Players started filtering onto campus last night and tomorrow afternoon the Buffalo Bills will conduct their first training camp workout at St. John Fisher College.
And, thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed last summer by the National Football League and its players, the Bills’ time at the Pittsford campus will be brief.
From Thursday’s initial practice to the team’s final workout the night of Aug. 14, the Bills will be in camp a mere 20 days ... less than three weeks.
During that span, 15 practices will be open to the public, four at night (6:30-9, Sun. July 29, Wed. Aug 1, Sat. Aug. 11 and Tues. Aug. 14).
Afternoon workouts will be from 3-5:30 and are set for Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week plus July 31 and Aug. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 12 and 13.
As has been the case since the Bills moved training camp from Fredonia to Rochester 13 years ago, there’s no fan parking at St. John Fisher. Those attending workouts, which are free, should follow the signs to either Pittsford-Mendon High School or Calkins Road Middle School where shuttle buses ($1 for riders age 12-62) will take them to campus.
There are the usual vendor areas (team merchandise, game tickets, sponsor booths), concession stands (cash only) and the Buffalo Bills Experience with six football-related stations for youth plus a Kids Autograph Zone (selected players for 20 minutes after practice for youth 14-and-under).
OF COURSE, all of that is pretty much the same as always. What figures to reverse declining training camp attendance in recent years is the optimism over the coming season.
Mario Williams, the most prized off-season free agent, and Mark Anderson, two pass-rush specializing defensive ends and backup quarterback Vince Young have created optimism. So have a seemingly solid 9-player draft class including first-rounder Stephon Gilmore, an almost sure starter at cornerback and Cordy Glenn, the second-round pick who will strongly bid for the starting left tackle job.
And these aren’t the same old Bills.
Of Buffalo’s 90-man training camp roster, only 17 of them were inherited by current general manager Buddy Nix, hired on the last day of 2009. And among those enthused about the opening of training camp is Bills’ CEO Russ Brandon.
“It’s the time everyone has been waiting for to get here,” Brandon said earlier this week. “The minicamps are over, the OTAs are over and now the season is upon us. We’re all excited. It’s time to put the paper to the field.
“We encourage our fans to come out to Fisher. As everybody knows, the night practices are widely popular. People also need to know our afternoon practices are great access. It’s very family oriented. It’s a great opportunity for fans to come out and get close to their favorite players.”
Nix is plain ready to get started.
“Obviously the off-season acquisitions helped, but I still think it was time for us,” he said. “If we had not gotten Mario and Mark it would have still been time to start winning some games.
“We’ve done some things right, I think, and we’ve probably made some mistakes along the way. But it's time to close it out and win some games and until we do it’s not complete.”
He added of the organization, “I don’t think anything has changed as far as the way we look at things and our attitude. But I do think we’re realistic enough to know that the first year or two we didn’t have enough depth and enough playmakers to make a difference and probably contend all the way through the year. But I think the feeling is different now and I think we do.”
As for the change from when Nix took over, he admitted, “It’s a lot different. We have good depth at most positions.
“You go as long as we have without winning and I think a lot of people pull for you. But it’s basic with us: hard work, stay focused on what we have to do and stay out of trouble and we’ve been fortunate with that.
“I don’t want to say too much, I might jinx us. But so far it’s been good and I think everybody is looking at the same goal. I believe losing and not being in contention throughout the year will be a huge disappointment, for all of us.”
The Bills’ faithful would agree.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)