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Bills will be introducing a dramatically changed roster

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 10:00 am

Quick quiz.

How many Bills players who will report to training camp at St. John Fisher on Saturday were on the roster when Dick Jauron coached the team?

Thirty? Twenty? A dozen?

How about seven ... eight if you count unsigned free safety Jairus Byrd?

That’s how much Buffalo’s squad has changed since Jauron was dismissed midway through the 2009 season.

Nearly 90 players will show up two days hence for Doug Marrone’s initial training camp as Bills’ coach. Admittedly, 36 of them are rookies, former practice squadders or players who have previously taken part in NFL preseason workouts. Most will serve as the obligatory cannon fodder in camp drills and scrimmages and predictably end up cut at one of the two roster reductions late next month.

But many will have a shot at making a roster undergoing a major makeover.

Come Saturday, the longest tenured Bill will be kicker Rian Lindell, beginning his 11th season in Buffalo, but facing a major challenge from Dustin Hopkins, the draftee from Florida State.

Next in seniority is defensive tackle Kyle Williams with eight seasons, followed by running back Fred Jackson and linebacker Bryan Scott with seven apiece. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin has six campaigns while center Eric Wood and long-snapper Garrison Sanborn have been Bills for five seasons. Byrd, on whom Buffalo has applied the “franchise” tag, but who has yet to sign the contract, is also entering his fifth season.

BUFFALO’S youngest position, by far, is wide receiver.

Little-used, but versatile Brad Smith has the chronological edge, at age 29, but starter Stevie Johnson, who just turned 27, is the real veteran of the group. Of the other nine, five are either rookies or have been to a previous training camp (draftees Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin and free agents Da’Rick Rogers, Chris Hogan and Brandon Kaufman), and four are entering their second seasons (former draftees Marcus Easley and T.J. Graham plus DeMarco Sampson and Kevin Elliott, who played with other teams).

ONE PLAYER who won’t be there, of course, is defensive end Mark Anderson, released on Tuesday.

Last season he was paid just over $8 million — including signing bonus — pretty expensive for just five games and one sack, though the reason was a knee injury he sustained early in the campaign that ultimately required two surgeries.

Still, the expense versus “production” conjures memories of other failed Bills free-agent signings of the Derrick Dockery, Jeff Posey, Langston Walker ilk.

Anderson’s exit means that only one of the Bills five defensive ends on last year’s active roster — Mario Williams — remains. Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman have retired and Kyle Moore was lost to Chicago in free agency.

Joining Mario Williams at that position in training camp will be young swing linemen (end or tackle) Corbin Bryant and Izaan Cross, plus Jamie Blatnik.

Oddly, though, the Bills list nine defensive tackles on their training camp roster including veterans Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Alex Carrington and Torrell Troup.

That said, new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine uses a hybrid scheme that utilizes 3- and 4-man lines and values versatility in that linebackers such as Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes, formerly with the Bengals and Colts, respectively, could line up at end.

MEANWHILE, Bills’ fans who don’t comprehend the amount of change this team is embracing should consider this.

Buffalo, come the regular-season opener at “The Ralph” against the Pats, could have as many as 13 or 14 new starters from the end of last season for the 24 positions, including kicker and punter.

On offense, start with quarterback where Ryan Fitzpatrick is now at Tennessee via free agency, his position to be taken by either veteran Kevin Kolb or first-round draft choice EJ Manuel.

Fullback Corey McIntyre was waived as Marrone’s system rarely makes use of that position.

Left guard Andy Levitre signed with the Titans as a free agent and former Steeler Doug Legursky is the heir apparent.

There’s an asterisk at right tackle where Sam Young ended the season as the starter after nominal No. 1 Erik Pears was injured. With third-year pro Chris Hairston on the physically-unable-to-perform list, Pears, now healthy, should reclaim his job, but he’ll be pressed.

Another asterisk is at tight end where blocking specialist Lee Smith started at season’s end for the injured Scott Chandler, who should be full speed after rehabilitating his knee problem.

Graham started opposite Johnson in last year’s finale, but the glut of wide receivers hardly ensures he’ll retain the job.

ON DEFENSE, it’s uncertain who will emerge in Anderson’s spot while middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard was traded to Indianapolis and outside backer Nick Barnett, the team’s leading tackler, was waived. Rookie second-round pick Kiko Alonso figures to inherit Sheppard’s spot with Lawson replacing Barnett.

Former starting cornerback Aaron Williams has converted to strong safety, ostensibly replacing George Wilson, who also signed with the Titans.

And, finally, there’s free safety where Byrd may or may not line up come the opener ... depending upon whether he signs the “franchise” contract.

Meanwhile, Lindell’s job is hardly a lock and second-year punter Shawn Powell will be challenged by free agent Brian Stahovich.

That’s why Bills’ fans are particularly excited about this year’s training camp.

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

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