Bills’ preseason debut won’t be pretty

By Connor Byrne  |   Thursday, August 10, 2006  |  Comments( 7 )

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The Buffalo Bills are set to open their preseason schedule on Saturday, when they face the Carolina Panthers, one of the NFC's best teams. Last season, the Bills compiled a 5-11 record and the Panthers ventured all the way to the NFC Championship Game, which means things likely won't bode well for Buffalo.

Offensively, the Bills should be in real trouble.

Veteran quarterback Kelly Holcomb has been named the starter by head coach Dick Jauron, and he'll probably have an evening to forget. The Carolina secondary boasts two big-time playmakers - Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas. The cornerback duo of Gamble and Lucas led the NFL last year with a combined 13 interceptions. Thus, Lee Evans, the Bills' new No. 1 receiver, will have a major test on his plate against Lucas. Meanwhile, whomever Buffalo uses as the other wideout starter will have his work cut out for him against Gamble, a third-year man.

Although the Bills' quarterbacks, Holcomb and J.P. Losman, will have tough times, running back Willis McGahee may have it worse. Slimmer than last year, the third-year man is forced to go up against the league's top front four. Consisting of Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins, Maake Kemoeatu and Mike Rucker, the Carolina line is second to none. Saturday could be a day Bills fans find out how much the offensive line has improved, and how much losing 15 pounds will help their ball carrier.

On the defensive side of the ball, Buffalo finished 31st against the run in 2005. The Panthers' offensive coordinator, Dan Henning, will be calling plenty of run plays, with DeShaun Foster, first-round pick DeAngelo Williams, Jamal Robertson, Nick Goings and Eric Shelton all needing plenty of work. Carolina's depth at the position runs five deep, but none are elite runners. Of course, passing judgment early on Williams isn't fair, since the former Memphis star has plenty of potential to become a great pro back.

Front seven players to watch for Buffalo include free-agent pickup Larry Tripplett and first-round rookie John McCargo, two athletic defensive tackles.

As for the Bills' pass rush, it should be interesting to see the kind of push they get up front against the Panthers' offensive line, which is moveable. That line includes proven players Justin Hartwig and Jordan Gross, but guys like Tripplett and defensive end Aaron Schobel ought to be able to pressure Jake Delhomme, Chris Weinke and Stefan LeFors, the Panthers' QB's.

Buffalo's loaded secondary will have its hands full against one of the Panthers' receivers. The best in the game, Steve Smith, will be out nursing a hamstring injury, so he won't duel cornerback Nate Clements. Veteran Keyshawn Johnson makes his debut in the black and blue, likely to face both Clements and No. 2 corner Terrence McGee.

In the Bills' defensive backfield, keep an eye on rookies Donte Whitner, Ashton Youboty and Ko Simpson. Truly, the team's future secondary will be on display tomorrow night.

Ultimately, the Bills will have a great learning experience against the Panthers. Buffalo's first-stringers will likely get completely outplayed, especially on offense, but rebuilding teams need tests like these in order to get better.

Preseason outcomes don't matter, so don't be shocked to see the Bills end up winning the game. However, Delhomme, Smith and the defense will have their way against Buffalo, and the starters are what coaches pay the most attention to. For Jauron it could be a difficult contest to watch.

--Connor J. Byrne can be reached at

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