It’s worth wondering how much longer the Bills will conduct their training camp at Pittsford’s St. John Fisher College.
It was 20 years ago that Russ Brandon, an SJF alumnus and member of the team’s front office, suggested the Bills end their 19-year affiliation with SUNY Fredonia and move their training to the Rochester-area school.
Brandon, a marketing specialist, reasoned that such a switch would help enhance what was perceived as an under-developed fan area in Monroe County. And he was right.
Training camp at St. John Fisher drew large crowds, attracted by both the intimacy of practices and the various interactive tests and games for kids, plus myriad food, beverage and merchandise options.
But the landscape of preseason workouts has changed since 2000 when then-first-year head coach Gregg Williams incurred the ire of his team when he scheduled several, now-taboo two-a-days.
Fan turnout at St. John Fisher has gradually slipped at the same time the quality of the Bills’ training facilities at New Era Field has risen to state-of-the-art levels.
The whole team-bonding philosophy of NFL training camps being held off-site has given way to the efficiency of using high-quality team facilities at home.
THUS, IT’S no surprise that the Bills will conduct only 11 practices – one of those at New Era Field – in their 13 days at St. John Fisher this summer.
The first is set for Thursday, July 25 and the last will be Tuesday, Aug. 6.
Besides the New Era Field practice – Aug. 2, 6:15 p.m. – which requires a ticket, of the 10 workouts at SJF, two (July 30, Aug. 5) are closed to the public.
Seven of the remaining eight practices (July 25, 26, 27, 28, 31 and Aug. 1, 6) start at 9:45 a.m. and the Sunday, Aug. 4 Military Appreciation Day workout, which also stipulates a ticket, commences at 2:45 p.m.
In addition to the New Era Field and Aug. 4 session, two other SJF workouts (July 27, 28) also require tickets.
Unfortunately for Southern Tier fans, a voucher from one of five Buffalo or Rochester-area businesses is needed to go on buffalobills.com – starting yesterday – to acquire tickets for the New Era practice.
THOSE fortunate enough to attend one of the nine training camp practices open to fans will see a very different Bills roster.
Since the tandem of general manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott took over before the 2017 season, only five players remain: defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, running back LeSean McCoy and long-snapper Reid Ferguson.
The Bills will have 91 players when training camp opens … running back Christian Wade has an international exemption.
Of the other 90 on the squad, 51 were with the team last year and 39 are either 2019 draftees (seven), newly-signed free agents (30) or waiver acquisitions (2).
After training camp, the Bills have scheduled two days of practices (Aug. 13-14) against Carolina at the Panthers’ Wofford College training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. Those workouts will precede the two teams’ preseason game at Bank of America Stadium, Friday, Aug. 16.
And, if you’re counting down, the Bills’ preseason opener is Thursday, Aug. 8 against Indianapolis at New Era Field.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)