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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 13: New York Giants

New York Giants v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

If the NFL seeded every team one through 32 last January and had a playoff tourney, the Giants would have been a chic sleeper pick to win it all. Everyone knows New York is a serious threat no matter its seed.

Of course, there is no such 32-team tournament. Only six teams per conference make the playoffs. And in three of the last four seasons, the postseason has begun with the Giants at home.

The NFL isn’t about to open the postseason to everyone and thus devalue the regular season in the process, so it’s up to the Giants to rack up the wins necessary to get a playoff bid.

The question is, are the up to the task?

Here’s a look at the Giants as training camp approaches:

Strengths.

In Eli Manning, the Giants have a skilled, experienced, playoff-tested, durable quarterback. Think of all the teams that don’t have such stability at this key position. The Giants do, and it’s a primary reason they can’t be discounted.

Manning is surrounded by talented skill-position players. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are an elite wide receiving tandem. The depth beyond Nicks and Cruz is strong, too, with Rueben Randle, Louis Murphy and Ramses Barden also useful players.

The Giants also appear in good shape at running back, where David Wilson and Andre Brown comprise a capable tandem. New York also did well to add pass-catching tight end Brandon Myers (ex-Oakland) to replace Martellus Bennett, who signed with Chicago.

The strength of the defense is a deep defensive line led by ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, though the latter is recovering from back surgery.

Finally, the bulk of this club’s core has at least one Super Bowl ring. The Giants have won big, and they have thrived in one of the world’s biggest media markets for close to a decade under coach Tom Coughlin. GM Jerry Reese also deserves credit — the Giants annually have a deep, talented roster.

Weaknesses.

Whether the Giants make the postseason could well come down to the play of their defense, which has been below-par of late. The Giants have ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per game and yards per play in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, only New Orleans was worse in both categories. The Giants struggled against the run (28th in yards per carry allowed) and pass (31st in opponents’ yards per pass play) a season ago.

While the Giants are strong in the front four, their back seven isn’t as imposing. Their linebacking corps lacks a standout, and the depth is questionable, too. The Giants have a similar situation at cornerback, where Prince Amukamara and Corey Webster are the starters with Aaron Ross (back after a forgettable one-year stint in Jacksonville), Jayron Hosley and Terrell Thomas other options. Thomas is coming off his third right ACL tear, and his ability to contribute remains to be seen.

Changes.

The Giants bid adieu to the tough tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, a key part of two Super Bowl teams, leaving Wilson (5-9, 205) and Brown (6-0, 227) to carry the load in the backfield.

Wilson, the club’s 2012 first-round pick, has exceptional speed. If he continues to round out his game, he could give an already potent offense yet another boost.

“He still makes mistakes, but there has certainly been . . . some significant growth,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said of Wilson in June, according to the club. “Now until you get the pads on — and he has to show that he, as a smaller guy, can do the things necessary that other small backs in this league have done — you are still kind of holding your breath when you see him.”

Brown, who scored eight TDs in just 73 carries in 2012, would figure to be the Giants’ short-yardage, red-zone and between-the-tackles specialist.

Two notable additions on offense are Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four TDs for Oakland in 2012; and rookie right tackle Justin Pugh, who will compete to start right off the bat.

There are numerous changes on defense. Defensive Osi Umenyiora departed for Atlanta. Mathias Kiwanuka, who started six games at strong-side linebacker for New York in 2012, could see more time at end with Umenyiora gone and Pierre-Paul coming off back surgery. The Giants also added rookie pass-rush prospect Damontre Moore in Round Three.

Two former Eagles — Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson — were added to bolster New York’s defensive tackle ranks. The Giants also added Ohio State tackle Johnathan Hankins in Round Two.

Middle linebacker Dan Connor (ex-Dallas) was added in March, effectively replacing Chase Blackburn, who signed with Carolina. The Giants also parted ways with Michael Boley, who logged multiple starts at strong- and weak-side linebacker in 2012.

Talented-but-injury-prone safety Kenny Phillips signed with the Eagles. Ryan Mundy (ex-Pittsburgh) figures to be the third safety behind starters Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown.

The Giants replaced longtime kicker Lawrence Tynes with Josh Brown, who connected on 11-of-12 field goals for Cincinnati in the 2012 regular season. In his prime, the 34-year-old Brown was regarded as one of the NFL’s best kickers, and he was sharp in his stint with the Bengals a season ago.

Position battles.

With Blackburn departing in free agency, the Giants will have a new starter at middle linebacker. Mark Herzlich, primarily a reserve in his first two NFL seasons, held the job in offseason workouts.

“He’s taken a leadership role out there and I think he has some good respect from his teammates in some of the things he’s done in the OTAs,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said in June, according to a transcript from the team. “Obviously, we want to find out what happens when the pads come on.”

Connor, who has 27 starts, is another option in the middle.

There may be greater uncertainty at outside linebacker, with Keith Rivers, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger among the competitors for playing time. Per ESPNNewYork.com, Rivers and Paysinger were the starters outside in the offseason, though Williams was dealing with a knee injury. For the record, Rivers made three starts on the strong side and three on the weak side in 2012, with Williams starting two games on the strong side and one on the weak side. All three of Paysinger’s 2012 starts came at weak-side linebacker.

On offense, Pugh and veteran David Diehl will compete at right tackle. Both could potentially play guard, too. Also, how the Giants divide carries between Wilson and Brown will be closely watched by fans and fantasy-football players alike.

Prospects

The Giants lost their final four road games of 2012. Similar struggles away from home to begin this season would be very problematic for New York, which starts the 2013 campaign with three-of-four on the road, including the season-opener at Dallas. Overall, five of the Giants’ first eight contests before their Week Nine bye are away from MetLife Stadium.

After the bye, the Giants have three straight home games, with the Nov. 17 prime-time meeting vs. Green Bay perhaps the biggest challenge.

Nevertheless, all of that home cooking presents a big opportunity for Coughlin’s club. The Giants — like every other team in the competitive East — need to get their wins when they can. The division hasn’t produced multiple playoff teams since 2009.

Should the Giants get back to the postseason, there will be no doubting their readiness for the rigors of January. The NFC East is tough. And it will also take its toll, too, as the Giants, 9-9 in division play the last three seasons, too well know. To get to January, New York needs to slog through the schedule that encompasses the kids going back to school, the leaves turning colors and all of that holiday music on the radio.

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Timing of Clady injury gives Broncos ample time to react

Peyton Manning, Ryan Clady, Rob Ninkovich AP

Two years ago, the Broncos lost left tackle Ryan Clady for the year in Week Two. They made it to the Super Bowl.

Sure, they could have used him against Seattle in the Super Bowl, but the Broncos nevertheless had a very successful season with Clady not contributing much to it. And they had to react to Clady’s absence on the fly, with no time to do anything other than call the next man up.

In 2013, Chris Clark got the assignment. And Clark is still on the team, able to do now what he did then — with a lot more time to prepare for the assignment.

Veteran Ryan Harris, who signed with the Broncos in the immediate aftermath of the Clady injury, can handle the right side, and youngsters Michael Schofield and Ty Sambrailo can compete for reps and provide depth.

Of course, the fact that the latest Clady injury happened in May could prompt a certain quarterback who may be entering the last year of his career to clamor for one or more 2016 draft picks to be dangled in an effort to upgrade the position, especially since said quarterback may not be around when those picks would be used.

Still, it’s much better to have time to react to a major injury. The Broncos did well to replace Clady when they didn’t have that luxury. They’ll now be expected to do it again.

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Ishmaa’ily Kitchen signs restricted tender with Browns

Ish Kitchen Getty Images

Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Ishmaa’ily Kitchen signed his restricted free agent tender with the team on Thursday.

The Browns placed a right of first refusal tender on Kitchen prior to the start of free agency in March. The tender is worth $1.542 million for the 2015 season.

Kitchen appeared in 12 games for Cleveland and made three starts while playing primarily at nose tackle. He recorded 43 tackles for the season. In his three-year career, Kitchen has played in 40 games for the Browns.

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Confusion emerges regarding basis for Hardy discipline

Hardy Getty Images

The Greg Hardy appeal hearing has come and gone, and confusion has emerged regarding one of the most important aspects of the case.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, Hardy and the NFL Players Association contend that the NFL failed to specify during the hearing whether league imposed on Hardy a 10-game suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy in force at the time of the alleged misconduct or under the version that came later in the year, following the Ray Rice debacle. Hardy and the NFLPA also contend that arbitrator Harold Henderson failed to force the NFL to say which version of the policy was used.

In an appearance last month on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash seemed to emphasize that the discipline was imposed under the old policy. But he also made it clear that the investigation occurred under the new procedures that were adopted after the Rice case.

The alleged confusion also comes in the wake of an effort by the union to have the NFL deemed to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with the court order issued in the case filed on behalf of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. That motion specifically claims that the league applied the new policy retroactively to Hardy, in defiance of the ruling from Judge David Doty to the contrary in Peterson’s case.

Absent a significant reduction in Hardy’s suspension, a lawsuit is inevitable in his case, too. And Hardy could easily win.

But no one would be able to accuse the NFL of going too soft on off-field misconduct. Given that the Rice situation nearly took down a Commissioner, the NFL will never be accused of going too soft on off-field misconduct ever again.

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Report: Giants meet with Jake Long

Jake Long AP

The Giants, who are likely to be without their starting left tackle for at least part of the 2015 season, have reportedly huddled with a four-time Pro Bowler at the position.

Ex-Ram Jake Long, who has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, met with the Giants on Thursday, per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2008 by Miami, the 30-year-old Long has torn his right ACL in back-to-back seasons, most recently on October 26. He also has suffered biceps and triceps tears in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The Rams released Long in March after two seasons.

The Giants’ incumbent left tackle, Will Beatty, suffered a pectoral tear last week. The injury could force first-round pick Ereck Flowers to step into the lineup right off the bat on the left side.

If healthy, Long would bolster the Giants’ tackle depth, giving them insurance in the event Flowers isn’t ready. However, Long would have to pass a physical.

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Adrian Peterson takes aim at the NFLPA

Adrian Peterson AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson isn’t happy. The good news is he’s finally admitting it. The bad news is that it’s still not clear who or what he’s not happy with.

After months of leaks and comments from folks close to Peterson but not Peterson suggesting that he’s not happy with the Vikings because of how the team reacted to Peterson’s off-field issue last year, Peterson made it clear on Wednesday night that he’s not happy with a contract that provides him no further guaranteed money. On Thursday, Peterson broadened his attack to encompass the entire system.

On Thursday night, Peterson took specific aim at the NFL Players Association.

“To clarify,” Peterson said on Twitter, “since analysts & everyone else have the answers as to what place in MY Heart this ‘rant‘ came from, this is not against the Vikings. I am just frustrated that our union did not get guaranteed contracts for its players. NFL players deserve guaranteed contracts like Our NBA and MLB brothers. Owners have the right to release players, at will, without honoring their contracts. However, players do not have the luxury of saying that they want out of their contract. And I won’t even get into the franchise tag convo.”

I’m a huge Adrian Peterson fan. I always have been. But I’m definitely not a fan of this new tactic.

Peterson believes he has in some way been wronged, by someone, over the past nine months. Still, a shotgun attack on a system that has made him a very rich man and that has the Vikings ready to pay a 30-year-old running back $12.75 million this year makes little sense.

Four years ago, he could have insisted on a fully-guaranteed contract. Or he could have insisted on a shorter-term deal, which would have allowed him to get a fresh start elsewhere. Instead, with full awareness of a system that was reiterated by a Collective Bargaining Agreement signed not long before he signed his latest contract, Peterson made a seven-year commitment, knowing that the commitment would only go both ways as long as his employer wanted it to.

Peterson made that commitment after comparing pro football to “modern-day slavery.” So he went in with eyes and ears open as to what the NFL is (or as to what he thinks it is), he signed a long-term contract, he willingly and voluntarily took a $12 million signing bonus, he earned more than $35 million over four years at a position that has become largely interchangeable in recent seasons, and he’ll get another $12.75 million this year by simply showing up for work.

It’s unclear whether Peterson is willing to not play this year or to retire if the Vikings don’t guarantee his contract beyond 2015 or if they won’t trade him. It’s possible he simply needed to vent, as he makes his way from anger to bargaining then denial, depression, and finally acceptance.

Regardless, he’s not going to find much sympathy here, or pretty much anywhere.

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Cowboys sign rookie LB Damien Wilson

2015 NFL Scouting Combine Getty Images

The Cowboys almost have their entire rookie class under contract.

Dallas has signed fourth-round selection Damien Wilson, a linebacker from Minnesota, the team said Thursday.

The pact with Wilson leaves cornerback Byron Jones, the Cowboys’ first-round selection, as the only rookie without a deal.

Wilson (6-0, 243) notched 197 tackles (16 for loss) in two seasons with the Golden Gophers. He was timed at 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, and he posted a 37-inch vertical leap.

“He’s learning real well, and he’s working real hard, so excited about where’s he going,” Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said of Wilson on Wednesday.

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Malcolm Jenkins: No one on the Eagles thinks we have a race issue

malcolmjenkins AP

Former Eagle LeSean McCoy may think Chip Kelly got rid of the good black players, but those who have remained in Philadelphia don’t see it that way.

That’s the word from Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who said he and his teammates respect Kelly and don’t believe he’s basing his evaluations on race.

“Chip has been very, very transparent on what he’s evaluating us on,” Jenkins said, via CSNPhilly.com. “That’s not only what we do on the field, but what we do in our assessments and how disciplined we are with our nutrition and all the sports science stuff. I haven’t seen him make a move outside of those parameters. I don’t think anybody in the locker room now thinks we have an issue with race. I don’t see that being a problem in the future. I don’t think there’s any need for Chip to address it.”

If other players on the Eagles agree with McCoy about Kelly, it has the potential to undermine Kelly’s ability to coach his team. But their public comments suggest that other players agree with Jenkins that there’s not a race problem on the Eagles.

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DeMaurice Smith suggests Ray Rice is being blackballed

Ray Rice Press Conference Getty Images

NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith thinks it doesn’t speak well for the NFL that no team is willing to give Ray Rice another chance.

Smith told Sal Paolantonio of ESPN that Rice, who is not suspended and is eligible to play as soon as a team signs him, would be back in the NFL if teams were willing to give him a fair chance.

“This, unfortunately, is a league that has a history of blackballing players. I find it hard to believe that a player of Mr. Rice’s caliber hasn’t at least gotten one offer from a team to come work out,” Smith said.

The term “blackballing” suggests something underhanded, but the reality is that NFL teams aren’t hiding the fact that they simply don’t want to do business with the man who last year became the poster boy for domestic violence in America. That’s the prerogative of each team, and while the union is free to advocate on Rice’s behalf, there’s not much the union can do about it.

If all 32 NFL teams have decided that they’re never going to give Rice another chance, then Rice has only himself to blame for that.

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Dez Bryant does the smart thing by showing up

Dez Bryant AP

It’s become a given that a player saddled with the franchise tag won’t show up for any workouts or practices until he signs a long-term deal or accepts his one-year franchise tender. But it may not be the smart thing to do — especially if the tagged player plans to work out on his own.

As Broncos G.M. John Elway pointed out several weeks back when venting regarding the absence of receiver Demaryius Thomas, unsigned franchise players who get injured while working out on their own get nothing. Unsigned franchise players who show up pursuant to a letter agreement that guarantees their franchise tender if they tear an ACL or pop out an Achilles who get injured get full pay.

So unless staying away was going to squeeze more money out of the team’s coffers (it wasn’t), why not continue to get ready to have a big season while working out with the team? For Bryant, the best play would be to take the $12.8 million this year, do it again next year at a 20-percent raise ($15.36 million), and then hit the market in 2017 — because there’s no way the Cowboys would pay him $22.11 million under a third franchise tag.

More franchise-tagged players need to consider the wisdom of Bryant’s move. And more will do what Bryant did the minute that one of them suffers a serious injury while unsigned and while working out at the local YMCA.

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Adrian Peterson’s rant misses the mark

Volcano

Mt. Peterson finally erupted. And it went about as well as Peter Brady’s volcano. (Timely reference, I know.)

Arguably he last man who should be painting himself as a victim but who nevertheless tried to shift blame to the Vikings for a predicament created by his own behavior has gone to Twitter for a general rant regarding the system of paying players.

“Question for the people, is a contract two sided or one?” Adrian Peterson asked. “There’s never no talk about honoring a contract!”

But NFL contracts are indeed one-sided, unless they’re individually negotiated to be two-sided. If Peterson wanted in 2011 to ensure that his contract would be two-sided through its final year of 2017, he could have — by insisting on the contract being fully guaranteed for its full duration. When NFL contracts aren’t fully guaranteed, the team can insist on the player honoring every game of every season while in turn having the power to tear up the deal whenever the team wants.

That’s just the way it is, and that system was reiterated via the Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified by the players only weeks before Peterson signed his latest deal.

On one hand, it’s good that Peterson has dropped the passive-aggressive approach with the Vikings. On the other hand, it’s not good that he opted to take a shotgun to a system that won’t be changing — especially after that system (as enhanced by the Commissioner-Exempt list) resulted in Peterson making plenty of money last year from the Vikings despite playing in only one game.

But now that Peterson has decided to attack the situation the same way that he attacks a defense, it may be only a matter of time before Peterson is doing shirtless driveway situps and agent Ben Dogra is rattling off “next question” at a press conference held on Peterson’s front lawn.

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Dez Bryant shows up at Cowboys OTAs, does individual drills

Indianapolis Colts v Dallas Cowboys Getty Images

The Cowboys thought Dez Bryant was in “great shape,” despite his staying away from voluntary workouts and OTAs.

But Thursday, they saw for themselves.

According to Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the franchise-tagged wide receiver showed up at OTAs Thursday and participated in individual drills.

That’s a bit of a surprise, considering he hasn’t signed his $12.823 million franchise tender.

But apparently, Bryant wanted to be around the team, and see his teammates. He apparently went through individual drills, but didn’t do any team drills. Considering what happened to Ryan Clady and Dante Fowler, it’s prudent to not push himself with so much money on the line.

Bryant’s not even required to attend mandatory minicamp since he hasn’t signed yet, but his showing up today is at least a sign of good faith.

Whether it’s a sign of progress toward a long-term deal, or whether Bryant just wanted to get out of the house remains to be seen.

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Adrian Peterson: Players need “same power” NFL clubs hold in contracts

Adrian Peterson AP

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, in the midst of a dispute with Minnesota, used his verified Twitter account Thursday to vent about teams being able to void contracts while players are bound to those same deals.

Here are Peterson’s thoughts on the subject, which were published one day after he told ESPN his absence from Minnesota’s offseason program was “about securing my future” in Minnesota:

“I love people who think they know it all! Smh, Research how many NFL teams hasn’t honored a player’s contract & learn something.

“Question for the people, is a contract two sided or one?

“Ok great two sided! Well why when one party decides . . . Mr. ? we wan’t you to take a pay cut now or better yet flat out release you!

“There’s never no talk about honoring a contract!

“I know hundreds of player’s that wished their team would’ve HONORED the contract! But instead got threw to the side like like trash.

“A lill crazy how one side has so much power that they can do as they please when it come to the contract! But when the other-side (player’s)  . . . Feels for whatever reason! Family, Change of scenery or simply – what they feels just might work best for them! Those same laws don’t apply!

“It’s all about honoring you’re contract! Sounds like free will is being a lil challenged to me!

“All I’m saying as a Minnesota Viking player! WE need the same power to do as all 32 teams do we they feel, under contract or not!

“It’s time for a change! Then again I’m grateful because at the end of the day, I know some of those same guys that wish a team held on!”

Peterson has three years left on his current contract. He is set to make $12.75 million in salary in 2015, $14.75 million in 2016 and $17.75 million in 2017. However, the salaries are not guaranteed.

The Vikings have insisted they will not trade Peterson. On Wednesday, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said the 30-year-old tailback would play for Minnesota or not at all.

Peterson spent most of last season on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list after being charged with felony child abuse. He eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.

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DeMarco Murray hopes Joseph Randle “can taste some of that meat this year”

Philadelphia Eagles OTA's Getty Images

Cowboys running back Joseph Randle shared his opinion about how much the Cowboys might miss running back DeMarco Murray this week by saying that he thought Murray “left a lot of meat on the bone” on his way to a league-leading 1,845 rushing yards in 2014.

That comment made its way to Murray on Thursday, but Murray didn’t fire back at Randle or try to make the case that he gnawed all the way down to the bone while carrying the ball the seventh-most times in league history last year. Instead, Murray wished Randle well in his opportunity to do a little feasting of his own behind the Cowboys offensive line.

“Hopefully he can taste some of that meat this year,” Murray said, via CSNPhilly.com. “They’re a good team. Hopefully he can get a chance to run behind that line and do some good things. But I’m not worried about it. I didn’t hear about it until now. It’s not a big deal.”

It’s a good response to Randle since Murray has no need to defend himself for his 2014 performance. His chief concern now should be making sure that he wasn’t worn down to the bone after being used so heavily last season because the Eagles will need Murray to play well to vault themselves above the Cowboys and the rest of the NFC East in 2015.

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Jets release Matt Simms

Matt Simms, Josh Mauga AP

Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms recently shared his opinion that his younger brother Matt hasn’t gotten a serious shot to be a starting quarterback in the NFL because he’s the son of Phil Simms and, therefore, a victim of “the politics of the NFL.”

Simms got some more fodder for his feeling on Thursday. The Jets announced that they have released Matt Simms from their roster.

The decision isn’t a great surprise with the Jets adding Bryce Petty in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick are going to hold down the top two spots on the depth chart and Petty will be developed behind them, which doesn’t leave many reps for the latest member of the Simms family to play quarterback in the NFL.

Getting released now will give him a chance to catch on with another team in time to make his case for a roster spot in the fall, assuming, of course, that the anti-Simms bias doesn’t rear its head once again. Simms played in four games for the Jets over the last two seasons and completed 19-of-39 passes for 195 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

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Bills open training camp on July 31

EJ Manuel AP

The Bills, who made multiple high-profile moves in the offseason, will commence training camp on Friday, July 31 at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York, the club said Thursday.

Seventeen practices are open to the public, with six requiring fans to have tickets.

The Bills’ preseason opener is August 14 vs. Carolina. The last practice open to fans is Tuesday, August 25.

In an attempt to jump-start their offense, the Bills acquired tailback LeSean McCoy and signed wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Charles Clay. The club also added Matt Cassel at quarterback. The Bills’ defense, formidable a season ago, could be all the more imposing with new head coach Rex Ryan at the helm.

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