"It looks as if the Bills will be getting a new Stadium in Buffalo and may not have to move to Seattle after all. By the time the new playing field is ready, maybe the Bills' promising youngsters will have jelled into a contending team. As far as the Bills are concerned, there is no place to go but up. They probably would have won more than three games even last year if not for serious injuries which tore the team apart.
Number one on the comeback list is halfback O.J. Simpson, who will be entering his third pro season and still has to live up to expectations. Simpson looked to be on his way last year until he injured his knee on November 8; he avoided surgery but missed the rest of the season. It wasn't only Simpson's loss, however, which destroyed the Bills' ground game. Wayne Patrick, slated to be the starting fullback this year, and substitutes Max Anderson and Greg Jones were also hit by injuries which kept them from playing anywhere from five games to the entire season. Jones and Anderson are the reserves behind Simpson, and Roland Moss, acquired from San Diego last year, should add depth at halfback. Patrick is expected to meet strong competition from third round draft choice Jim Braxton of West Virginia, also a good place kicker.
If the running game hadn't been destroyed then Buffalo's passing game might have been more dangerous in 1970. Rookie of the Year Dennis Shaw emerged as a fine pro quarterback and a team leader. There's depth with Jim Harris and Dan Darragh available. Harris is a strong-armed youngster who filled in for Shaw late in the year. The rookie is Busty Underwood, a 6-3, 216-pounder from Texas Christian.
Complementing Shaw last year, and maybe helping him look extra good in his rookie season, were two exceptional pass catchers- Marlin Briscoe and Haven Moses. They stayed healthy last year and, therefore, rookies Glenn Alexander and Clyde Glosson didn't see much action. Added strength this season should come from Ike Hill, who is moving from cornerback to offense, where he starred in college. But hopefully the big threat will come number one draft choice J.D. Hill of Arizona State, who has frightening speed and excellent reflexes. He could break open some games on punt and kickoff returns, too. As a great a prospect as J.D. is, where is he going to play? Ahead of Moses or Briscoe? Unlikely.
With good speed from the wide receivers, it really doesn't matter much that tight end Austin Denney isn't a deep threat; acquired from Chicago last year, Denney, a second-year pro, is developing into a good blocker and short yardage receiver. He'll defend his starting job against Willie Grate, who saw limited action last year. The biggest challenge, however, could come from second round draft choice Jan White, a crusher at Ohio State. White has great speed for a big man.
Last year's line was not outstanding on pass protection- the Bills' quarterbacks were sacked 53 times. Going into training camp, only right tackle Paul Costa seems to be a shoe-in for a starting job. Howard Kindig, the starting left tackle last season, will meet competition from Art Laster, who showed potential as a rookie, and 11th round draft choice Andy Browder, a 6-4, 255-pounder from Texas A&I. Offensive captain Joe O'Donnell will be challenged at right guard by Jerome Gantt, a second-year man, and left guards Rich Cheek and Jim Reilly will continue their battle for the starting berth they shared as rookies last year. Center Frank Marchlewski will be challenged by young Wayne Fowler and rookie Bruce Jarvis. Fowler and Jarvis are bigger, but Marchlewski is a veteran pro.
Defensively, linebacking is the Bills' strength. Edgar Chandler moved into the middle linebacking job last year and performed well. Mike Stratton, entering his ninth pro season, missed six games because of an injury but is expected to be fully recovered this year. Paul Guidry, beginning his fourth season as the strong-side linebacker, shows improvement each year. The reserves are Al Andrews, who replaced Stratton last season until he was injured, too, J.C. Collins, who didn't play much in '70, Dick Cunningham, the backup MLB, and Mike McCaffrey, who filled in at right linebacker last year but is more comfortable behind Guidry on the left. The rookies are Bob Strickland and Bill McKinley.
The secondary appears set with cornerbacks Butch Byrd and Robert James and safeties Pete Richardson and John Pitts. Byrd will be backed by Alvin Wyatt at right corner (Wyatt came to Buffalo from Oakland in a trade for Bill Enyart). James, who will face a challenge from rookie Tom Beamer, is a hard hitter with good speed who worked his way up to a starting berth after signing with Buffalo as a free agent. Second-string safety Jackie Allen will be a strong contender for a job; he filled in at both corner and safety last year.
In what is said by the players to be a continuing purge of veterans, left defensive end Ron McDole was traded to the swap-happy Washington Redskins in May. However, in a training camp battle for the job, Al Cowlings probably would have come out on top anyway. Last year Cowlings played on the right side, and the 6-5, 258-pound rookie was the Bills' strongest pass rusher. The right end job will go to either veteran Mike McBath, who held the job in '69, or to Louis Ross or Jim Hoots, both rookies. Ross is said to have unusual speed for a 6-6, 238-pounder. Right tackle Bob Tatarek lost time because of an injury last year. He'll be challenged by Julian Nunamaker, who held the job in his absence. There was talk that left tackle Jim Dunaway, an eight-year veteran, might follow McDole in the trade exodus. But the Bills would be short-handed without him. Backup tackle Waddey Harvey can also fill at either end.
The placekicking chores will be handled by Grant Guthrie, who replaced Bruce Alford last year, unless rookie fullback Braxton beats him out. Guthrie set a Buffalo record with a 52-yard field goal and wound up scoring 54 points on 10 field goals and 24 conversions. If punter Paul Maguire retires this year, as has been suspected, Steve Schroder, Dave Chapple and rookie Jim Sheffield will battle for the job. Maguire had only a 38.9-yard average last year."
-Brenda Zanger, Pro Football 1971