(WGR 550) -- The only thing separating the Buffalo Bills from their full-on preparations for the start of the regular season is one evening under the lights at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills have their annual sixty-minute date with the Detroit Lions where the final few spots on the roster are likely up for grabs. Just like most preseason finales the game between Buffalo and Detroit will feature the backups, as well as the backups' backups and provide only a small portion of time for the majority of starters.
If you were expecting to see Mario Williams, Stevie Johnson, Kyle Williams and others get a boatload of work, Thursday will likely not be your friend. Fear not, there are still some compelling reasons to analyze the game.
1) Leinart vs. Lewis
- At the start of training camp most looked at the game against Detroit as the day to decide whether or not undrafted free agent rookie quarterback Jeff Tuel would make the roster or not. Little did everyone know that Tuel may be entering the season as a starter, and now it's up to a former first-round bust and a recently acquired fourth-string quarterback to decide who might be Tuel's immediate backup during Week 1 of the season. There still isn't a definitive answer as to when EJ Manuel will be back, so until then the team and their fans must operate under the premise that Tuel will indeed start. Now it's up to Matt Leinart and Thad Lewis to battle it out for what will likely be the final spot on the roster for a quarterback. The two players have had equal amounts of practice time and will get a ton of playing time on Thursday. Whoever performs at a higher level against the Lions could earn himself a year's worth of an NFL salary.
2) The battle to replace Gilmore
- After practice on Tuesday, Head Coach Doug Marrone handicapped the race to be Stephon Gilmore's replacement at cornerback while the second-year player is injured. It's down to Crezdon Butler, Justin Rogers and T.J. Heath. While Butler seems to have the upper-hand at this point after taking first-team reps on Tuesday, he's going to have to go out and earn it against the Lions. Most of the starters will play sparingly, if even at all, but don't expect that to be the case with Butler. Rogers and Heath will likely get their chances as well. There also could be a battle within the battle, too. The Bills have said they will not put Gilmore on the I-R as their designated for return player, which means he will take up a spot on the roster. Due to that fact and because of how much the team likes nickel options Ron Brooks and Nickell Robey, the man of the trio (Butler, Rogers, Heath) that has the worst day could be sent packing from the team entirely.
3) Last stand for bubble wideouts
- The race to be the final wide receivers on the roster became a bit clearer after the first wave of cuts were made by the Bills earlier in the week. Da'Rick Rogers was sent packing, ending what was a rocky training camp for the wideout that had a vast amount of physical talent. With respect to Brandon Kaufman, who can't be ruled out fully from making the 53-man roster just yet, he's been the man on the outside looking in for most of training camp and the preseason. So then it's down to three receivers for what could be only two spots. If the Bills elect to keep six, Brad Smith, Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley would be the men in direct competition for the final spots. Because all three got little to no time with the offense against Washington, the upcoming contest against Detroit could be the determining factors for these players. Don't count out their performances on special teams for weighing heavily, either.
4) Four guys angling for two spots
- Normally when you approach a season as a team that normally operates out of a three-man front as the Bills do, coaches will usually keep six players for the three positions. Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alex Carrington and Alan Branch are all locks to make the 53-man roster, but then it gets hairy after that. Jay Ross, Corbin Bryant, Jarron Gilbert and Torell Troup have all tried to make their mark throughout the summer to make the roster on Saturday night. At this point, Ross and Bryant have performed the most consistently, but a strong showing from the other two could unseat them. Troup might have the highest hurdle to clear on Thursday, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities at this point.
5) Choice looking to wrap up RB3
- Despite seeing flashes from Zach Brown and undrafted free agent rookie Kendall Gaskins, veteran running back Tashard Choice has been solid throughout both the spring and summer. He'll likely get a good portion of work against the Lions and will attempt to tie up any loose ends there may have been from the coaching staff in deciding whether or not he would be the third running back on the team. As long as he plays a mistake-free game (no fumbles), Choice should have no trouble in sticking around. If he does, that could open the door for Gaskins, who has been a bit more impressive than Brown throughout camp.
Injuries Will not play: EJ Manuel (knee), Kevin Kolb (concussion), Stephon Gilmore (wrist), C.J. Spiller (excused for personal reasons)