The Buffalo Bills enter into the next phase of their offseason this week with the start of Organized Team Activities on Wednesday. The voluntary workouts will be the first bit of on-the-field activity the entire team will partake in.
Before the practices begin, there are certain players on the team that have momentum building for them heading into yet another year with the team. Whether it’s in a starting role or in a reserve capacity, these five players could be larger contributors in 2014 than they were for the Bills in 2013.
Keep in mind this is for players that were on the roster at the end of the year in 2013, not for those that just entered the fray at some point in the current offseason. So who has the chance to rise up?
Here’s a look:
1) TE Tony Moeaki (2013: 0 snaps on offense)
- As far as the tight end position has been concerned, there has been a lot of build up from both general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone about what they believe they’ll be getting from Tony Moeaki in 2014. The 26-year old has two starting seasons under his belt since being drafted in 2010, catching 80 passes for 1,009 yards and four total touchdowns. Two separate injuries, a torn ACL in 2011 and a fractured shoulder in 2013, have derailed his career from being a promising young tight end to one with many questions. The injury bug didn’t just find him in the NFL though. Moeaki dealt with elbow, hand and leg injuries, and a concussion as well during college. Even still, the Bills believe in his athleticism and ability to contribute. He might not be starting for the Bills, but with a full offseason expect him to be much more than just a special teams contributor — as long as he stays healthy.
2) S Duke Williams (2013: 34 snaps on defense)
- The 2013 fourth-round pick saw minimal time on the field, a whopping 2.97-percent, in a defensive role for the Bills during his rookie season. The presence of both Jairus Byrd and Jim Leonhard on the roster essentially made Duke Williams redshirt in 2013, allowing him to learn from Donnie Henderson and the other veterans for a year on how to be a professional safety in the league. Now, just one year removed from his college playing days, Williams could be considered the favorite to land the job next to Aaron Williams and start in 2014. It will be an open competition between both him and Da’Norris Searcy, but there a few factors that leads one to believe the competition is slanted towards Williams. Firstly, Williams was drafted by the current head coach and current general manager whereas his main competition was not. Second, Searcy has shown repeatedly to be a bit of a liability in pass coverage and is a much stronger run defender. Lastly, Searcy is in the final year of his rookie deal, whereas Williams has three years remaining on a very manageable rookie contract which could provide more incentive to giving him the job in a close competition. If Searcy vastly outperforms him in training camp, the three-year veteran will get the job. But if it’s a tie, or Williams is just a little behind Searcy through camp, the tie would likely go to Duke.
3) RG J.J. ‘Unga (2013: 10 snaps on offense)
- On November 20, 2013, the Bills signed J.J. ‘Unga to their active roster off of Baltimore’s practice squad. On December 8, 2013, ‘Unga got seven snaps at right guard against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you don’t believe the Bills are looking to upgrade at right guard, look no further than the evidence of a player who was only on the roster for 19 days before getting his playing time on the field in a regular season game with the team. Kraig Urbik was a Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey player, and while he’s held his own as a starter, the Bills likely believe that can get better. Urbik heads to OTA’s as the starter, but faces stiff competition from a quartet of young players with ‘Unga leading the way. If the latter has a good enough training camp, he could be the new starting right guard in 2014.
4) DT Stefan Charles (2013: 83 snaps on defense)
- The name of the game for defensive tackles in Jim Schwartz’s defense will be disruption, and in his limited time on defense during games, Stefan Charles showed that to be his specialty. Head coach Doug Marrone was very excited about Charles after his regular season debut, a five-play showing at home against Kansas City, because he was breaking through the line and making plays. With a full offseason to work with him, Charles has the potential to overtake Corbin Bryant as the fourth defensive tackle in the rotation. And if Marcell Dareus faces any suspensions for his off-the-field troubles, Charles could be the third man in on game day. His arrow is pointing up.
5) HB C.J. Spiller (2013: 389 snaps on offense)
- It’s hard to use the term “expanded role” for any player that had nearly 400 snaps the year before, but C.J. Spiller is the exception. By many accounts, 2013 was a disappointment for the former first-round pick. He suffered a high ankle sprain that put a damper on a good portion of his season and just never really evolved into the running back that the Bills were touting him to be ahead of last season. However, the argument can be made that the current Bills coaching staff just didn’t understand where Spiller would be most effective for the team when the regular season games started. They set incredibly lofty expectations as a workhorse back, but that’s not the type of player that Spiller is. By the time they realized what Spiller was, they were in the throes of the season and couldn’t put him in the spots he needed to be. The injury did not help the matter by any means and set the process back even more. Now that he’s fully healthy, that offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett understands where he works best and that Spiller is motivated not only by doubters, but by an expiring contract at the end of the year, it’s fair to expect a bigger output from both a snap count and yardage perspective in 2014. He won’t be that workhorse back that they hoped for, but he’ll likely have a more defined and bigger role with the type of athleticism he possesses.