FOXBOROUGH — When the Patriots open the season at Ralph Wilson Stadium Sunday against Buffalo, they will get their first glance at a rather different-looking Bills team from the one they saw in 2012.
There will be a new-look offense installed by Doug Marrone, who left Syracuse for the NFL in the offseason, replacing Chan Gailey as Bills coach.
After practice Monday, it was clear that the preseason was in the Patriots’ rear-view mirror and the focus was on the season opener.
“Coach Marrone is a coach I have a lot of respect for,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “They always do a good job. I’m sure there’ll be an element of what they did there [at Syracuse] and what we see.”
When Marrone was hired by Buffalo, he brought along offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett, tight ends coach Greg Adkins, special teams assistant John Anselmo, and assistant strength and conditioning coach Hal Luther, who all served on his staff at Syracuse.
Belichick said that opening the season is always difficult because of the large quantity of scouting information to be sorted through – a matter that becomes more complicated when a new coaching staff is in place.
“It’s always hard to open with anybody because of the amount of information you have to sort through,” he said. “They’ll never be able to do all of it, nor would we with all the background we have. You have to prepare for a lot of things, and be ready for what you get on Sunday.
“We’re trying to get into regular-season mode, a practice routine, our meetings and preparations, so that’s another adjustment. We’re just working our way through all those things.”
At Syracuse, Marrone implemented a run-heavy attack, and more of the same is expected in Buffalo, with the offense centered on explosive back, C.J. Spiller.
“I think most of the Syracuse stuff, looks to me, will be coming on the offensive side of the ball,” Belichick said.
During the preseason, the Bills lost quarterback Kevin Kolb (knee, concussion), so either rookie E.J. Manuel or undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel will start Sunday.
While it is uncertain who will be under center, Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty said the defense can concentrate on the Bills’ explosive players, including the backfield duo of Spiller and Fred Jackson, and receiver Stevie Johnson.
In a 37-31 loss to New England last November, Spiller and Jackson combined for 150 yards rushing, with Jackson adding a pair of touchdowns.
“No matter who’s in there at quarterback, they have two guys that have played well against us throughout the years and are very good players,” McCourty said. “You throw that along with Stevie Johnson, defensively we know we have to prepare for those three guys and be prepared for them to be a big part of the offense.”
Above all, McCourty said, he is excited to get the season started.
“Early in the season, it’s about improving as a team and getting better, but they count now,” he said. “We can’t just go out there and just not come ready to play and say we’ll learn from this. Everyone has to be dialed in a little bit more and I think guys understand that.”