PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Now that Terrell Owens has come and gone, Lee Evans finds himself facing an all-too familiar question with the Buffalo Bills receiving group going through yet another transformation.
Who, Evans is left wondering, will emerge as the latest in a long string of No. 2 receivers who will line up opposite him once the season opens? There have been so many during Evans' previous six seasons in Buffalo, he's having trouble remembering them all.
"Let's see, there was Eric Moulds, then he left. And then Peerless (Price), but it was only for a year-and-a-half because he got hurt, and then Josh (Reed) and ... " Evans said, stopping in mid-sentence. "It's a tough situation, but it's nowhere I haven't been before."
A week into training camp in suburban Rochester, the competition is wide open between a group of unproven players who will be asked to draw coverage away from Evans.
There's Steve Johnson, a 2008 seventh-round pick, who opened camp at the No. 2 spot as a reward for his performance during spring practices. He's followed by James Hardy, the 2008 second-round pick, who's career has so far been derailed by injuries. Also in the mix is Chad Jackson, a 2006 second-round pick, who was a flop in New England, and signed by the Bills this offseason.
It's a list that doesn't include speedster Roscoe Parrish, the fifth-year player, who is expected to be primarily used in the slot in place of Reed, who was not re-signed this offseason.
Together, the three contenders for the No. 2 job have combined for 36 catches for 389 yards and seven touchdowns. That's a significant change from last season, when T.O. filled that role while playing out his one-year contract.
And the best coach Chan Gailey can say about his receivers so far has been: "We have a bunch of guys. It looks like Lee is the only one that's proven, and everybody else has got to prove themselves."
Hardy has been the bright spot at camp in finally showing glimpses that he can use his lanky 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage against smaller defensive backs. He's shown improvement in his ability to run crisper routes. And, most important, he's finally healthy after having operations to repair knee and hernia injuries over the past two years.
"It's coming, that's all I can say. It's coming," Hardy said. "Each and every practice I'm getting better."
Gailey's noticed. Referring to what he saw from Hardy in the spring as "just average," Gailey has seen a noted and steady improvement.
Hardy accepted Gailey's assessment.
"There's nothing coach can say that could motivate me more than I'm motivating myself," he said. "It is an honor, for him to say that I'm coming along."
For Evans, Buffalo's 2004 first-round draft pick, this marks the latest rebuilding project that's coming under his third head coach after Gailey took over in January following Dick Jauron's dismissal.
And in his six years in Buffalo, it's been difficult to gauge how good of a receiver Evans is given how dysfunctional the Bills' offense has been in finishing 25th or worse in yards gained over that time.
Evans' best season came in 2006, when he had 82 catches for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns. That was despite playing opposite Price, who was attempting to revive his career by rejoining the Bills, and during J.P. Losman's only full season as starter.
Last season was mostly a disappointment as Evans finished with career-lows in catches (44) and yards (612), while scoring a team-leading seven touchdowns receiving.
Owens wasn't much better on an offense that was undone by a raw and banged-up offensive line, a quarterback shuffle and coordinator Turk Schonert getting fired 10 days before the start of the season.
For Evans, it's not about statistics.
"The bottom line is about winning and being in a culture of winning," Evans said. "My frustration is not being able to make it to the playoffs. And I think if we can make that next jump, things will take care of themselves."
Much then rides on whether the offensive-minded Gailey can spark a popgun passing attack and provide stability to a unit that's had a constant carousel at quarterback and coordinator.
Evans sees promise in Gailey's plan and in the young group of receivers.
"I think that's what keeps us optimistic, because now we think we have something where we have a foundation we can go forward with," Evans said. "And that's what keeps you going."