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Pitoniak: Time For Kolb To Step Up

The third exhibition game is usually the most telling because it is the one where the starters usually play into the third quarter.
The third exhibition game is usually the most telling because it’s the one where the starters usually play into the third quarter.

Clearly, with EJ Manuel out indefinitely with a knee injury, this is Kevin Kolb’s time to shine. He did not look good last week, but I’m willing to cut him some slack because he was rusty coming back from the time he missed because of a sprained knee and a family matter. But he really needs to step up Saturday against the Washington Redskins.

One thing I’d like to see is a few more shots down the field. The Bills do have speed to burn in their young receiving corps and one of the big problems in recent years has been their inability to stretch a defense because Ryan Fitzpatrick had a pop-gun arm.

If EJ heals as quickly as we are led to believe, he still could be the Bills quarterback come opening day, but if Kolb seizes this opportunity, he might convince Doug Marrone that he should be the starter, at least for the early part of the season.

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The cutting of veteran Rian Lindell was inevitable. The Bills didn’t draft a kicker for the second year in a row just to have somebody push Lindell in camp. I still think Steve Christie is the best kicker in Bills history, but Lindell was a close second. He made more than 81 percent of his field goals - making him the most accurate Buffalo kicker of all-time - and he delivered his share of game-winning boots. Now, the onus is on Dustin Hopkins, the rookie from Florida with the booming leg.

Interestingly, the Bills once went through kickers the way George Steinbrenner went through managers. But they’ve been very stable since Scott Norwood won the job in 1985. Norwood held the job for seven years, Christie for nine, Jake Arians for one, Mike Hollis for one and Lindell for 10. So, Hopkins becomes only the sixth Bills kicker in 28 years, making this one of the franchise’s most reliable positions during that span.

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Another guy to watch Saturday is Stevie Johnson. For the second consecutive camp, the three-time 1,000-yard receiver has been hampered by nagging injuries. If the Bills can immediately utilize some of their speedy young receivers, Stevie could get more one-on-one opportunities and put up even better numbers.

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Good to have Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd back in the fold, but it would have been beneficial to him and his secondary mates if he had been here for the entire camp. Byrd certainly is smart enough to catch up on what new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is trying to do with his attack-style defense. But coordination with your fellow defensive backs takes time together on the field.

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There’s been a palpable difference between this and other camps I’ve covered in recent years. Yes, some of it is the natural energy that comes with a new coaching staff. But I’ve liked the quick pace and sense of purpose and urgency I’m seeing from the players. That’s a credit to Marrone and his assistants. Not saying that’s necessarily going to translate into immediately success, but I think it’s a step in the right direction.

Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the late 1960s and covered them since 1985. He has written six books about the team’s history, including “My Life on a Special Team,” with Bills special teams great Steve Tasker that is now available in bookstores and at amazon.com.

 

 

 
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