The Buffalo Bills open training camp Thursday with one of their few evening practices of the summer. It will be the first camp under new coach Sean McDermott, who was hired after the firing of Rex Ryan at the end of last season.
There are plenty of question marks for the Bills entering the 2017 campaign. How will McDermott handle his new post? Will the rushing attack pick up where it left off under a new coaching staff? What kind of performance will we see out of the defense, which wasn't good under Ryan?
Here are five things to watch in the Buffalo Bills' 2017 training camp:
(1) The McDermott Way. How the new coach runs training camp will be something to watch. McDermott is setting a new tone and it's apparent that camp and practices will be much different under his leadership than they were when Ryan was in charge. How the players respond to his coaching style will be interesting and it could determine whether this team can make a run at the playoffs.
(2) The quarterbacks. Behind Tyrod Taylor are three quarterbacks vying to make the team: Cardale Jones, a 2016 draft pick; Nathan Peterman, who the Bills selected in the fifth round this year; and T.J. Yates, a nine-year veteran whose spent most of his time as a backup in the NFL.
Peterman probably isn't going anywhere. The Bills could easily keep him as a No. 3 option. The question then is who will be No. 2? Will the Bills go with another young quarterback in Jones? Or will they sign Yates as a veteran option in case Taylor gets hurt? That's a competition worth watch.
(3) The wide receiving corps. Anquan Boldin is scheduled to visit the Bills Monday. He could be in contention for a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver spot on the team. But that's only if he signs with the Bills.
Sammy Watkins is, without question, the No. 1 receiver. After that, there are a lot of questions. The Bills drafted Zay Jones in the second round as a potential No. 2 option. We'll see how he performs in camp and whether he will claim the second spot.
As of Monday, there are 12 wide receivers on the team. At least six or seven of them won't make the cut. One player to watch is Andre Holmes, who has shown flashes of brilliance in the past as a member of the Oakland Raiders. He's a leading contender for one of the receiving slots on the team.
(4) Will the defense improve in 2017? This is arguably the biggest question mark. The Bills offense should be solid. Between Taylor's arm and the ground game, the offense should be able to produce some points and keep the Bills in most contests.
Whether the Bills can actually compete for a playoff spot will depend on the defense. This unit didn't perform well under Rex Ryan. Critics will point to Ryan's scheme as a problem, and they're not wrong. But McDermott, as a former defensive coach, will likely spend a lot of his time figuring out what to do with his new team's defense. He'll have his hands full.
The good news for McDermott is he has some talent to work with. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will look to bounce back. Jerry Hughes is a good edge rusher. Shaq Lawson showed off his abilities in limited action last season.
Historically, McDermott defenses have been tough and some of the best units in the league. He may not be able to turn around the Bills' defense in one year, but he's going to do his best to try.
(5) Will Colton Schmidt remain the Bills' punter? Special teams is important, and who punts for the Bills in 2017 is up in the air. Schmidt, as the incumbent, has the inside track. But he's coming off an inconsistent 2016 season. He's got a big leg and has shown he can pin teams deep in their own end.
He'll have some competition in camp. Austin Rehkow, a rookie out of Idaho, will vie for a spot on the team. What's unique about Rehkow is he handled kicking and punting duties at Idaho. He probably won't kick field goals for the Bills, but if he wins a spot on the team, he could handle kickoff duties. That's something Schmidt can't do.
Punters are important. They can help with the field position battle and get you out of jams in your own end. Finding someone who can consistently handle these duties should be a priority. The Schmidt-Rehkow competition will be worth following this summer.