Entering the 2014 offseason, the Buffalo Bills felt as though they were a team that were just a few pieces away from competing for a playoff spot in the upcoming campaign. That’s the way they’ve addressed both free agency and the NFL Draft, which could mean playing time for certain individuals on the team may go down.
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. Here's a look at who could be affected:
1) Doug Legursky (2013: 765 snaps on offense)
- One doesn’t need to have an expert knowledge of offensive line technique to realize that Doug Legursky struggled mightily in 2013 after the team used him as the replacement for the even worse Colin Brown. Legursky was a late free agent addition to the Bills and figured to challenge Brown for the starting job. However, Legursky got hurt which led to the Bills going with Brown until the former was healthy enough to play every snap. He is not the model offensive lineman that Doug Marrone has said he’s looking for. He wants big, long-limbed and powerful players all across the line of scrimmage. Legursky is 6-foot-1, has short arms and didn’t really pack the necessary punch Marrone was looking for. His snaps will go down tremendously with the signing of Chris Williams in the offseason, but he’ll still have a good shot at making the roster. As it’s currently constructed, Legursky is the only player that has a lot of experience playing center, so he may be the main backup for the interior of the line unless one of the younger players steps up at training camp.
2) Manny Lawson (2013: 706 snaps on defense)
- When Mike Pettine got the head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo reacted with the hiring of Jim Schwartz as the new defensive coordinator, one of the Bills’ key free agent acquisitions in 2013 likely knew his role would be diminished. Manny Lawson came to the Bills to play outside linebacker, and became a big part of Pettine’s defense as a key edge defender against the run. With a switch back to the 4-3 defensive scheme though, Lawson’s high snap count will likely go down in 2014. The Bills have made it public that Lawson will be a defensive end in the new scheme, a position in which he never really could nail down since he’s gotten to the NFL. He’ll be used mostly against the run, but the presence of Jerry Hughes will likely dictate a lower snap count. Lawson will also be in the mix to be a backup linebacker, but the team has made it clear that Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers will be the starting trio in base defense. It all adds up to Lawson’s time on the field to fall from 2013.
3) Fred Jackson (2013: 663 snaps on offense)
- This is not an indication that Fred Jackson’s playing level has fallen at all. It’s merely a product of the running back environment in Orchard Park as it’s currently constructed. Due to C.J. Spiller not having as big of an impact as the team first expected him to, and with the younger back going through a high ankle sprain a good portion of the season, Jackson played the majority of snaps on a team that had no depth behind those two. As the team enters the 2014 season, Jackson is 33-years old and on the final year of his contract, Spiller is fully healthy and the Bills likely have a more defined role for him and the team went out and traded a mid-round pick for a young running back with low mileage and a lot of potential (Bryce Brown). Jackson will still have a solid role in the offense, it just may not be as big as it was in 2013.
4) Corbin Bryant (2013: 329 snaps on defense)
- During 2013, Corbin Bryant got way more playing time than many expected when he made the team. While he had his moments of solid play here or there, he didn’t exactly prove to be a player that can consistently win at the line of scrimmage. In Jim Schwartz’s defense, winning those battles up front will be the key, which is why a younger, more disruptive player like Stefan Charles could find his way ahead of Bryant on the depth chart. Bryant still has a chance to make the roster with no substantial additions to the defensive tackle group through free agency or the draft, but the team could look at him as expendable with a bigger defensive end like Jarius Wynn on the roster. Either way, his role on the defense will likely go down in 2014.
5) Nickell Robey (2013: 609 snaps on defense)
- This one is more of a hunch than anything, because Nickell Robey had a very good rookie season for the Bills. However, Robey’s skills are tailor-made for Mike Pettine’s defense as that blitzing nickel who can get to the quarterback and make plays. That’s not to say he won’t be a fit in Jim Schwartz’s defense, but there are at least a few things to consider. First, the Bills signed cornerback Corey Graham to a substantial enough contract to make you believe he will have a role on defense, and that role doesn’t look like it will be as one of the starting, boundary corners. Second, the Bills will be doing a lot less blitzing and focusing more on their defensive line to set the tone for the secondary which takes away one of Robey’s positive attributes. Finally, the team has been looking to get bigger at every single position on the roster, and despite his triumphs as a player in 2013, his size still could be considered as a liability in a new defense. Robey is a plus-player in the view of your author. However, the NFL is all about finding the right fits for your specific schemes. Whether or not Robey fits this defense is a bonafide question.