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Optimism reigns as Buffalo begins its training camp

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Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 12:51 am

It’s the start of unbridled  season hopes for Bills’ fans.

Last night, the first wave of some 86 players began descending upon Buffalo’s training camp home, Pittsford’d St. John Fisher College.

Then, starting tomorrow, the Bills will open a series of 19 practices — 15 of them open to the public — the final one, closed to fans, set for Aug. 22.

And the schedule reflects the NFL circa 2013 as double sessions are part of the past.

In addition, practice times are varied.

There are five of the popular night practices (6:10 to 9 o’clock) and all are free, though fans must get tickets from participating Verizon stores.

Evening workouts are set for Sunday; Mon. Aug 5; Fri. Aug. 9; Wed. Aug 14  and Tues. Aug 20.

There are also six morning practices (8:10-11:10) scheduled  Tues. July 30 through Sat. Aug.  3, plus Wed. Aug. 7 and Sun. Aug.  18.

Finally, new coach Doug Marrone has  slated four afternoon sessions (2:10-5:10): Mon. July 29; Sun. Aug 4; Mon. Aug 12 and Wed. Aug. 21.

OTHER THAN that, the format hasn’t changed.

Camp admission is free ... including those tickets for the night practices.

However, there’s no parking on the small campus. Hence, fans must park at either Sutherland or  Pittsford-Mendon High Schools, with an overflow lot at Barker Rd. Middle School.

All three sites can be found by following signs and are served by shuttle buses which charge a $1 donation for riders age 12-62.

No alcohol is allowed on campus, but fans can bring food, beverages, small coolers, thermoses, binoculars, cameras etc.

And, once again, the team has a Buffalo Bills Experience for youth in an area adjacent to the practice fields. Among the venues are: quarterback challenge, field goal challenge, football toss, defensive blaster, red zone and obstacle course.

In addition, after each practice, selected players will sign items for those under age 14 in the Kids Autograph Zone.

If inclement weather forces the Bills to practice inside, the workout is closed to the public.

Fans can check ahead by calling the training camp information number (877-228-4257).

WHAT TO look for at camp?

Start with the most high-profile battle ... quarterback.

Veteran Kevin Kolb will be challenged by rookie first-round draft choice EJ Manuel.

On the offensive line, former Steeler Doug Legursky will be trying to win the left guard job of former starter Andy Levitre, now with Tennessee, while heir apparent at right tackle, Eric Pears, at 31 and coming off an injury, will face some young hopefuls.

But, aside from QB, the major battle on that side of the ball will be at wide receiver where No. 1 Stevie Johnson and versatile veteran Brad Smith provide the only real experience while nine others are either rookies or have one year in the league.

On defense, 10 tackles are bidding to make the roster on a unit that will use 3- and 4-man lines somewhat equally.

At linebacker, four of the seven on last year’s squad are gone and other than free-agent signee Manny Lawson on the strongside and second-year pro Nigel Bradham inside — both likely to start — the other spots are an open competition.

Two new starters loom at safety with George Wilson, who played the strong spot, signing with the Titans while Jairus Byrd, a star at the free position, still has not signed his “franchise player” contract.

Finally, there are the two kicking spots, where 14-year veteran placement specialist Rian Lindell and punter Shawn Powell, a rookie last season, figure to get tough challenges.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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