouandjio can't even jump past holdover starter Erik Pears at this point, and seems to be having a tough time with the speed of the edge rushers.
Kraig Urbik, considered a lock at right guard, is sharing first-team reps with Chris Hairston, who missed all of last season with an unknown medical condition.
Part of the line's problem is the fact that it's going against a talented defensive line that just got Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch back late last week.
"We understand that if we can block our front four, then we'll be able to block about anybody," said center Eric Wood. "For my money, I think they're the best in the league. But that's no excuse. We have to be able to do our jobs and we have to do a better job. I think in regular down and distance, we're doing a good job of understanding situations, but when we do all third downs and they're all third and long, we're not executing as well right now."
It's only one week. It's only practice. It's way too early to panic, but it's not too early to start looking for some improvement, and this is the week that needs to start happening.
TRAINING CAMP NOTES
• The Bills are dangerously thin at tight end as starter Scott Chandler left practice early on Sunday with a groin injury. Backup Tony Moeaki is out with a hamstring injury, as Chris Gragg still isn't ready to resume practice after being hospitalized last week for a heat-related issue. The Bills finished practice Sunday with just Lee Smith and Dominque Jones at the position. Also, wide receiver Kevin Elliott left the workout midway through with concussion-like symptoms.
• For the second day in a row, the Bills went live, this time on the goal line. It was a pretty even split with the offense scoring a few touchdowns, including a tackle eligible pass to lineman Kraig Urbik, while the defense also came up with a few stuffs.