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Bills Have High Hopes as Camp Opens

The time for talking is over as far as Bills running back Fred Jackson is concerned.

With training camp set to open in suburban Rochester on Thursday, Jackson said it’s time the Bills start showing they’re capable of playing to the high expectations that followed a productive offseason.

“You want to be respected, but at the same time, it’s just talk until we get out there on the football field,” Jackson said Wednesday after the team held a voluntary conditioning session. “So we’ve got to go out there and make it worth it.”

For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 seasons, there’s a big buzz of belief that these Bills could be in store for a breakthrough. It began with Buffalo re-signing receiver Stevie Johnson in early March, and was followed by the even bigger splash that came with signing defensive end Mario Williams three days into free agency.

The addition of a pass-rushing specialist such as Williams — at a whopping $100 million price tag — was part of a major overhaul of a defense that ranked among the NFL’s worst last year.

On offense, the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led unit returns mostly intact after showing flashes of production last year. Despite a late-season swoon, the unit still produced 5,624 yards, Buffalo’s most since 1992, and finished 14th in the NFL in yards, the best ranking since Drew Bledsoe’s first season in 2002.

Add it up, and that makes the start of camp this year as one of the most highly anticipated in Buffalo since Bledsoe’s arrival in 2002. Though they failed to make the playoffs during Bledsoe’s three-year tenure, the Bills did enjoy a 9-7 finish in 2004 — the last time Buffalo had a winning season.

“We have work to do, and we are all optimistic and excited to be here,” veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay said. “If we can stay healthy with the guys we have, we will be making a push and we will be contending.”

Even general manager Buddy Nix isn’t couching his expectations.

“I believe losing and not being in contention throughout the year will be a huge disappointment for all of us,” Nix said a day earlier. “It’s time to close it out and win some games. And until we do, it is not complete.”

The Bills are coming off a 6-10 season in which injuries and inexperience led to the team losing eight of its last nine games.

That was a switch from Nix and head coach Chan Gailey’s first year together in 2010, when the Bills lost their first eight en route to a 4-12 finish.

Now, Gailey would like to see his team put it together for an entire season.

“The majority of our team has been through a fast start and a slow start, so I think we are mentally capable of handling whichever happens,” Gailey said.

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