PITTSFORD — The excitement is palpable.
And even the Bills’ coaches haven’t discouraged fans’ expectations for the coming season.
In fact, third-year coach Chan Gailey, 10-22 in his first two seasons with Buffalo, has admitted “It’s times to start winning.”
And after Tuesday’s practice, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, looking ahead to the regular season, admitted, “If we play the way I think we can, and avoid major injuries, I think we can make some noise.”
He’s particularly high on his starting defensive line in his newly-installed 4-3 defense.
The ends are Mario Williams, the $100 million man, and pass rush specialist Mark Anderson, Buffalo’s free-agent signing coup.
Inside, at tackle, are Marcell Dareus, last year’s No. 3 overall pick, coming off an exciting rookie season, and incessantly active Kyle Williams, invited to two of the last three Pro Bowls.
But it’s not just the starters who have Wannstedt excited.
The reserves are ends Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman and tackles Spencer Johnson and Dwan Edwards ... bona fide first stringers as well.
“If things go as they have,” he said, “this could be the best group of tackles I’ve been around.”
Then, looking ahead to Thursday night’s pre-season opener against Washington at “The Ralph,” Wannstedt admitted, “I’m excited. We’re going to play fast (and) our guys will give great effort. We’re just going to play our scheme (but) our athleticism will be tested.”
MEANWHILE, Mario Williams can’t wait.
“Preseason is one of those things where you go out there (and) finally get real hits,” he said. “They don’t count as far as going toward the record or stats and things like that, but you get (everybody) moving around, basically.
“It’s kind of like going out there and driving a car and breaking it in. That’s what we want to do ... go out there and move around against other people, see what’s going on and see how we play off one another.”
Then, too, it will be his first game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the initial chance to impress the fans who have embraced him since he committed to Buffalo five months ago.
“This is the preseason, but this might actually be a lot more exciting as far as it being the first time going out there and seeing the field, being in that environment and just seeing the fans’ reaction,” Mario said. “It’s almost like me being a rookie all over again and I kind of have to make sure I don’t get too excited and too tired.”
THERE’S ALSO the reality that the two-time Pro Bowl selection missed the final 11 games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.
“It’s a fact that I didn’t get to play for awhile and now I get to go out there and see the fans in completely different scenery,” Mario said. “It’s a different scenario ... back to a 4-3 defensive end.”
What does he foresee against the Redskins?
“(Playing) all out ... not just for myself but for everyone on our d-line. It’s just effort and being aggressive. That sums up about everything that could possibly happen,” he said. “If we’re going all out, full speed good things are going to happen.”
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)