It’s the tradition unlike any other. Well, that’s not totally true.
But, the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions once again have a date in the preseason, and just like last year, it will serve as an audition for a newly acquired member of the franchise. Jobs will be on the line and finality will be served to all training camp battles at the conclusion of 60 minutes of football.
So what should you be on the lookout for? Here are five different Bills related topics for Thursday:
1) EJ will play, but how much is smart?
- With the way things unraveled in the first half for the starting offense on Saturday, there isn’t much mystery as to why head coach Doug Marrone wants to get his top unit more work in a game. Quarterback EJ Manuel struggled to establish himself against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting defense and failed to convert any of their seven drives into points. The Bills, according to Marrone, will play Manuel and some of the other offensive starters for an undisclosed period of time on Thursday. How much is enough, and, when does it become disadvantageous for Manuel? The answer will likely revert back to how they approached the first preseason game: the quarterback and most of the starting offense will get a series, two or at most, three. However, if Manuel is going up against the second and third-string defense from Detroit, is he really accomplishing anything that will help him in Chicago for the regular season opener? It might be the best approach to just get his feet wet and then get him out of the game.
2) Jordan Palmer joins a Bills trend
- For the past three preseason finales, the Buffalo Bills have been unhappy with the state of their backup quarterbacks in the week leading up to it. In 2012, the Bills acquired Tarvaris Jackson via trade. Last year, once Kevin Kolb went down with an injury the team both traded for Thad Lewis and signed Matt Leinart just ahead of the preseason finale. In 2014, Jordan Palmer enters the mix as the late entrant ahead of the Bills’ final exhibition contest. He’ll likely get a lot of time on the field just for the coaching staff to see what they have in him, and if he is someone they would like to carry to the 53-man roster. Palmer was among the one, or two best options of veteran quarterbacks that were cut early this week that weren’t named Trent Edwards. There will be a bigger pool to choose from following Saturday’s final cutdown day, so Palmer needs to prove he belongs before the Bills extend an invite to their regular season active roster.
3) T.J. Graham’s last stand?
- The days could be numbered for former third-round pick and wide receiver T.J. Graham. Squarely on the roster bubble, Graham might just need a big performance to convince the coaches to unseat Marcus Easley for the sixth wide receiver position. However, the case can be made that Graham would have to show well enough to convince the Bills to keep seven receivers rather than the expected six. Easley is getting close to lock territory for his contributions on special teams and Chris Hogan has shown to be a valuable piece on both offense and special teams. The Bills would essentially have to remove from one position to keep Graham, and he needs to earn it. Right now, he’s probably on the outside looking in.
4) Urbik vs. Legursky
- At the beginning of training camp this really wasn’t a battle due mostly to Kraig Urbik’s role in the starting right guard competition, but now it is. Urbik has since lost his job in the top five and has taken snaps at second-team center over each of the past two weeks. If Urbik shows well at center, he and Doug Legursky are two players the Bills will likely only be able to choose one from. Both players can be the backup center to Eric Wood, and each can swing to either guard position. It’s mostly about who shows the best in the upcoming game and how they’ve done at practice. At this point, it’s likely Urbik’s to lose. However, a poor performance from him or a strong one from Legursky can change things quite quickly.
5) Moorman faces another test
- With one challenger swatted aside, Brian Moorman has another opponent to worry about for the final preseason game. The Bills released Jake Dombrowski on Monday morning, which left Moorman as the only punter on the team’s 75-man roster. Buffalo cleared out a roster spot and successfully claimed punter Jordan Gay off the waiver wire from the Carolina Panthers. Moorman should at least be a little bit concerned with the new addition. While Gay doesn’t have long to show coaches what he can do, he is a versatile player that could help out on special teams in another way than just punting. While with the Panthers they attempted to use him for some kickoff duties, but he could never consistently master both those roles and that ultimately led to his release. Gay would have to show quite a lot in just one night of work to garner a roster spot and the release of Moorman, but it would be fair to expect him to get work on both punts and kickoffs against the Lions.