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Bills Take Next Step Towards Playoffs In 2002

The Bills showed a five game improvement in 2002 from the dismal 2001 season. Drew Bledsoe led the offense to a fast start, which was needed since the defense struggled in the first half of the year. The defense rebounded down the stretch while the Offense came back down to earth. Here are the position by position final exam grades as well as individual player grades for key players at each position and a look ahead at one might happen with next season's roster:

Quarterbacks: Drew Bledsoe, Alex Van Pelt, Travis Brown

Bledsoe started re-writing the Bills record books in his first season in Buffalo. He broke 10 records including most completions, attempts, and passing yards in a season. He also broke the individual game passing record against Minnesota week 2. He had a spectacular first half of the season but fell back to earth and struggled in the second half of the season before finishing strong in the finale against Cincinnati. His downfall was his lack of patience when defenses took the big plays away from him. His lack of mobility contributed to 54 sacks, which is more than the Bills gave up last year. Van Pelt only saw action in mop up roles in two games. Brown did not see the field this year.
Final Overall Grade B+: Bledsoe had his ups and downs but it is a far cry from the past few years.
Bledsoe B+: He has brought optimism and expectations that the playoffs will be made next year.
Van Pelt Incomplete: Mop up roles and two passes thrown don't warrant a grade.
Brown NA: Knows the offense, and the team is high on him, will likely be back as the third QB next year.

Running Backs: Travis Henry, Larry Centers, Philip Crosby, Shawn Bryson, Sammy Morris, Joe Burns

Henry had a breakout season as he finished with the fifth highest rushing total in Bills history. His 1,438 yards was tempered by 11 fumbles, 8 of them lost to the opposition. He had 13 rushing touchdowns, which is tied for second most in club history. Bryson tore up his knee again and missed the final 10 games. He only had 13 carries all year. Centers wasn't the focal point of a much improved offense like he was in 2001. His role was diminished but finished tied with Henry for third on the club with 43 receptions. Another reason he didn't get on the field as much this year was the emergence of Philip Crosby as a solid blocking fullback. He never carried the ball and only caught four passes but he sprung many holes for Henry. Morris was used very sparingly on offense again this year and only carried the ball twice and caught three passes. He was surpassed as number two on the depth chart after Bryson's injury late in the year by the rookie free agent Burns. He had five of his six carries in the finale but only gained seven yards.
Final Overall Grade B+: Henry had all but 21 running back carries.
Henry A-: He could be among the best if he can hold on to the football.
Centers B: Despite reduced role still made the plays when they went to him. His leadership in the locker room cannot be underrated.
Bryson C-: Didn't do much before his injury and will most likely not be back next year.
Morris D: Only touched the ball five times, down from 27 the year before. His main role is as special teams captain.

Crosby A: Relishes his job as the blocking back and did it superbly.
Burns D-: The club is high on him but didn't show much in very limited action.

Receivers: Eric Moulds, Peerless Price, Josh Reed, Jay Riemersma, Dave Moore, Charles Johnson

Moulds returned to his all-pro form thanks to the right arm of Bledsoe. He caught a club record 100 passes for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns. His partner in crime also benefited from Bledsoe's arrival. Price had a breakout year as he caught 94 passes good for a tie of second place on the club's all-time list. He also had over 1200 yards receiving with 1,252 and nine touchdowns of his own. The rookie Reed caught everything in his path as he had no qualms about going over the middle and taking the hit. He caught 37 balls for 514 yards but would have had better numbers if he wasn't behind Price and Moulds. The victim in the emergence of the wide receivers was Riemersma. He only caught 32 passes and had no touchdowns. He also dropped many passes. Moore was a good free agent acquisition for his blocking skills and he caught 16 passes for 141 yards. Johnson was brought in for his leadership skills and he was very important in the locker room but only caught three passes as the team's fourth wide receiver.
Final Overall Grade A: Bledsoe's arrival gave this unit a resurgence.
Moulds A: Returns to the Pro Bowl where he belongs. If Price leaves he will struggle to reach these numbers again next year.
Price A: Got the big numbers in the big money year. Most likely won't be back as the team can't afford him and Moulds.
Reed A: Looks ready to take over the #2 role if Price doesn't return.
Riemersma D: His lack of production will clinch his release this off season.
Moore C: Will get more playing time next year with Riemersma's pending release.
Johnson C: His value is in the locker room, not on the field.

Offensive Line: Mike Williams, Ruben Brown, Trey Teague, Jonas Jennings, Marques Sullivan, Marcus Price

A solid year for this unit especially in run blocking. They jelled together with a lot of young, and new parts on it as the season progressed. Many of the sacks they gave up was from Bledsoe holding on to the ball too long. Williams had some growing pains as a rookie but will be a stud. Jennings is already a solid tackle in his second season. Sullivan is developing well at right guard and Brown is going to his seventh pro bowl at left guard. Teague was apprehensive about moving to Center after the Bills signed him but he made the move look seamless and now enjoys the position. Price was a solid backup tackle and played very well when Williams and Jennings missed starts with injuries.
Final Overall Grade B: A young, improving line may jell into one of the league's best with some more seasoning.
Williams C+: Had the usual rookie growing pains as any offensive linemen would but will be a great one.
Brown A-: May have had his best year yet, took over the leadership role of the line.
Teague A: His solid and easy move to center was a surprise. He could be an all-pro at that position.
Jennings B+: Jennings may develop into a star. He and Williams should make solid bookends for years to come.
Sullivan C: Another young, promising talent played very well with little experience as the starting left guard.
Price A: Whenever he played you didn't even notice that the starter was out. That is a very good job by a backup player.

Defensive Line: Aaron Schobel, Chidi Ahanotu, Pat Williams, Ron Edwards, Justin Bannan, Grant Irons, Kendrick Office

This group struggled at times in getting a pass rush or stopping the run. Schobel once again led the unit with 8.5 sacks, two more than he had in his rookie season but less than his double digit target. Ahanotu was a late summer free agent acquisition and played very well early but seemed to slump later in the season. Williams had a solid year despite constantly being double teamed. Edwards showed flashes of solid play but was way too inconsistent to be a starter. Bannan and Irons showed a lot of promise as rookies with non stop motors. Office struggled with injuries this year.
Final Overall Grade C-: There is young talent here, but reinforcements are needed.
Schobel B+: Continues to develop into a solid pass rushing end.
Ahanotu C: Brought much needed experience to the line but should be replaced next year by a younger, more talented free agent.
Williams A-: One of these years he'll be recognized as the Pro Bowler he is.
Edwards C-: Needs to learn how to play hard every down.
Bannan B: This rookie looks like he can develop into a solid starting defensive tackle.
Irons B: He's a little undersized but has talent and is driven to be a solid player.
Office D: Ended the season entrenched on the inactive list meaning his days may be numbered in Buffalo.

Linebackers: London Fletcher, Eddie Robinson, Keith Newman, DaShon Polk

Fletcher was brought in the day Sam Cowart signed with the Jets. He broke the team record in tackles and was a monster going sideline to sideline. He also showed great leadership abilities. Robinson was also brought in for his leadership abilities. He is suppose to be another "coach on the field". His play wasn't very good though as age has caught up with him. Newman was never utilized in a capacity that would fit his skills. He wasn't on the field in passing downs when he could rush the passer for most of the year. His numbers were significantly down. Polk was used in the 4-4-3 defense to stop the run and played pretty well.
Final Overall Grade C: Need two new starters on the outside next year.
Fletcher A: He had to be the entire unit this year. Imagine what he could do with talent around him?
Robinson D-: It may be time for him to become a coach off the field.
Newman D-: Was underutilized but didn't make plays when he was out there.
Polk B: Played well in his limited role may have earned more playing time next year.

Secondary: Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements, Coy Wire, Preston Prioleau, Kevin Thomas, Chris Watson, Ahmad Brooks, Jason Bostic, Chris Jenkins

The Ohio State duo at cornerback once again showed that they are among the best duos in the league. They struggled at time early in the year but proved that they are "lockdown corners" late in the year. Watson meanwhile proved that he is not a good nickel corner as he was constantly abused all year. He was finally replaced by the rookie Thomas who played very well the final two weeks of the season. Brooks also showed promise in his limited role. Bostic was also showing skills before getting a serious knee injury. At safety, Prioleau and Wire showed growing pains but steadily improved as the season progressed. Both were learning new positions as Wire was a linebacker in college and Prioleau was playing free safety for the first time. Jenkins was brought in to start but was beaten out for the job by Wire and played minimally this year.
Final Overall Grade B: The young secondary looks to be very promising next year.
Winfield A: They seldom threw at this lockdown corner.
Clements A: Is the big play maker of the unit as he had six interceptions.
Wire C+: Learning on the job is never easy. Should be better next year with a year under his belt.
Prioleau C+: Showed great tackling ability and did better in coverage as the year progressed.
Watson F: His days in Buffalo are surely over.
Bostic B: His injury will probably hamper him heading into next year.
Thomas B+: Struggled in picking up the defense but now looks to be the odds on favorite to be the nickel back next year.
Brooks B: Did a nice job in limited action.
Jenkins D: Didn't get many opportunities but didn't do anything big when he did play.

Special Teams: Mike Hollis, Brian Moorman, Charlie Rogers, Nate Clements, Jay Riemersma, Trey Teague

The addition of Hollis was huge as he made most of his big kicks including a 54 yarder to force overtime in Minnesota. Moorman moved to the head of the class as he finished 4th in the league in punting. Rogers was supposed to make the problems in the return game go away but with the exception of one touchdown he was awful. Clements started seeing time with Rogers on punt returns near the end of the year and did a better job. The coverage units gave up two kick returns for scores on opening day but nothing after that. Riemersma and Teague split the long snapping duties and did fine.
Hollis B+: Made 25 of 33 kicks and brought legitimacy back to the Bills kicking game
Moorman A: Looks like he can be one of the better punters in the game.
Return Game D: Besides one kick return for a score it was a dud. Rogers will not be back.
Coverage Teams B: After the opening day debacle, they did much better.

Coaching: Gregg Williams, Kevin Gilbride, Jerry Gray, Danny Smith

Williams had some questionable gameday decisions but he ran an organized team that played to the bitter end for him once again. Gilbride brought in an offense that was perfect for Bledsoe to run but he didn't make enough needed adjustments down the stretch when defenses took away the big play. Gray was on his way out the door before the late resurgence by the defense. He finally adapted the schemes to the personnel that the Bills have. He should have did that long ago. The special teams were improved under Smith after the opening day debacle against the Jets. They still need to have better blocking schemes in the return game.
Final Overall Grade C+: Working towards something big, but adjustments need to be made.
Williams B-: The team plays for this coach, needs to improve gameday decisions.
Gilbride B+: Better have a better short game next year.
Gray C-: Took way too long to adjust to a pitiful showing in the first half of the year.
Smith C+: The unit was the most improved from the beginning of the year to the end of it.

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