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7 Buffalo Bills storylines to know as Browns begin joint practices

After a full-pads practice this morning, the Browns are on their way to Pittsford, N.Y., for two days of joint practices with the Buffalo Bills.

There are plenty of storylines involving the teams' head coaches, good friends Mike Pettine and Rex Ryan, but there are even more involving the team Ryan coaches. Optimism is overflowing in upstate New York, as the Bills look to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

1) Rex Ryan has firmly put his mark on his new team

Whether it be skydiving, repeatedly proclaiming the Bills will make the playoffs in his first season as coach or saying the Bills were the "only team in New York," Ryan has been himself from the day he arrived at his new job. And that's been welcomed on a team that is hungry to end a 16-year playoff drought.

"People here work their tails off to buy season tickets," Bills legend Jim Kelly told "You listen to Rex and he rubs off like he's one of us already. He wants to win, and he's not going to be pushed around, and that's what you want."

2) A wide-open QB battle will continue vs. Cleveland

In the wake of Kyle Orton's surprise retirement, the Bills have a three-man quarterback competition on their hands midway through training camp. Veteran Matt Cassel got the start Saturday against Carolina and finished 7-of-8 for 45 yards. E.J. Manuel went 4-of-8 for 77 yards and a touchdown while Tyrod Taylor was 5-of-8 for 49 yards to go along with 47 rushing yards.

"I really like the way, obviously, the first three guys played," Ryan told The Buffalo News. "And it's different styles. You get Cassel, the veteran. He played to his strength. And then, Tyrod, you saw what he can do. He's got a little magic to him. And then EJ steps in. … Overall, I was pleased with all three of those guys."

Taylor is scheduled to start Thursday against the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.

3) LB IK Enemkplai finds a home in Buffalo

With one punch, Enemkplai went from an under-the-radar second-year linebacker to a nationally known figure. His locker room punch of quarterback Geno Smith prompted his immediate release from the New York Jets, but the Bills were quick to scoop the former sixth-round pick off the waiver wire. Ryan coached Enemkplai last year with the Jets and said he was worthy of a second chance.

"If we didn't think he would be successful on the football field, in our locker room, and in our community, he wouldn't be here," Ryan said. "I know I've said that before about other people, and I mean it."

Enemkplai picked up work with the second-team defense in the Bills' loss Saturday.

4) LeSean McCoy brings playmaking ability to Bills' backfield

The Bills were at the center of one of the offseason's biggest trades when they acquired Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alonso. McCoy is coming off a solid rushing season but one of his worst as a pass-catcher (28 receptions, 155 yards). The Bills have lofty aspirations for McCoy to significantly increase the latter.

"He can dominate a game in the passing game and the running game, so that's what we're going to use him for, that Marshall Faulk," Ryan told the NFL Network. "Does he have 1,000 receiving and 1,000 rushing? That's a real possibility."

5) The defense is still very good

The Browns learned the hard way last season just how tough the Bills were on defense, particularly in the front seven. Cleveland's first-team offense managed just three points and struggled to move the ball in a crushing 26-10, late November loss in Orchard Park.

Ryan's arrival and the retention of most of last year's players have led to even more optimism and swagger on this side of the ball.

"We want to be the best in history — one of the greatest," linebacker Nigel Bradham told the Toronto Sun. "That's what we're striving for … the greatest of all time, not just this year or last year."

6) All eyes on WR Sammy Watkins entering Year 2

The Bills wanted Watkins enough to give up their 2015 first-round pick to Cleveland. He had a solid first season with 65 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns, but other wide receivers in a loaded 2014 class put up bigger numbers and garnered more headlines. Watkins has already dealt with a few minor injuries during the preseason, but he was able to play Saturday.

The Bills are hoping the additions of McCoy, tight end Charles Clay and playmaker Percy Harvin ease the burden for Watkins. They're also hoping for consistent play from whomever wins the quarterback battle, a hard reality when it comes to gauging Watkins' production in 2014.

7) Buffalo looking for improvement from its offensive line

Injuries and ineffectiveness hurt the Bills' offensive line in 2014. That group has a different look this season, and it starts with the addition of guard Richie Incognito, who was out of football last season amid a controversial 2013 exit from the Dolphins. There's also a neck-and-neck competition at right tackle between Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio.

"You got some new pieces and they're playing well," McCoy told "I can just tell the difference from the beginning to now."

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