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Chuck Pollock: As camp opens, a look at the Buffalo Bills’ offense and the loss of Hines

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK

The Bills training camp has opened at Pittsford’s St. John Fisher University and there are numerous questions to be answered.

Over the 12 practices starting today and ending Aug. 10, plus the annual intrasquad scrimmage booked for 5:30 Friday afternoon, Aug. 4 at Highmark Stadium, the first steps will be made toward parring a 90-man roster down to the regular-season limit of  53, plus a 16-player practice squad.

And so, a full eight days before players are even allowed to wear pads, let’s take a look at Buffalo’s offense heading into a critical season where the Dolphins and Jets pose a very real threat to the Bills bid for a fourth straight AFC East title.

ODDLY, the assessment starts with questions about this unit’s two most certain starters, real or fabricated.

Quarterback Josh Allen has spent the offseason immersed in the spotlight, starting with the publicity he and his new girlfriend, actress Hailee Steinfeld, have generated. Then there were the celebrity golf tournaments, vacation trips and expanded appearances in commercials.

It’s certainly his right and until he proves this offseason was not a distraction, there’s no reason for Josh to apologize for living his life. Still, there are those who worry that this year is different than when he spent the offseason studying under QB guru Jordan Palmer and totally focused on football.

But Josh IS a part of the other issue, namely wide receiver Stefon Diggs going full prima donna during and after the embarrassing 27-10 home playoff loss to Cincinnati. When last we saw him, Diggs was pointing an angry finger while screaming at Allen on the sideline, presumably for not being targeted enough. He then doubled down, leaving the locker room in a huff even before coach Sean McDermott talked to the team. Diggs had to be cajoled into returning.

Also part of this mix is offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey who, in his first season in that role, seemed to underutilize Diggs down the stretch, limiting the field-stretching routes in which he specializes.

Evidently, no effort was made by McDermott or his offensive staff to make sure the issue was rectified during the offseason, apparently feeling time would heal that wound.

Diggs skipped voluntary OTAs, hardly the act of a so-called leader.

Then, at mandatory minicamp, McDermott was “very concerned” that Diggs wasn’t there … except he had gotten his physical and was actually in the building.

Talk about an egregious communications gaffe.

A day later, the seventh-year coach admitted Diggs was there and that he had excused the veteran wideout from practice after a productive discussion.

McDermott, a whiz at whistling-past-a-graveyard comments, pronounced the issue “resolved.”

Allen maintains there is no rift, attributing Diggs’ behavior to his “competitiveness.” Of course, that’s laughable … name one successful NFL player who isn’t.

We have yet to hear from Diggs, but we will if the Bills get off to a slow start and his targets are down.

You get the idea this isn’t over because McDermott wasn’t proactive during the offseason and it’s created a possible issue that can divide a team depending on how the season progresses.

THE FOCUS should really be the on-field stuff.

The first priority is, will Gabe Davis be Buffalo’s unquestioned No. 2 wideout? After giving a great tease with that four-touchdown effort in the nightmarish “13 seconds”  overtime playoff loss at Kansas City two years ago, he was distressingly inconsistent last season. If it’s not him, who fills that role, free agent Deonte Harty or fifth-round draft choice Justin Shorter?

Buffalo goes to camp with 13 wide receivers, six of them longshots to make the roster including two rookies.

There’s also a complicating issue, namely first-round draft choice Dalton Kincaid, a tight end Buffalo hopes to use as a slot receiver, putting either free agent Trent Sherfield’s or ’‘22 draftee Khalil Shakir’s jobs at risk.

With Devin Singletary gone via free agency, the Bills running back situation appears solid with second-year pro James Cook the de facto starter backed by a pair of productive free agents, Damien Harris, a short-yardage beast who scored 15 touchdowns for New England two years ago, and Latavius Murray an 11-year pro who is on his seventh team and has performed well as both a starter and a short-yardage specialist.

The question mark is replacing Nyheim Hines, the trade acquisition from the Colts, who returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a game against the Patriots last season. He is out for the season after an off-the-field injury. The key is if Buffalo can find a cheaper and more versatile kick returner.

Tight end is set with starter Dawson Knox and Kincaid, though the latter’s snaps will be decided by how well he adapts to the slot.

That leaves the offensive line — there will be 17 in camp —  where right tackle Spencer Brown and right guard Ryan Bates are competing for their jobs. The left side is set with veteran tackle Dion Dawkins, free agent guard Connor McGovern and center Mitch Morse.

Bates is safe because he’s also the backup center, but the Bills hope the job will be won by second-round draft choice O’Cyrus Torrence. Brown’s main opposition will be free agent Brandon Shell.

Those questions will start to be answered come the preseason opener Aug. 12 at Orchard Park against the Colts.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.)

In case you missed it from Chuck:

Why did the Bills fire Raccuia?

Inside story on St. Bonaventure leaving WPIG

Open season on McDermott’s credibility?

Why McDermott and Beane were extended

A Hall of Fame honor for the late Kevin Austin of Wellsville

Ending the absence of writing, the return of Chuck Pollock

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