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Bills Beat Blog

By Joe Buscaglia
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Posts from August 2014

Bills' Spiller announces selection of agent
As if the Buffalo Bills weren't busy enough on Saturday, the deadline for rosters to be brought down to 53 players, one of the men firmly on their roster announced some news of his very own. Former first-round pick and running back C.J. Spiller tweeted that he has finally joined forces with an agent to represent him.
Spiller has signed with Chad Speck of Allegiant Athletic Agency, ending a period of over three years in which he did not have an agent. The person he had originally signed with, Gary Wichard, passed away in March of 2011.

The team's top running back is entering the final year of his contract, and previously expressed that he aimed to have an agent in place ahead of the start of the regular season. Spiller, 27, has rushed for 3,021 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the NFL.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
People: C.J. SpillerChad SpeckGary Wichard

Bills unveil initial 53-man roster
At 4 pm on Saturday, August 30, the deadline for teams in the National Football League to pare their rosters down to 53 players had passed. The Buffalo Bills got all of their moves in just under the wire, releasing 20 players and placing three others on Injured Reserve.

So who made the cut? Here is the updated depth chart:

Quarterback (2)
EJ Manuel, Kyle Orton

Running Back (4)
C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon

Fullback (1)
Frank Summers

Wide Receiver (6)
Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan

Tight End (3)
Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Chris Gragg

Offensive Tackle (4)
Cordy Glenn, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Chris Hairston

Offensive Guard (4)
Chris Williams, Erik Pears, Cyril Richardson, Kraig Urbik

Center (1)
Eric Wood

Defensive End (5)
Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson, Jarius Wynn, Jacquies Smith

Defensive Tackle (4)
Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles

**Linebacker (5)
Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers, Preston Brown, Ty Powell, Randell Johnson
**Nigel Bradham does not count against the active roster in Week 1 due to his suspension

Cornerback (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey, Corey Graham, Ross Cockrell, Ron Brooks

Safety (4)
Aaron Williams, Da'Norris Searcy, Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks

Kicker (1)
Dan Carpenter

Punter (1)
Colton Schmidt

Kickoff Specialist (1)
Jordan Gay

Long Snapper (1)
Garrison Sanborn

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills sign new punter
The Buffalo Bills moved on from longtime punter Brian Moorman on Friday and on Saturday, they signed his first replacement.

The Bills have officially signed  punter Colton Schmidt to an undisclosed contract. Schmidt originally signed with the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted rookie out of UC Davis. He was then released by the 49ers and had a brief (less than a week) stint with the Cleveland Browns before his release. The 49ers re-signed Schmidt in January of 2014 before releasing him this summer as part of one of their cuts.

Schmidt, 23, participated in the first three preseason games with the 49ers before his eventual release. He had seven opportunities in those three games and posted a net average of 46.1 yards per punt.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills sign QB Kyle Orton
The Buffalo Bills have found themselves a new backup quarterback, and this one is likely going to stick.

The Bills have officially signed former Chicago, Denver, Kansas City and Dallas quarterback Kyle Orton to serve as the backup to starter EJ Manuel. Orton has 70 career starts to his name and has won exactly half of them. Over his eight years of experience, the quarterback has thrown for 15,019 yards, 83 touchdowns and 59 interceptions with a 58.5 completion percentage.

Orton was thought to be the top backup in Dallas when the offseason began in 2014, but chose not to report to offseason workouts and instead mulled retirement from the NFL. In the final year of his three-year contract with the Cowboys, Orton was officially released by the team in mid-July.

His contract with the Bills will have a choice for the quarterback. According to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, the one-year deal also includes a player option for a second season with the team.

Financial terms of the contract have yet to be disclosed, but a league source tells WGR Sports Radio 550 that it's for "top backup money." Orton will take over for Jeff Tuel as the main backup quarterback to Manuel. The Bills’ efforts with both Thad Lewis and Jordan Palmer as a potential second-string quarterback failed this summer, leading to the release of both players over the past four days. The team later released Tuel on Saturday.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: BuffaloChicagoDallasDenverKansas City
People: Jeff TuelJordan PalmerKyle OrtonThad LewisTim Graham

Urbik, Graham on the trade block?
Time is running out for the Buffalo Bills to make a decision on their 53-man roster. Just because it's under 24 hours to go until their decision needs to be in though, doesn't mean they're in a rush to finalize things just yet.

Two starters from the Bills in 2013 have been rumored to be on the bubble throughout training camp. That speculation has gathered a bit more steam in the past two days.

According to two separate reports, guard Kraig Urbik and wide receiver T.J. Graham are being shopped by the Bills: The Bills have until 4 pm on Saturday to either trade, cut or keep both Urbik and Graham.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Watkins "good to go," per report
The Buffalo Bills can breathe a sigh of relief... again.

Their budding rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins suffered his second rib injury of the preseason, and had to leave the game prematurely yet again. The Bills survived a scare once more with the fourth overall pick according to's Ian Rapoport:
Watkins suffered the injury on a slant pattern over the middle of the field. An inaccurate throw led the wideout a bit too far and Detroit linebacker Ashlee Palmer ran over and landed a forearm right into the rookie's bruised ribs.

Surrounded by six members of the medical and training staff, Watkins slowly walked off the field and into the locker room at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Thursday. There haven't been any indications on his status for the team's regular season opener in Chicago as of yet.

The Bills start practice for their contest with the Bears on Monday.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: ChicagoDetroit
People: Ashlee PalmerIan RapoportSammy Watkins

Bills sign Sanborn to three-year, $3.3m extension
While one long-tenured member of the Buffalo Bills' special teams unit was waived on Friday, the team extended another one's stay. The Bills announced that they have signed long snapper Garrison Sanborn to a contract extension.

According to a league source, Sanborn's new contract is a three-year extension that will pay a total of $3.3 million over the lifetime of the deal. The three years are tacked on to the final year of his current contract, so he's not set to hit free agency again until March of 2018.

His new contract makes him one of the top five highest paid players at his position in the National Football League. In 2013, he was tied for the league lead in special teams tackles by a long snapper with Zak DeOssie of the New York Giants.

Sanborn first came to the Bills in 2009 after auditioning at a rookie tryout and quickly won the job. He's been a mainstay in Buffalo ever since, playing in every single game over the past five seasons.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: Buffalo
People: Zak DeOssie

Upon release, Moorman sends letter to Bills fans
For 12 of the past 13 years, whenever the Buffalo Bills failed to convert on a third down and needed to flip the field on the opposition, the man they turned to was punter Brian Moorman. Following a brief second stint with the team, Moorman was released by the Bills on Friday afternoon.

Amongst fan favorites over the past decade, Moorman shared his appreciation for both the city of Buffalo and Bills fans after his release was announced. The punter issued a letter to fans everywhere on his personal Twitter account: Moorman, 38, had a averaged 43.8 yards per punt over the course of the past 13 seasons. He was with the Bills from 2001 through the start of the 2012 season before being initially released. He was brought back in 2013 after the team's first five games and served as Buffalo's punter for the rest of the season.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
Tags :  
Topics: Sports
Locations: Buffalo
People: Brian Moorman

Tracking the Bills' march to 53
The Buffalo Bills, like all other teams around the National Football League, have to get their active rosters down to just 53 players by 4 pm on Saturday, August 30. As the reports of releases come through, we'll compile them all right here and give instant analysis along with it.

The Bills are at 75 players, and with the Nigel Bradham suspension (who doesn't count against the roster for the first week), they only have to release 21 players to get down to 53. Who will go?

Here is what has happened so far:

UPDATE: The Bills have announced the release of 10 players

QB Jeff Tuel
Analysis: Although not completely surprising considering the string of bad performances Jeff Tuel had throughout practices and the preseason games, the Bills felt like the time was right to let Tuel walk. The Bills always had high hopes for Tuel as a longterm potential backup, but he just didn't make the necessary strides in his second year to warrant a spot on the active roster. In 2013, the Bills were scared to cut Tuel because of how well he showed in the preseason games. Perhaps this move is to try to sneak him on to the practice squad and keep him in house. Either way, Tuel will not be a part of the initial 53.

WR T.J. Graham
Analysis: After two disappointing seasons with the Bills, the team has finally decided to move on from former third-round selection and wide receiver T.J. Graham. The wideout struggled with confidence and with his hands at the beginning of training camp, and could never overcome the positive play exhibited by both Marcus Easley and Chris Hogan for the majority of the summer. The final stats on Graham: 31 games, 16 starts, 54 catches, 683 yards and three touchdowns.

OL Doug Legursky
Analysis: The Bills signed Doug Legursky in 2013 to compete for the starting left guard job and underwhelmed in his time on the field. Upon entering the offseason, the team made it a priority to upgrade the offensive line in any way possible, and did so by adding three rookies and signing a free agent. In a battle with Kraig Urbik near the end of training camp to be thebackup center, Legursky's small stature and poor performance lost the battle.

DE/DT Ike Igbinosun
Analysis: The Bills remove their swing defensive lineman off the roster in one of the mandatory nine cuts they need to make on Saturday. Igbinosun filled in at both defensive end and defensive tackle throughout training camp and held his own. His release means the Bills are only keeping four defensive tackles from their training camp roster on the regular season set of 53.

S Kenny Ladler
Analysis: Armed with many accolades from his days at Vanderbilt, an early injury at training camp took a lot of momentum away from Ladler in his attempt to make the 53-man roster. It was going to be a hard position to crack as it was. The two main backups (Duke Williams & Jonathan Meeks) were both draft picks by this regime in 2013.

S Deon Broomfield
Analysis: Along with Ladler, Broomfield couldn't seem to crack into the top four safeties on the roster despite making some solid plays throughout offseason workouts and during training camp. The undrafted free agent rookie showed an eye for the ball at times, but it wasn't enough to unseat either Duke Williams or Meeks.

LB Jimmy Gaines
Analysis: The team's other native of Buffalo, Jimmy Gaines made a valiant effort to stick to the roster. The Canisius High School graduate and undrafted free agent made positive plays in coverage during camp, but faced stiff competition at linebacker from the start. The Bills are very intrigued by the trio of Preston Brown, Ty Powell and Randell Johnson, which made Gaines' quest for a roster spot a tough one as that trio progressed through the preseason.

WR Caleb Holley
Analysis: Holley followed up a successful tryout at rookie minicamp by impressing the coaching staff of the Bills throughout training camp. The undrafted rookie wideout made tough catches in some difficult areas -- especially in the red zone -- to catch the eye of many. Holley will likely be in consideration for the practice squad if he clears waivers.

DE Bryan Johnson
Analysis: He'll be best remembered for the training camp fight with center Eric Wood and tight end Scott Chandler, but Bryan Johnson had a solid training camp as an undrafted free agent rookie. There were times where he made some of the previously cut offensive linemen look a bit foolish, but he also had reps that resulted in him getting engulfed by the blocker. Johnson had some good speed off the edge, but it wasn't enough to get past Jacquies Smith and get a spot on the active roster.

OL Antonie McClain
Analysis: The Bills gave McClain a few opportunities throughout training camp to prove that he belonged on the Bills active roster but failed to deliver on all of them. The team tried McClain at both tackle and guard to see if he could provide the versatility, only to find that he was suited much better as an interior offensive lineman. McClain loses out to both fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson and Kraig Urbik as the top interior reserves.

The Bills announced the release of 10 players and the placement of three players on to Injured Reserve. The roster is currently at 62, and subtracting one spot for Bradham, they'll need to cut eight more players by Saturday afternoon.

P Brian Moorman
Analysis: It's the end of an era once again for the longtime Bills punter. First arriving to the team in 2001, Moorman had only a brief hiatus following his first release from the franchise before returning last season as the team's top punter. It wasn't a stretch to see that Moorman struggling during the preseason games, which was the ultimate reason for his reason from the team. The Bills will either see if Jordan Gay can handle both punting and kickoff duties, or look elsewhere to fill that role. Either way, this might be Moorman's last stand in Buffalo.

QB Jordan Palmer
Analysis: It wasn't an especially great debut and audition for Jordan Palmer. While no one doubts his smarts and coaching-like qualities that have kept him in the league for a long time, Palmer just didn't have the desired zip on passes and tipped his hand to defenders one too many times on Thursday. This leaves the Bills with two quarterbacks on the roster. The expectation is that they would look to fill in with a third through trade or free agency.

DT Landon Cohen
Analysis: The first surprise cut of the day belongs to the Bills letting training camp standout and defensive tackle Landon Cohen go. Cohen was one of the most disruptive linemen for Buffalo against the backups in practice and opponents in preseason games, often reacting quickly to the snap to get some pressure in the backfield. His release means the Bills will likely only keep four defensive tackles, but a name to keep an eye on now is defensive lineman Ike Igbinosun. He has played both end and tackle this summer, and his versatility might have earned him a spot. Stay tuned.

TE Tony Moeaki (IR)
Analysis: It's quite simple with Tony Moeaki. The Bills loved him. They thought he could be an X-factor at the tight end position if he could stay healthy. As they learned, like the Kansas City Chiefs before them, the 'if' never came to fruition. Moeaki suffered a hamstring injury early into training camp that kept him out of 80-percent of the team's preseason games in 2014. Even the one he dressed for, Moeaki barely played in the second half. It was a shot worth taking for the Bills, but they'll once again have to go with Scott Chandler and Lee Smith as their primary tight ends.

FB Evan Rodriguez
Analysis: It was an open competition between Rodriguez and Frank Summers to be the team's one and only fullback on the roster. They had two differing styles: Rodriguez was the pass catcher and Summers was the more established blocker out of the backfield. Due to the profile of their quarterback and what the Bills are shaping their offense to be in 2014, Buffalo opted for the player that fit the running mold the best.

WR Naaman Roosevelt
- It was a nice story for Roosevelt to return to the Bills for training camp, but the odds were stacked against him upon his arrival. With already at least seven receivers ahead of him, Roosevelt never was able to stand out from the crowd. The St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute and University at Buffalo graduate will be on the lookout for another job in the league once again.

TE Dominique Jones
Analysis: Jones was a late addition to the roster, but got a lot of playing time through training camp due to all the injuries early on. Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg all missed some time, while Jones soaked up the snaps. It wasn't enough for him, unfortunately. He's a shorter, stocky player that can move a lot better than he looks. He just failed to provide the Bills with something they didn't already have at the position.

LB Xavius Boyd
Analysis: Boyd was added late into camp and had a lot of young linebacker types ahead of him on the depth chart. With Preston Brown, Ty Powell, Randell Johnson and Jimmy Gaines all making plays throughout camp, Boyd was the lowest man on the totem pole once the first cuts were announced.

CB Kamaal McIlwain
Analysis: The Bills got their first look at McIlwain during mandatory minicamp as a tryout player. He stood out and made a few plays even without being with the team for that long, and once they found a crack on the roster they added him immediately. McIlwain played both tough and physical at the beginning of the camp, but as practices racked up he wore down.

CB Sam Miller
Analysis: Added once the Bills decided to part ways with the often beaten cornerback Michael Carter, Miller kept with receivers much more capably then his jersey's predecessor. Unfortunately for him, there wasn't much room for upward mobility on the cornerback depth chart: it was all pretty much decided once Ron Brooks started having a solid training camp.

OL Jared Wheeler
Analysis: A late addition, Wheeler didn't get many reps even during practice as the odd man out along the third-team offensive line. Once a few transactions and injuries occurred, Wheeler got in and held his own. The swing center/guard didn't have the preferred experience to be the team's interior backup and failed to unseat either Kraig Urbik or Doug Legursky.

CB Mario Butler (IR)
Analysis: After getting some solid time on the field during training camp while Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin each returned slowly from their offseason surgeries, Butler suffered an injury (ankle) of his own. His chances were slim to start, but the injury took away any ambiguity from the Bills' impending decision at cornerback.

CB Bobby Felder (IR)
Analysis: Felder was another late addition for the Bills during training camp and didn't stand out nearly as much as McIlwain or Butler. An injury to his groin sealed his fate and landed him on the injured reserve.

The list will be updated as more moves have been reported or announced.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills 53-man roster projection: 8/29
The preseason has been completed, and the only thing separating the NFL from the start of the regular season is to make final decisions on their 53-man rosters. In Buffalo, there are some tough decisions to be made specifically on the offensive side of the ball, but who will survive?

Keep in mind that it's likely the 53-man roster won't be made up completely of players that Buffalo currently has the rights to. Before the cuts come down, here is a projection of who the Bills might keep:

Quarterback (2)
EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel
Cuts: Jordan Palmer
- The Bills' quarterback position is nearly one of the worst in the league in terms of depth. Thad Lewis was a disappointment in the summer, Jeff Tuel hasn't taken the next step the Bills were hoping for and Jordan Palmer didn't show the necessary arm strength against backups to prove he was worthy of a roster spot. Even though the Bills might only keep two quarterbacks initially, don't expect only Manuel and Tuel to make up this roster. There has to be an additional move coming, they can't go into the season with their current trio, or in this case, duo.

Running Back (4)
C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon
Cuts: None
- As straight forward as it gets. A talented room that will see a 100-percent rate of return.

Fullback (1)
Frank Summers
Cuts: Evan Rodriguez
- Rodriguez brings much more in the passing game to the Bills, but they are a run-first offense. The better blocker of the two, by far, is Frank Summers. He also has more experience carrying the ball than Rodriguez who is a transformed tight end. While the athleticism of Rodriguez is intriguing, they need a skull-crushing blocker ahead of their running backs and he isn't that. Summers might not be either, but he's more in the mold than Rodriguez.

(UPDATE: Evan Rodriguez has tweeted that he has been released.)

Wide Receiver (7)
Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan, T.J. Graham
Cuts: Naaman Roosevelt, Caleb Holley
- The subtraction of both Thad Lewis and Jordan Palmer on the roster helps make keeping seven receivers on the roster possible. The five locks of the team, at this point, are Watkins, Woods, Williams, Goodwin and Easley. Hogan has had lapses in concentration, and Graham has stepped it up recently. Hogan is still important to the Bills on special teams and they might not want to give up on Graham yet. Will it stay at seven receivers through next week? That's debateable. Keeping anyone else on the cut list over Graham just doesn't make sense at this point.

Tight End (3)
Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Chris Gragg
Cuts: Tony Moeaki, Dominique Jones
- The Tony Moeaki experiment ends with a result that was predicted by many. The tight end has struggled with injuries ever since college and the 2014 preseason was no exception. He missed four out of five games with a hamstring injury, and barely even played in the one he appeared in. Even though Gragg hasn't done much to garner a roster spot, his athleticism in year two of his career is more intriguing than a perpetually injured player with past history. It may be time to cut their minimal losses with Moeaki and move on.

(UPDATE: Dominique Jones has tweeted that he has been released.)

Offensive Tackle (3)
Cordy Glenn, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio
Cuts: Chris Hairston

The end is likely near for Chris Hairston. Throughout the summer he has shown to have movement issues against edge defenders and the team's early attempt to move him inside to guard failed as well. The Bills won't cut second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio despite having a poor training camp, and the emergence of Erik Pears as a swing guard/tackle combination removes their need to keep Hairston around.

Offensive Guard (4)
Erik Pears, Chris Williams, Cyril Richardson, Kraig Urbik
Cuts: Antoine McClain, Jared Wheeler

- This really comes down to Kraig Urbik versus Doug Legursky. While Legursky has more in-game experience at center, Urbik is the bigger and superior player along the entire interior of the offensive line. He has a bigger cap hit, but the Bills can't worry about that now. If Eric Wood goes down with an injury they need someone to step in to help sustain the offensive line. Urbik has the most experience and is the better player.

Center (1)
Eric Wood
Cuts: Doug Legursky

- Legursky is too small and short-limbed for what Doug Marrone wants in an offensive lineman. He was a suitable stop-gap solution, but the Bills have addressed their offensive line in a big way this offseason which has left someone like Urbik on the outside looking in on the top five.

Defensive End (4)
Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson, Jarius Wynn
Cuts: Jacquies Smith, Bryan Johnson

- Although Jacquies Smith put up a good fight during training camp and in spots during the preseason, the Bills might opt to only keep four defensive ends on the roster. Since his return to the team at mandatory minicamp, Lawson has shown he still has some ability at defensive end even though he doesn't fit the new defense all that well. But, the Bills could surprise some and keep Smith around.

Defensive Tackle (5)
Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, Landon Cohen
Cuts: Ike Igbinosun

- The five best defensive tackles on the roster have been identified and there isn't much mystery around it. Bryant, Charles and Cohen have all had a terrific summer of work and made the Bills' decision to cut Alan Branch an easy one.

**Linebacker (5)
Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers, Preston Brown, Ty Powell, Randell Johnson
Cuts: Jimmy Gaines, Xavius Boyd

- Of course, Nigel Bradham does not count against the opening week roster due to his one-game suspension. However, the Bills have liked what they've seen from Preston Brown and Ty Powell which has helped them be the main backups. The only player in question here is Randell Johnson, who has extremely athletic skills, but is raw at this point in his career. They could opt to try and sneak him on the practice squad and use the spot elsewhere.

Cornerback (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey, Ross Cockrell, Ron Brooks
Cuts: Mario Butler, Bobby Felder, Kamal McIlwain, Sam Miller

- Just as straight forward as the running back position, the top six have clearly been identified and there likely won't be any surprises. Ron Brooks had the most to prove in the offseason, and he did.

Safety (4)
Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy, Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks
Cuts: Kenny Ladler, Deon Broomfield

- This could get at least a little tricky due to the injury status of Jonathan Meeks. The severity of his neck injury has not been disclosed at this point in time, and if the Bills so choose, they could opt to put him on an injury list. If that is the case, the Bills could save a roster spot by keeping only three safeties and have Corey Graham serve as a hybrid defensive back.

Kicker (1)
Dan Carpenter
Cuts: None

Punter (2)
Brian Moorman, Jordan Gay
Cuts: None
- This might be the biggest surprise of the roster, but it really shouldn't be. The Nigel Bradham suspension allows the Bills to have flexibility at one position for one week. And like it or not, head coach Doug Marrone wants a kickoff specialist on the roster.
"The last two years we’ve lead the league in kickoff returns against us and I just think you’re playing with fire when you keep doing that. I think you can have a big advantage for a couple of reasons. One, you can take that phase out of the game. Meaning that you’ve got thirty-something spots that you need for special teams, the two coverage teams with kickoff return and punt and a lot of times we have starters on that. If you’re a team that makes a decision to kick it out of the end zone 90 percent of the time, you’re saving a lot of shots, you’re saving a lot of reps. And then you take away the opportunities for the other team."

So with the Bradham suspension, the Bills give Gay a one-week tryout to nail down the job. If it doesn't go well, then they move on. If it does, they have a different decision to make.

Long Snapper (1)
Garrison Sanborn
Cuts: None

**Nigel Bradham does not count against the roster for Week 1 due to his suspension

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Observations: Lions 23 - Bills 0
At long last, the marathon summer that was Buffalo Bills training camp and the preseason has mercifully met its demise. A third straight exhibition contest that yielded frustrating results for the first-team offense was seen by all in Ralph Wilson Stadium, and it didn’t provide the hopeful momentum head coach Doug Marrone was looking for.

The Bills fell to the Detroit Lions 23-0 to wrap up their fifth and final preseason game with some uninspiring results along the way. What was learned in the last tuneup for the Bills ahead of the regular season? Here are some observations from the team’s most recent loss:

Another frustrating night for Manuel
- Due to a poor performance against Tampa Bay on Saturday night, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone decided to let his starting offense get the full first quarter against Detroit on Thursday. The results were not as bad as it was against the Buccaneers, but they weren’t much better, either. In three total drives, the Bills managed 55 total yards, four first downs (one from a penalty) and allowed two sacks. Quarterback EJ Manuel ended the day with 56 yards passing, having connected on 3-of-7 attempts. There were some opportunities missed along the way for the second-year quarterback. Manuel had an open Sammy Watkins along the sidelines on a rollout after the cornerback fell down in coverage. Manuel didn’t spot Watkins even though he appeared to be in his sightline, and instead threw the ball away and out of bounds.  On a later third down attempt, Manuel correctly spotted Robert Woods down the field on a crossing pattern about 18 yards down the field. He delivered the ball a bit too high, and a bit too wide and while it was technically catchable, it wasn’t anywhere near where it should have been placed. The worst example, though, was on the play that ended up in another Watkins injury. It was a simple slant route that Manuel eyed down right from the snap. Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer read the quarterback’s eyes and bolted over to the receiver. The throw was about a yard ahead of where it needed to be and it put Watkins in a position to take a big hit, which is precisely what happened. Manuel made a couple of sound decisions in the game, but the offense in total was completely inefficient.

Watkins gets hurt: was the risk worth it?
- Marrone and the Bills made the interesting decision to play Watkins despite him just coming back from an injury to his ribs. The wide receiver was in fact cleared to play by the medical staff, but in many cases all over the league, teams will often exercise caution when it comes to their marquee players in preseason games. Marrone explained after the game that he was excited to get Watkins in a game with Manuel because the two didn’t have as much experience with one another in games as he would have liked. Was the risk of further injury worth it, though? As former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley pointed out on Twitter, Palmer took a forearm right to the ribs of Watkins in what he called “knowing your opponent.” A healthy and playable Watkins without much game day experience with Manuel is far more valuable than a banged up and experienced rookie wideout heading into the regular season. The severity of the rookie’s injury has yet to be determined, but he was still put in a bad situation by both the coach and the quarterback. Even if he didn’t get hurt against the Lions, the sentiment would remain. If a player is slightly injured and important to the immediate future of the franchise, don’t put them at risk for further injury in a meaningless preseason game. It’s that simple.

Palmer channels his inner Leinart
- Just three days ago, the Bills signed quarterback Jordan Palmer to come in an audition for the backup quarterback role with the team. On Tuesday he practiced, he went through a walk through on Wednesday and then got his big chance Thursday evening. After what was witnessed, it’s safe to say that he would have liked to have the majority of the game against the Lions back. Palmer finished the game completing 9-of-22 passes for 73 yards, and threw three interceptions along the way. Granted, it’s quite a tough situation for Palmer to walk into and try to perform at a high level. Without much time to prepare, he had to operate an offense he wasn’t familiar with. It was, however, reminiscent of what was seen in the 2013 preseason finale from Matt Leinart. Having been acquired just days before their game with the Lions, Leinart completed only three passes for minimal yards, threw two interceptions and was benched by the head coach. Expect the Bills to comb the waiver wire for players that get cut over the next two days because, to put it bluntly, the franchise is not at all happy with the level of skill the backups on the roster have shown.

A lesson in accountability for EJ Manuel
- Here are two quotes from quarterbacks on the Bills roster Thursday night:
“I got a couple of drops on third downs, but as far as going to the right place with the ball, I thought I did a pretty good job.”
“There were different reasons as to why things didn’t go the right way tonight but I own all of them. I’m the quarterback, I’m the one back there pulling the trigger so I’ve got to make better decisions and move the team and score, and I’m frustrated I couldn’t do that tonight.”

One of these quotes is from a quarterback that has been with the team for three days, and the other from the first-round franchise signal caller entrusted with the keys to the 2014 season. Based on the simple fact that you’re reading this, it’s not hard to figure out which of the two was said by EJ Manuel. The expectation for Manuel in a post-game setting is not for him to be constantly down on himself. The goal isn’t to see him stand up at the podium and watch him suffer through his words after an excruciatingly bad performance. Taking some accountability for his role in the pitfalls of the offense, however, is more than fair to expect. This hasn’t been a new thing for Manuel, either: after quite a few poor practices or games, he’ll often reply with a positive response and summarize that he felt the offense progressed and played well. There is being positive, and then there is deflecting any ounce of blame onto others, which is precisely what he did in his post game quote Thursday. How will it go over with Robert Woods and Fred Jackson, the two players that “dropped” passes on third downs, that their quarterback is pinning the blame of the offensive woes on them? Then you have Jordan Palmer, who has been with the team since Tuesday, bearing the weight of the woes on his shoulders alone. The Bills touted Manuel as being a mature, leader of men. And while this is only one example from one quote after one game, there is little doubt that he has some maturing to do to become the leader the Bills think he can be.

The punting competition that never was
- When the Bills claimed Jordan Gay off of waivers from Carolina, most anticipated he would be battling Brian Moorman for punting duties in the regular season. That wasn’t the case according to Marrone. They viewed Gay as a kickoff specialist, but due to the offensive woes, they weren’t able to see him more than once in that capacity. Moorman on the other hand struggled all through the night with a 38.4 yards per punt average. The head coach put the longtime Bills punter on alert after the game:
“Brian has really been outstanding in practice, but in the games you expect him to do a better job and come back. I’m not saying that you don’t expect once here or there. You understand that. But two in a row. That’s one of the ways we have to play, so we’ll take a good look at that. We’ll discuss it with Doug [Whaley] and see where we’re at.”

Marrone was clearly referring to shanked punts, and didn’t give Moorman a glaring public vote of confidence with that quote. Moorman may get a few more opportunities in games, but it appears his leash is short. He needs to produce — and quickly — if he gets the chance.

Bills MVP: HB Anthony Dixon
- A couple of tough runs and a 5.8 yards per carry average on eight rushes is the best the Bills got from anyone on Thursday. He also took a pretty gruesome hit to an area that will make any male wince, so he gets more points for toughness.

Bills LVP: QB Jordan Palmer
- Palmer has the smarts of a coach but clearly not the ability to go along with it. He’ll be a good coach down the line, but he may not be long for Buffalo after his three interception debut.

Up Next: Final cuts are due Saturday, August 30 at 4 pm. The Bills then move on to play the Chicago Bears on the road for the regular season opener on September 7. Kickoff is set for 1 pm.

Final Thoughts:
- An enduring summer of extra training camp practices and five preseason games is now over and the team needs to erase the last three on-field performances from their minds. They are merely exhibition contests, and it’s a given that both offensive and defensive schemes have yet to be debuted. However, even with the simplest of plays, this version of the Bills must learn to execute much better than they have been. Will they turn it around when the bright lights of the regular season finally gets here next Sunday? They’re certainly betting on it. As for now, it’s just a wait and see approach. And until it can be seen, Bills fans will be holding their collective breath that the preseason was merely a mirage.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Watkins suffers 2nd rib injury in Bills preseason finale
The Buffalo Bills entered their final preseason game with the idea of playing their starters against the Detroit Lions. In only their second offensive possession of the game, the Bills once again saw their prized possession of the offseason have to leave the game due to an injury.

Fourth-overall selection and rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins could not continue for the second time in the 2014 preseason, suffering an injury to his ribs just as he did August 17 in Pittsburgh. Led too far by quarterback EJ Manuel on a slant route, Watkins took a forearm to the ribs from Lions linebacker Ashlee Palmer after the defender read the quarterback’s eyes.

Watkins immediately clutched his midsection, but seemed determined to stay on the field for another play. A delay allowed a teammate to come check on him, and then Watkins left the field slowly, simultaneously ending his night for the Bills. The medical staff of the team examined Watkins on the sidelines before a group of four doctors and trainers escorted the wideout to locker room.

The team initially declared his return as questionable but then downgraded him to out shortly thereafter. For the time being, Watkins’ injury status is unknown, although Manuel said, “he’ll be fine” in response to the wideout’s current condition. The injury is to the same area as the one he suffered in Pittsburgh.

For the second straight week the Bills and their first-team offense could not get anything going in an exhibition contest, leading them to an unceremonious 23-0 defeat to the Lions.  In three total drives, Manuel finished the game 3-of-7 for 56 yards and took two sacks. The Bills’ top unit managed just 55 total yards total.

“You just have to put it behind you and not lose your confidence,” Bills center Eric Wood said. “I have a lot of confidence in this offense, we’ve put in a ton of work and I’m not going to get down because of a couple of preseason games.”

Despite the lack of points and lack of statistics, Manuel was satisfied with his performance.

“I got a couple drops on third downs, but as far as going to the right place with the ball, I thought I did a pretty good job,” he said. “Coming off the field talking to Coach Hackett and Coach Downing, they told me I did a good job, so I was happy with that.”

Besides the desire for more snaps for the starters ahead of the regular season, Thursday also served as an audition for one recently acquired player. Quarterback Jordan Palmer, whom was just signed to the Bills after being released by Chicago, entered the game in the second quarter to attempt to win the backup job.

With only three days on the job, Palmer’s night couldn’t have gone much worse. In three quarters of play, the quarterback completed just 9-of-22 passes for 73 yards. He compounded the poor evening with three interceptions.

"There were different reasons as to why things didn't go right tonight but I own all of them," Palmer said. "I'm the quarterback, I'm the one back there pulling the trigger so I've got to make better decisions and move the team and score and I'm frustrated I couldn't do that tonight."

Palmer had merely one day of practice, one walkthrough and the preseason game to make an impression. He was brought in to challenge second-year quarterback Jeff Tuel for the backup position behind EJ Manuel. Through the entire evening, the Buffalo only managed to get in Detroit territory four times.

The Bills came into the game with ten players unavailable due to injury, which made cornerback Stephon Gilmore (groin), guard Chris Williams (back), cornerback Corey Graham (ankle), tight end Scott Chandler (knee), linebacker Randell Johnson (ankle), tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), cornerback Mario Butler (ankle), tight end Lee Smith (toe), safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) and cornerback Bobby Felder (groin) inactive for the contest.

Buffalo survived a scare in the first half with running back Bryce Brown. The runner caught a pass from Palmer and was hit by a pair of Detroit defenders and then immediately clutched his knee in pain. He was helped off the field but quickly regained full strength in his knee and returned before the half was over.

The Bills end their preseason with only one win and four losses, and like the rest of the NFL, will now shift into regular season mode at the start of next week. Before that the Bills will need to pare their roster down to the maximum of 53 players, and will need to release. Final cuts are due from each team on Saturday, August 30 at 4 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Watkins active vs. Lions
The Buffalo Bills waited only one game before getting their first-round pick back on the field.

After he suffered a rib injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers a little under two weeks ago, Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins was declared active and will play against the Detroit Lions. Watkins returned to practice without any limitations on Monday which led to his clearance for the preseason finale.

The Bills will be without nine players in their matchup with the Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, left guard Chris Williams, cornerback Corey Graham, tight end Scott Chandler, safety Jonathan Meeks, tight end Tony Moeaki, cornerback Mario Butler, tight end Lee Smith and cornerback Bobby Felder were all declared inactive for the team's last exhibition contest.

The Bills adjusted their lineups accordingly and will start Cyril Richardson at left guard, Chris Gragg at tight end and Ron Brooks at cornerback. The team will also start rookie linebacker Preston Brown in the weakside role, which is likely a move to get him more time on the field for the upcoming regular season game with the Chicago Bears due to starter Nigel Bradham's one-game suspension.

The Lions will have a much different starting lineup than they will in the regular season. Detroit's offense will only have four of their original starters playing, while their defense will have six.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

5 things to watch for during Bills - Lions
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.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

More competition for Moorman: Bills claim punter
The Buffalo Bills released the challenger to incumbent punter Brian Moorman in their first round of cuts on Monday, but that doesn't mean the veteran has sewn up the job just yet. The Bills announced on Tuesday evening that they were awarded punter Jordan Gay off of waivers.

Gay, from tiny Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, was released by the Carolina Panthers on August 24 after he failed to unseat punter Brad Nortman for the job. In his time with the Panthers, he punted, did some work as a kickoff specialist and even kicked some field goals.

An undrafted free agent last year, Gay first started with the Panthers before being released a week ahead of the regular season. He then signed with the New York Giants following the end of the season and was released by the team in May. The Panthers came calling once again, as they signed Gay before his eventual release on Sunday.

The Bills recently released punter Jake Dombrowski for the roster, but head coach Doug Marrone didn't say he was satisfied with the position yet.

"I’m not saying that Brian is going out there and playing for his job, but I think that it’s the same thing. Not unlike anyone else on the team, we have to make sure that we feel comfortable with their performance and that they’re able to do it moving forward," Marrone said Monday. "If not, is there somebody on the roster that’s better or we have to go out and upgrade it."

Gay will get his first, and likely only chance to make an impression on the team Thursday night against the Detroit Lions. The preseason finale at Ralph Wilson Stadium will begin at 7 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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People: Brad NortmanBrian MoormanDoug MarroneJake DombrowskiJordan Gay

Bills place Alonso on Reserve/NFI list
Kiko Alonso is lost for the season, but that doesn't mean the Buffalo Bills aren't keeping their options open with the young linebacker.

Upon suffering a torn ACL during the nearly month-long break between mandatory minicamp and the start of training camp, the Bills issued a statement that said the injury occurred in a workout away from team facilities. That sealed his fate as having to be placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list to start training camp.

The next step for the Bills on Tuesday was to not only disable him from the active roster, but to leave open the chance --albeit a very small percentage one -- for Alonso to return to practice within a specific window. The team announced that they placed the linebacker on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, which gives them a bevy of options.

First and foremost, if Alonso has a miraculous recovery, he would be eligible to return for a five week window starting after Week 6. Upon his first day of practice, the Bills would have three weeks to put him on the active roster. If he practices and they don't activate him, the Bills would either have to release him or place him on Injured Reserve.

If he is not cleared to practice, which is the more likely outcome due to the severity of the injury, the Bills can keep him on the Reserve/NFI list and per the Collective Bargaining Agreement and it wouldn't count for an accrued season in his career due to the injury happening away from an NFL sanctioned venue. That would mean that when his contract runs out after the 2016 season, Alonso conceivably would be a restricted free agent for having only three years of accrued service to his name.

Written in the same bylaws, the Bills would also have the option of compensating him for the year or not based on where and when the injury occurred. With Alonso now on the Reserve/NFI list, he no longer counts on the active roster. With the move, the Bills now have 74 active players.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Bills release Thad Lewis
The main backup to quarterback EJ Manuel in 2013 is now out of a job.

Just two days before the team's preseason finale, the Buffalo Bills have released quarterback Thad Lewis from the roster on Tuesday. Lewis had been in a battle with second-year quarterback Jeff Tuel all summer to be Manuel's backup in 2014, but struggled so much that the franchise decided to look elsewhere.

"It's tough," head coach Doug Marrone said. "Thad, think about it this time last year, he just arrived and really did a nice job for us. He went in there and played his butt off and I don't think anyone would ever question how tough he is and the job that he's done. He won a couple games for us and we were hoping that that would be the case this year. But in our opinion, we have to go out there and get someone better."

The Bills had the flexibility to release Lewis once they brought in former Chicago Bears quarterback Jordan Palmer, who will sign with the team according to a league source. Palmer will compete with Tuel to be Manuel's primary backup for the upcoming season.

Lewis started five games for Buffalo in 2013 while Manuel had to sit due to knee injuries. He went 2-3 with both his victories coming against the Miami Dolphins.

The Bills initially acquired Lewis in a trade with Detroit shortly before their final preseason game in 2013. He was added to the practice squad for the start of the regular season, activated upon Manuel's injury against Cleveland in 2013, and then was immediately placed in the starting lineup.

With the corresponding moves, the team's active roster remains at 75.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Locations: BuffaloClevelandDetroit
People: Jeff TuelJordan PalmerMike FlorioThad Lewis

Bills to sign QB Jordan Palmer
Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone has made it abundantly clear over the past two weeks that he has not been happy with the play of his backup quarterbacks. The Bills have done something about their dissatisfaction.

The franchise announced the signing of quarterback Jordan Palmer to compete to be the backup to EJ Manuel on Tuesday. Palmer was released by the Chicago Bears on Sunday after he lost the competition with Jimmy Clausen to be Jay Cutler’s backup.

"It was a whirlwind couple of days," Palmer said Tuesday. "Played in Seattle a couple of days ago, flew back to Chicago, ended my run in Chicago and flew back to California then flew to Buffalo from California. The last 72 hours have been a whirlwind, but I'm so thrilled to be here."

Entering his sixth season in the NFL Palmer, 30, has appeared in only four games since he entered the league in 2008 out of UTEP. He played in four games through 2008 to 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals, completing 10-of-15 passes for 59 yards and also had two interceptions.

Palmer then had a brief stint with Jacksonville in 2012 before getting signed by the Bears in 2013. In all his stops, he created an idea of what the type of player he wanted to be on a roster.

"The best quarterbacks I've been around, particularly the guys who were backing up, they're leaders but they're really servant leaders," Palmer said. "I got to see it with Josh McCown last year, I've seen it with Chad Henne and then all the way back to Mark Brunell when I played in Washington. Those are the guys who provide the most resources for their team -- for the starter, for the staff, for the receivers -- whoever it may be. And when they do get an opportunity to play, those are the guys who take advantage of it and play well."

Palmer is the younger brother of Arizona Cardinals starter Carson Palmer. The Bills close out the preseason at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Thursday, August 28, where their new quarterback is expected to play, according to head coach Doug Marrone.

"We've given ourselves an opportunity for what we've been watching on tape of everyone for Jordan to come in here and show us what he has."

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Watkins back to full strength for Bills
Following a brief scare nine days ago in Pittsburgh, the Buffalo Bills have gotten their prized possession from this offseason back in working order. Bills wide receiver, rookie and fourth-overall selection Sammy Watkins was back on the practice field outside the ADPRO Sports Training Center as a full participant.

Watkins, according to head coach Doug Marrone, didn't have any limitations in practice. Last week the wideout sat out of Monday's practice, only did positional drills on Tuesday and Wednesday and then took a tiny step forward Thursday to graduate to routes versus air. The Bills ended up sitting him Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In the first quarter against Pittsburgh, quarterback EJ Manuel threw a pass that was intended for Watkins. The wide receiver got tangled up and then grabbed his midsection, with it later being revealed that he suffered an injury to his ribs.

Opposite to Watkins, five players on the Bills roster were not able to partcipate in the practice. Left guard Chris Williams (back), tight end Lee Smith (toe), safety Jonathan Meeks (neck), tight end Dominique Jones (undisclosed) and cornerback Bobby Felder (groin) could not practice with their teammates Monday.

Despite missing Saturday's exhibition contest, defensive tackle Kyle Williams (leg) and tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) both returned to practice. Cornerback Mario Butler (ankle) resumed work on the field as well.

The Bills will take to the field for practice for the final time this week on Tuesday at 12 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills say performance, not arrest was reason for Branch release
Two days ago Alan Branch was arrested. One day ago, he was released from the roster. On Monday, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone explained that the defensive tackle's release had a much thicker layer to it than just Branch's off-the-field transgression.

"It was really performance," Marrone said. "You guys watch the film and the players we released, you have to perform in this league and he didn't perform well. Obviously [the arrest] was a poor decision, but basically it was the performance because we didn't really play him much in the first two or three preseason games, nor could we."

It makes sense from what the Bills have received from Branch since he signed his three-year extension in late December. He showed up to training camp out of shape, failed his conditioning test and then was passed by on the depth chart by three separate players. He was mostly playing alongside undrafted rookie defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who also was released by the team in order to get down to 75 players.

However, Branch was released almost 24 hours before all the other cuts, and given the timing of his arrest for drunk driving the night before their Saturday preseason contest, it appeared to serve as a catalyst for severing the working relationship. Would the Bills have cut Branch had he not been arrested?

"A lot of things factor in decisions, don't get me wrong," Marrone conceded. "But the main factor was performance. Not even close."

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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People: Alan BranchDamien JacobsDoug Marrone

Bills cut Hopkins, Dixon, 9 others
The Buffalo Bills and the rest of the National Football League had until Tuesday to pare their roster to 75 players. Like many other teams, the Bills elected to make those cuts a day or two earlier than they were required.

The team announced that kicker Dustin Hopkins, quarterback Dennis Dixon, guard J.J. 'Unga, running back Ronnie Wingo, punter Jake Dombrowski, wide receiver Tori Gurley, safety Derek Brim, defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, safety Jajuan Harley, wide receiver Chris Summers and center Macky MacPherson have all been released from the active roster.

The Bills entered Saturday's preseason game with 87 players on the roster. The Sunday release of Alan Branch, paired with the 11 players released on Monday brought Buffalo down to the required 75 by Tuesday.

The next round of cuts is just around the corner. Teams will participate in their final preseason games by Thursday, which prefaces the reduction all rosters in the league to 53 players by Saturday, August 30 at 4 p.m.

The Bills are up against the Detroit Lions on Thursday at Ralph Wilson Stadium for their final exhibition matchup.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills make it official: Alan Branch released
Going into the final week of the preseason, defensive tackle Alan Branch had close to zero room for error in order to make the final roster of the Buffalo Bills. Branch blew right through all his warnings and following his arrest on the weekend, and now the Bills have elected to release the defensive tackle from his contract.

Branch was arrested for drunk driving the night and morning before the team took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their fourth preseason game. Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced after the game that the defensive tackle was excused from being at the stadium due to an unspecified arrest.

The Bills released Branch, absolving them of most of the three-year extension they signed him to last December. It wasa three-year contract that totaled $9.3 million if it was played out in full. The $3.1 million signing bonus they paid him in December is his to keep, but there isn't many more ramifications past that.

They'll be on the hook for $775,000 against the cap, which is his prorated bonus. The remaining money owed in a cap hit would be a total of $1.55 million, which are the remaining two years of prorated bonuses. That can either be lumped all together in 2015 if the Bills choose to.

It was the last straw for Branch, who was a no-show, no-call non-participant at voluntary Organized Team Activities. He also showed up to training camp out of shape, failing his conditioning test and then fell behind on the depth chart to three younger players. Branch, 29, spent just one full season with the Bills.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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People: Alan BranchDoug Marrone

Observations: Buccaneers 27 - Bills 14
It took three-and-a-half preseason games and 19 possessions, but the first-team offense of the Buffalo Bills finally got the hefty piano off of their backs. At long last, they marched into the end zone for six points.

Outside of those two drives to open up the second half, it was a game that were full of mistakes that the Bills will need to correct quickly ahead of their upcoming preseason finale on Thursday. What were the biggest takeaways? Here are some observations from the Bills’ 27-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

A first half to forget
- EJ Manuel and the first-team offense came into Saturday night with one goal in mind: to take the ball, drive it down the field and end a drive with a touchdown. It’s been an elusive goal for them in the preseason leading up to the Buccaneers game, only doing just enough to bring kicker Dan Carpenter out on to the field for a field goal attempt. The way it started in the first half, it didn’t look like that drought was ending at any point in the near future. Eight drives in the first two quarters resulted in just 82 yards, six first downs, seven penalties, three turnovers and not a single point. The fans in attendance at Ralph Wilson Stadium let their feelings known for the sloppy play by raining boos down on to the field. In their defense, it was well warranted. Scott Chandler just fell down on his route that led to an interception, C.J. Spiller couldn’t hang on to the ball after catching it and EJ Manuel couldn’t hit his receivers at nearly enough of a consistent rate to get the ball down the field. In his defense, the offensive line allowed some pressure and big hits to come his way. That said, Manuel needed to be much better than he was in the first half against Tampa Bay’s top unit. He turned it around in the second half against the Buccaneer backups. Regardless of who it was against, you can’t completely ignore a 10-for-10, 131-yard two drive performance that resulted in two offensive touchdowns. A solid showing in however much time he’s allotted against Detroit’s top unit is in order.

Spikes, Rivers, Bryant stand out early
- The offense had a poor start to their evening, but the first-team defense looked the part once again in the preseason. The Bills got pressure, forced errant throws and once again looked quite stout against the run. Of all the issues from 2013, the revamped run defense is among the most noteworthy improvements. The two players that really stood out in that phase on Saturday were middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and strongside linebacker Keith Rivers. Spikes got through his blocks and anticipated the lanes to come away with six tackles on the day. Rivers shot through the lanes and even had two tackles for loss to go with his six total tackles. Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant, who started for the injured Kyle Williams, shined in his place with a sack and two quarterback hits to go along with all his pressure. Bryant has stepped his game up this summer and is the top reserve at the position, replacing Alan Branch in that role. The defense started slipping as the first half wore on and some starters were replaced, but they had yet another solid start. The first unit is the most encouraging aspect of the preseason.

O-Line penalty problems
- The Bills shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with the amount of times they were flagged on Saturday. The problems started up front on offense; four of the five starting offensive linemen accounted for at least one penalty against Tampa Bay. Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears each had two, while Eric Wood and rookie Cyril Richardson each had one of their own. The only starter not to commit a penalty? Rookie right tackle Seantrel Henderson. Not only did they take penalties, they took them after some big gains and cost the offense some of their drives. That is sure to be a point of emphasis for head coach Doug Marrone in the short week leading up to their next game.

Bye, bye Branch?
- When the inactive list came down roughly an hour before the game started, the biggest surprise was the inclusion of defensive tackle Alan Branch. He wasn’t listed with an injury at all during the week of practice and took all his normal reps at practice. Marrone made the announcement after the game that Branch had been arrested, and shortly after it was found out that it was for drunk driving. The writing is on the wall for Branch and his future, or lack thereof, with the Bills. After he signed his three-year extension in December, Branch was a no-show, no-call to Organized Team Activities, showed up to training camp out of shape and failed his conditioning test, he’s fallen down the depth chart behind Bryant, Stefan Charles and Landon Cohen and now he gets arrested the night before the team’s game. It was also interesting that Marrone included the fact that he couldn’t get ahold of Branch, but that the team had to communicate with him through other people. It would be a complete shock if Branch is still a member of the organization when the team trims down to 53 players, and he could be gone even in the first round of cuts due by Tuesday.

Battle for backup QB is wide open
- When EJ Manuel finally left the game, to the shock of many, Dennis Dixon was the next quarterback to enter. Dixon, who has been the fourth quarterback all summer, got his first real taste of preseason action on Saturday. It didn’t go well. He was only credited with one fumble, but the ball slipped through his hands three times in just a six-play span. Those ball security issues forced Dixon out of the game after only one series and the team turned to Jeff Tuel. Tuel was able to move the offense and ended with 90 yards, completing 8-of-14 pass attempts. Thad Lewis, however, did not play a single snap. After the game Marrone said that all three were battling for the backup job. One would have to think that with the lack of definition through most the summer, the team will likely look to free agency to see if anyone is available. Tuel is likely safe, but both and Lewis and Dixon need to pick it up in the coming week, or else they could be joining the lengthy cut lists around the league.

Renovations debut
- It was a gorgeous day for football and the Bills were smiling wide as they got to show off all the new improvements to Ralph Wilson Stadium. The widened concourse areas, the new Bills store and the new scoreboards on the opposite end of the stadium all went over very well with fans. While they didn’t get the performance from the team that they all wanted, it’s hard not to be impressed about all the new features that they’ve done in the offseason.

Bills’ MVP: LB Keith Rivers
- Six tackles, two tackles for loss and he was one of the keys to a solid run defense for the fourth game in a row.

Bills’ LVP: QB EJ Manuel
- The second half was solid, but his first half performance left a sour taste in the mouth of most Bills fans.

Up Next: The preseason finale on Thursday, August 28 versus the Detroit Lions. Kickoff is set for 7 pm.

Final Thoughts:
- It would be foolish to go overboard and predict that the Bills will have a terrifyingly bad season based on what they did in one half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s likely to be an impulsive, gut reaction, but it still is only the preseason. Manuel and the first-team offense did not look good when they were up against the best Tampa Bay had to offer. It’s discouraging, but not damning. The real test will begin on September 7 in Chicago for the start of the regular season. That’s when the real judgement of Manuel and the offense will begin. However, if that unit looks anything like they did on Saturday, it could be a long season no matter how well the defense plays. The book isn’t written just yet, though.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Branch arrested for drunk driving
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Alan Branch has been on thin ice in the battle for the 53-man roster. After his latest misstep, it could be the final crack that makes him plunge into the icy water infested with unemployment.

Head coach Doug Marrone announced to the media after the team’s 27-14 loss to Tampa Bay that Branch had been arrested, but couldn’t give any further details. According to a source, Branch’s run-in with the law was for allegedly driving drunk.

“I’m going to meet with him tomorrow,” Marrone said Saturday night.“I  found out somewhere around noon midday. I just had so much on my mind. I tried to call him and couldn’t get ahold of him, so I just got ahold of him some other way through other people and said, ‘I’ll meet with you tomorrow.’ That’s all I know for a fact, I can’t say anything else.”

Branch was with the team at St. John Fisher College for their walkthrough on Friday. There wasn’t any indication where or when the defensive tackle was arrested.

Since signing his extension in December, Branch has seen his hold on the role of top backup at defensive tackle evaporate. He didn’t show to voluntary workouts and didn’t communicate with the team as to why he wasn’t there, he failed his conditioning test at the start of training camp and was demoted to the third-team defense throughout all of camp.

The Bills excused Branch from the game on Saturday against Tampa Bay. His three-year extension was worth a total of $9.3 million.

Tim Graham of The Buffalo News originally reported the arrest was for drunk driving. The Bills get back to practice on Monday in Orchard Park, which leads up to the first round of cuts being due on Tuesday, August 26. Teams must bring their rosters down to 75 players by the close of business on that day.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Tale of two halves for Bills' Manuel, first-team offense in loss
Quarterback EJ Manuel and the first-team offense said they felt confident that a touchdown would finally come their way. They just didn’t expect it to come as late into the game as it did.

The Buffalo Bills struggled their way through the first two quarters, accounting for only 82 yards, six first downs, seven penalties, three turnovers and no points. The boos for the offensive output were out in full force early in the game, serenading Manuel and company as they trotted off the field for halftime, staring at a 24-0 deficit right in the face.

“Yes, obviously we can’t be happy with that,” running back Fred Jackson said. “That’s something we have to look at, but at the same time we can’t let that define who we are. It’s a preseason game that we didn’t look well in. We have to go out and make some adjustments and continue to move on.”

Then, the Bills offense woke up. It could have been induced by strong words from the head coach during halftime, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers putting in their second-team defense to start or a combination of the two.

Regardless of the reason the first-team offense marched down the field and finally ended the streak that had plagued them all preseason. On their 19th drive, the Bills scored a touchdown at last.

Manuel looked right, saw wide receiver Mike Williams in the end zone and completed the pass as he was knocked down to the turf.

"I take a lot out of it, you know I don't care who you're playing against. I think it's a matter of just having some pride about yourself and having pride as an offense," Manuel said. "I knew we had to come back and play better in the second half."

Head coach Doug Marrone wasn’t satisfied with just the one scoring drive. He sent the first-team offense right back out on the field after a Tampa Bay three-and-out, and much to his delight, the Bills drove the ball 60 yards in six plays for another touchdown. After starting the day just 9-of-18 for 67 yards and an interception in the first half, Manuel went 10-of-10 for 131 yards and a touchdown.

The two scoring drives weren’t enough, as Buffalo lost their preseason home opener to Tampa Bay 27-14. The starting defense came through at the beginning of the game, forcing a three-and-out and a turnover to keep the offense in the thick of things.

A lost fumble from C.J. Spiller gave the Buccaneers a shortened field and the Bills’ defense couldn’t stop them from ending their drive with a touchdown. That breakthrough was combined with a Connor Barth 43-yard field goal, a fumble returned for a touchdown and a 24-yard touchdown reception from rookie Mike Evans to give Tampa Bay a dominating halftime lead.

"We just came out flat, and that's usually not the case for us," said safety Aaron Williams. "For whatever reason, we just weren't ourselves today. I'm not really worried about it, we're just going to continue to get ready for Detroit and fix the things we did wrong."

Penalties were quite an issue for Buffalo throughout the game. Doug Marrone’s team were assessed 12 different fouls totaling 80 lost yards, but some of those penalties negated big gains and potential first downs.

After the Bills had two scoring drives to start the third quarter the starting offense was promptly taken out of the game. To the surprise of many, it wasn’t Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel getting in as the backup quarterback, the rarely used Dennis Dixon trotted into the game to relieve Manuel.

Dixon led one, and only one drive even though Marrone had planned on using him more. The quarterback fumbled the ball which led the head coach to worry about ball security issues. He was replaced by Jeff Tuel, who took over for the rest of the contest. Thad Lewis did not take a single snap.

Marrone, who has stated his dissatisfaction with the backup quarterback play in the past, said even Dixon could be in the running for the top job behind Manuel.

"Yeah, I think anyone that is in there is in the mix for the backup role," the coach.

The Bills lost four in the game to injury. Tight end Lee Smith (toe), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (neck), safety Da’Norris Searcy (stinger) and wide receiver T.J. Graham (neck) all left the exhibition contest prematurely.

Only one game remains on the preseason schedule for Buffalo, a Thursday night date with the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills will get back to practice on Monday, August 25 at the ADPRO Sports Training Center in Orchard Park.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Watkins, Branch and Kyle Williams among Bills inactives
Fans of the Buffalo Bills will have to wait a bit longer for the home debut of rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Watkins, among seven of his teammates, have been declared inactive for the team's preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The wideout injured his ribs in the first quarter of last week's contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers and did not return. Over the past week of practice, Watkins has been held out of most the team's drills outside of positional work.

In addition to Watkins, defensive tackle Alan Branch (undisclosed), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (leg), guard Chris Williams (lower back), tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), safety Jonathan Meeks (neck), cornerback Mario Butler (ankle) and cornerback Bobby Felder (groin) all will not play on Saturday against the Buccaneers.

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin, on the other hand, is active for the game and will get his first preseason start. Rookie guard Cyril Richardson will start in place of Chris Williams at left guard and defensive tackle Corbin Bryant will start for Kyle Williams.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press


5 things to watch for during Bills - Buccaneers
Home at last, home at last.

On Saturday night, it will have been 36 days since the Buffalo Bills checked into training camp on the campus at St. John Fisher College, and they will only be playing in their first preseason home game of the summer. As they leave Pittsford on Saturday, they won’t return until 2015 because camp will have finally, and mercifully, broken for the year.

When they do return home, they’ll be immediately greeted at Ralph Wilson Stadium by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their fourth exhibition contest in 2014. It’s the biggest preseason game of the year for the starting players on the roster, and here’s why in addition to other story lines to monitor as the game progresses:

1) The dress rehearsal
- In most any other year the fourth game in the NFL preseason is meant for the backups, as their last attempts to try and make the final roster. This year is different for the Bills. Due to the participation in the 2014 Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, they were given a total of five preseason games which pinpoints Saturday as the circled date on the exhibition calendar for their starters. Head coach Doug Marrone, as he has been all preseason, wasn’t all that forthcoming with his playing time plans for both his starting offense and defense. Quarterback EJ Manuel assumed that they would get the full first half and a bit into the third quarter due to precedents set around the league for the second-to-last game. Not only from a playing time perspective, but Saturday is important to the team because they spent the whole week preparing like they would in the regular season. They did some film study, they ran scout team against their top units and they’re looking to exploit mismatches. Even more than the other ones, this preseason game is likely quite important to Marrone and his opinion on the team’s progress.

2) Pressure to score six
- Part of the progress lies within the performance of the first-team offense. Now three games and 10 drives in, EJ Manuel and his first-unit offensive brethren have failed to get the ball into the end zone. They have been close, missing on a jump ball to Mike Williams against the New York Giants and then getting stuffed at the goal line by both the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers. They’ll face a stiff test against an underrated Buccaneers defense — specifically with a couple of their defensive linemen against the Bills’ offensive line — to attempt to finally put an end to the drought. Manuel displayed extreme confidence in the offense being able to score a touchdown. “I think it’s going to come this Saturday,” he said. “I think we will get that touchdown before I’m out, so we’ll see.”

3) The brand new O-Line
- Much to the delight of both coaches and fans, left tackle Cordy Glenn returned to team drills this week and appears primed to be ready for the start of the regular season. Glenn took most the snaps with the first team through the week, which transitioned rookie Seantrel Henderson over to the right side of the offensive line. That move then shifted Erik Pears inside to right guard, taking over a position that has seen as much turnover as any over the course of training camp. Center (Eric Wood) and left guard (Chris Williams) remained unaffected by the Glenn return, but there is enough there to see just how the new parts will react in a game. Doug Marrone has to be getting close to a decision on what the front five will look like for the start of the regular season, and this could be the combination if all goes well.

4) Graham playing safety?
- The past week in practice has brought a new role to cornerback Corey Graham. The team started their cross-training efforts with Graham at safety and maintained that they still like him at cornerback as well. It could be nothing more than for the exact reasoning the Bills originally stated, just to get him comfortable at the position in their defensive scheme... but the timing is at least a little noteworthy. Against the Steelers, safeties Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams struggled in coverage and it led to a 76-yard touchdown, and many other opportunities through the air for Ben Roethlisberger. If Graham plays safety this week only and does so in the game, but then shifts back to cornerback next week, then it was a move with innocent intentions. If he stays there into next week, though, there could be something more to it. Keep an eye on his performance.

5) Sammy’s home debut might have to wait
- The Bills survived a mini-scare last Saturday after first-round wideout Sammy Watkins left the Steelers game with an injury to his ribs, but that isn’t stopping them from being cautious with their prized rookie. Watkins took it easy at practice this week, sitting out Monday, getting back on Tuesday and Wednesday with a very light workload and then doing only slightly more on Thursday. It might disappoint fans who were looking forward to seeing him in person, but his availability for the regular season is of utmost importance. As of Thursday, both Watkins and starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin (groin) were not yet cleared to play. At wideout, the trio of Mike Williams, Robert Woods and Chris Hogan will dominate the first-team snaps at receiver if Watkins can't play as it's expected.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Joe B's 2014 Bills Training Camp Awards
In 2014, the Buffalo Bills went through their longest training camp at St. John Fisher College in recent memory. The players checked in on July 18 and they won’t leave until August 23.

Trips to Canton, Charlotte, Latrobe and Pittsburgh were mixed in, but for over a month the Bills have been together all the time, thinking about football all day and every day. Camp practices are over with in 2014 and the Bills had 21 sessions available to the media.

Some players made good impressions, some fell behind. For the third year in a row, let’s revisit who stood out in Pittsford, NY in this year’s version of the Training Camp Awards:

Flying Up the Depth Chart: OT Seantrel Henderson
- After the 2014 NFL Draft, most were looking to draftees Cyrus Kouandjio and Cyril Richardson as the young offensive linemen who had the best chance of cracking the starting lineup. The general consensus on seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson was that he would be a good player to develop with a lot of potential down the line. As it turns out, the situations were reversed. Over the past month Henderson has proved to the coaching staff that he can be depended on and the team now views him as one of their top five offensive linemen on the roster. When Cordy Glenn was out, he took all the first-team snaps at left tackle. With Glenn back, the Bills immediately moved Henderson to take first-team reps at right tackle. Buried behind Glenn, Pears, Kouandjio and maybe even Chris Hairston before camp, Henderson has shown to be the most complete rookie offensive lineman that the Bills brought in this year and will likely be a member of the starting five.

Failed to Impress: DT Alan Branch
- It’s been a precipitous fall for defensive tackle Alan Branch since he signed an extension with the Bills in the offseason. Branch was a no show to all the team voluntary workouts and OTAs — which is completely acceptable —but head coach Doug Marrone made somewhat of a problem in the public eye when he said that he hadn’t even as much as heard from Branch in the offseason. The defensive tackle then showed up to training camp out of football shape and was placed on the Non-Football Illness list to start things off. It took Branch a few days, but he eventually passed his conditioning test and got back on the field. In that time on the field, though, Branch has been surpassed by Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles and even camp upstart Landon Cohen. Even to this day, he is still only getting snaps with the third-team defense. Branch’s days could be numbered in Buffalo this year, and it would have been a shock to say that back in April.

Best Fight: C Eric Wood & TE Scott Chandler vs. DE Bryan Johnson
- Players were cranky, helmets were ripped off, punches were thrown and it brought out another memorable line from Eric Wood. Known for his comment to former Bills defensive end Aaron Maybin in which he said, to paraphrase, for the defender to actually do something to earn his paycheck, Wood had another gem in 2014. After undrafted rookie defensive end Bryan Johnson ripped off the center’s helmet and took two swings at his face, it prompted Wood to scream “I am going to [expletive] kill you.” Yeah, it’s a safe bet that will be remembered for a few years.

Most Memorable Moment: Doug Marrone’s Screamfest
- Had it not been for this gem on the final day of practice at St. John Fisher College, the award likely would have gone to EJ Manuel for his stellar performance on the second day of joint practices with the Steelers last week. Instead, Marrone’s anger at a lack of discipline and fighting on the field boiled over and turned into an expletive-laden scolding that made you glad that no kids were in attendance. He stopped practice dead in it’s tracks after the second mini-skirmish of the day, screamed for the music to be stopped and for the players to get on the sideline to run a punishment lap. There were even some heated words exchanged between Marrone and defensive end Jerry Hughes. That was undoubtedly the biggest blowup by a Bills head coach since 2009 (when yours truly started to cover the team).

Rookie Standout: WR Sammy Watkins
- Could this award really go to anyone else? An honorable mention could have gone to Seantrel Henderson, but Sammy Watkins is the prized merchandise that the Bills brought in this offseason. Much to their liking, Watkins has done nothing to disappoint his rather lofty expectations and might have even raised the bar higher for himself. A couple of one-handed grabs that went viral helped build his legend before he has even taken a snap in the regular season. His blend of physicality, speed, jumping ability and route running all lead to him being a supremely talented athlete that will usually dominate a training camp setting.

Rookie Dud: OT Cyrus Kouandjio
- Out of everything that happened when the Bills first got on the field back in May for the start of voluntary practices, one of their biggest disappointments must be the lack of success second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio has had. Drafted to battle for the starting spot at right tackle with Erik Pears, Kouandjio had to just pull even with the veteran to win the job outright. There’s one main problem: he hasn’t been anywhere close to even and hasn’t sniffed a first-team rep since the first week of OTAs. His unbalanced, top-heavy kick-slide allows his opponents to knock him back, which also has led the rookie to try and overcompensate for it by lunging at times. He has been made to look foolish on many different occasions throughout camp. Had he not been a second-round pick, but a fifth-round pick or later, Kouandjio likely would not survive the final cutdown day. The Bills will continue to work with Kouandjio through the season, but don’t expect him to be active on game days. He is a project at this point, plain and simple.

Camp LVP Runners-Up: OT Cyrus Kouandjio & CB Michael Carter
- Kouandjio has struggled almost on a daily basis at training camp and that bled into preseason games. He wasn’t the only offensive lineman that struggled, but he was one of the most notable. Cornerback Michael Carter was released on August 10, but his play still qualifies for the award list. When a quarterback threw the ball at Carter, usually one of two things happened: it would result in a defensive holding or defensive pass interference penalty, or, he would get beat badly for a touchdown. Carter clearly didn’t have the necessary skill set to compete at the NFL level.

Camp MVP Runners-Up: WR Mike Williams & LB Nigel Bradham
- Coming into training camp, there were a few questions surrounding wide receiver Mike Williams. Was he healthy enough? Would he stay out of trouble? Where would he fit into the offense? The answer to those three questions: yes, yes and firmly with the first-team as an outside receiver. The basketball background of Williams is evident in the red zone, as both he and EJ Manuel have found a bit of a chemistry working in that area during practices. His explosiveness has returned and he’s been one of the most pleasant surprises at training camp. The same goes for linebacker Nigel Bradham, who is going to fill in for Kiko Alonso at weakside linebacker this season. It was originally a competition between Bradham and rookie Preston Brown, but Bradham got all the first-team reps to start camp and he never looked back. He’s been especially impressive against the run during both practices and preseason games. His reaction time isn’t quite on the same level as Alonso's, but if he continues to play at this high level, the drop-off will not be as noticeable as once thought. He has stepped up, and in a big way.

Camp LVP: QB Thad Lewis
- It was a whirlwind 2013 for Thad Lewis, having been brought to the Bills near the end of the preseason and then being forced to play in a ‘me vs. you’ type of game against Detroit, where he was fighting Matt Leinart for a job. Lewis won out and eventually became the starter when EJ Manuel went down with his second knee injury of 2013. The Bills were encouraged by his play and it even led them to not address the quarterback position at all in the offseason. That faith has not been rewarded, however. Lewis has struggled mightily to get on the same page with his receivers. He has been inaccurate for the majority of camp practices and has thrown more interceptions than any of the quarterbacks. He is going to need a strong effort over the next two weeks to try and convince the Bills that they should not look to the impending bloated free agent pool for their third quarterback. He’s in trouble if the right player comes along.

Camp MVP: DE Jerry Hughes
- Despite getting into a bit of a verbal altercation with head coach Doug Marrone on the final day of practice, there hasn’t been a more dominant player on the field than defensive end Jerry Hughes. A slow day for Hughes at St. John Fisher College consisted of him only getting into the backfield two or three times throughout the day. He is taking to the wide-nine technique at defensive end like a fish to water. He has even improved in the run stuffing department, as well. With Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus next to him, he could be in line for a truly special season. And, in the nick of time, it just so happens to be Hughes’ contract year. There isn’t any debate in favor of Mario Williams, Hughes has been the most disruptive pass rusher on the Bills roster since offseason practices began.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills finish final camp practice; Marrone sends message to team
With the sun beating down on the field inside Growney Stadium at St. John Fisher College, the edgy Buffalo Bills went through their final training camp practice of 2014. And with the way the last week has gone, it was fitting that it ended with a few fireworks.

Not even an hour into practice the Bills took a page out of their practice on Wednesday. It was only the first set of team drills, and within just a few plays, the team already had two scuffles between offensive and defensive players.

At that moment, head coach Doug Marrone hit his breaking point.

He started screaming at the top of his lungs at his team. He yelled to the on-field staff to cut the music that serenades each practice. He had a message to deliver to his team — some of which that isn’t suitable for radio or television.

“Conduct detrimental to the team,” and “stop fighting,” were two of his statements to the players — albeit cleaned up versions of the original transcript. The team was then sent to the sideline and Marrone made them run a lap across the field and back as punishment.

That wasn’t before one member of the team, defensive end Jerry Hughes, pushed back and made his comments heard at least a little bit. Marrone and Hughes shared somewhat of a loud exchange before defensive tackle Marcell Dareus put his arm around Hughes and ushered him into the punishment lap before any more words were communicated.

Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who got the practice off to rest a leg injury, then had a conversation with Marrone once everything had cooled down and the team resumed practice. Marrone and Hughes seemingly buried the hatchet after the practice, with the head coach going over to Hughes and pulling him aside to have a brief conversation about what happened. 

Marrone cited a lack of respect for the reason why the fighting has lingered in camp, and then said he’s going to handle it all personally. As could be expected, though, the head coach wasn’t exactly eager to discuss what happened with the media.

“I'm going to say it again and I'm not going to answer another question. We're responsible for the integrity of the game,” he said after a series of questions. “Can you figure it out? Figure it out. We're responsible for the integrity of the game. There is no use for fighting in the game of football, period. End of discussion. Move on.”

Moving on is precisely what the Bills will do, too. They’ll spend two more nights on campus, Thursday and Friday, before packing up and leaving on Saturday before their game on the same night.

It was an extremely long camp, 21 practices in total without counting the one that was cancelled due to weather, but a necessary evil according to the head coach.

“Yeah, we needed it,” Marrone remarked. “I think we benefitted quite a bit from the extra work and I also think the work in Pittsburgh was outstanding for us. I think the more that we can do that moving forward, I think the better chance we have of being a better football team.”

Once Saturday arrives, the Bills will no longer have football surrounding their lives at every moment of every day. When they leave St. John Fisher College, they’ll transition back into real life while still playing the part of professional athletes.

“For us, the environment changes and we have to be careful. We want to make sure that we set the expectations for us when we go back to Buffalo and how we practice. We were trying to that this week,” Marrone opined. “But then, the environment changes. There's a lot more structure when you're in training camp as a whole team, you're around each other quite a bit. Now you have a lot more free time. There's other people that are going to come in that you have to do a good job as a player and also as a coach, to make sure that you have the structure and you have the discipline and the focus remains the same.”

That is the struggle for any team once a training camp wraps up. Reclaiming their lives outside of football and how they’ll approach the work in-season is just as vital as their performances on Sundays. That could have been part of Marrone’s line of thinking when he stopped Thursday’s practice, and brought an intense approach to the session.

He’s doing it for a reason, because he believes in the players that make up the 2014 Buffalo Bills.

“Here's what I sense: we are close. What is it going to be to get over the top? It's a matter of either you get over the top or you don't and we've gotta find a way to push ourselves over the top,” Marrone said. “Now this year it's critical to get us over the top, so, I'm doing everything I possibly can to get us over the top. And if intensity's the answer? Yeah, I'm intense.”

The Bills will head back to Buffalo for their fourth preseason game of 2014, a 4:30 showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Jim Kelly's doctor: "No evidence of the cancer"
Jim Kelly has gone through many battles throughout both his playing career and life to earn the respect and adoration from many around the country. Upon finding out that Kelly's cancer had returned, the support and prayers spilled out for both he and his family in the extremely trying time.

After an enduring stretch of both radiation and chemotherapy treatments, the initial tests for the former Buffalo Bills quarterback and Hall of Famer have come back with the results everyone had been hoping for.

In a statement from Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, it was revealed that in the three months after the conclusion of the treatments that Kelly, his family and Bills fans everywhere had something to cheer about.

"The treatments so far have completely eliminated Mr. Kelly's pain, and his level of function has essentially returned to normal," said Dr. Peter Costantino. "Further, on physical examination, there is no evidence of cancer."

The former Bills quarterback will now undergo some additional testing over the course of the next week.

"It is possible that no further treatment will be required, and the testing over the next week will define the issue."

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills training camp observations: Day 20
Over the past two years, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone has been consistent with his views on fighting in practice. He hates it. He thinks there’s no place for it. He even said on Wednesday that it damages the integrity of football.

Despite the head coach’s thoughts on the matter, sometimes the heat of the moment will get the best of anyone. At Wednesday’s practice, the Bills had their biggest training camp fight since Aaron Maybin drew the ire of his teammates for a hit on Fred Jackson back in 2010.

In addition to the fight, the Bills conducted their second-to-last practice of camp in 2014. Here are some observations from the day:

“That stuff will happen when you’re in pads for 20 days, baby!”
- When the fight settled down and the players had returned to their respective sides, Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes couldn’t help but scream out the aforementioned quote as to why things got so heated near the end of practice. Here’s how it all started: the team lined up for goal line work with only 10 to 15 minutes remaining in practice. The first-team offense was up against the scout team defense and the play had just finished with a Fred Jackson run into the end zone. Starting center Eric Wood and undrafted rookie defensive end Bryan Johnson ended up locking up after the play was over, Johnson ripped the center’s helmet off and then threw one punch. After the initial punch, teammates started pushing him out of the way and he just fired off another punch at one of the pair of players trying to break it up. After that, tight end Scott Chandler ran in and brought Johnson down to the ground which led to some more tussling until teammates and coaches finally separated the pair. Both players had to be restrained. After about five minutes both Chandler and Johnson allowed cooler heads to prevail and didn’t allow the situation to linger. The same likely didn’t apply to Wood, who left the field at the conclusion of practice with a hurried pace, still looking quite agitated by the event and how it unfolded.

Watkins’ Saturday status uncertain
- First-round pick and rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins was dressed for practice for the second straight day, but once again was very limited in what the coaches allowed him to do. Watkins, who suffered an injury to his ribs against Pittsburgh on Saturday, could only participate in positional drills during the Wednesday morning session. He did not do any routes versus air, 7-on-7 work or participate in any team drills throughout the practice. With only one day of practice to go before the Bills take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Watkins’ status for that contest is in doubt. The Bills haven’t ruled out the wide receiver just yet, though. Marrone told reporters after the practice that they have not come to a final decision on how to approach Saturday with their rookie receiver.

McKelvin suffers another injury
- With only one practice remaining on the campus of St. John Fisher College, it’s safe to say that the 2014 version of training camp has been lost for cornerback Leodis McKelvin due to injury. McKelvin had offseason surgery on his hip and has been slow to recover, needing two straight weeks of non-participation in team drills to get himself back up to full speed. McKelvin hasn’t played in any of the team’s three preseason games, but just got back to being a full participant at the beginning of the week. Staying in tact with his camp story line, McKelvin left the practice with a member of the team’s training staff due to a groin injury. If you’ll recall, the cornerback has had many struggles with that area of his body during his career. Unless it was just a minor tweak and the Bills were just being cautious, McKelvin could be in jeopardy of missing his fourth straight exhibition contest.

Brooks steps in
- With McKelvin out and Corey Graham being cross-trained at safety for the week, the Bills looked to Ron Brooks to take the first-team cornerback snaps. Brooks has been an interesting case to track this offseason due to the ‘make or break’ nature of this training camp for him. Since getting on the field, Brooks has filled in with the first-team defense in some spots and has had his most productive training camp since he has entered the league. He also can chip in on special teams if needed, and has proved to be a valuable depth commodity at the cornerback position. It certainly looks like Brooks has played his way on to this roster.

Legursky on alert?
- During the past three practices the Bills have been trying out a new set of combinations along the offensive line. The first-team has been written about quite a bit, but the second-team has seen a notable tweak to it as well. Doug Legursky, who has been the backup center in every practice before this week, shifted over to left guard which allowed Kraig Urbik to take over at center. Monday was the first time Urbik has been seen taking actual reps at center in about two or three years but has been viewed by the team as their backup center if all else fails. He hasn’t had his best three days of practice, but at the very least, the Bills know that in a game Urbik is serviceable if they need to play him. As much as Urbik has struggled in 2014, Legursky is the inferior talent and doesn’t offer as much size at the position. If Urbik does well enough over the next week, the Bills could part ways with their starting left guard from 2013.

Day 20 MVP: DT Kyle Williams
- There are certain guarantees in this world: Bees make honey, fish swim and Kyle Williams makes plays during training camp. It’s a given that he’ll get into the backfield at least once or twice during any given practice, but Wednesday, Williams was constantly in the backfield against the scout team offense. He’s been a full participant throughout the entire training camp and looks primed to have another productive season for the Bills in 2014.

Day 20 LVP: DE Bryan Johnson
- When you’re an undrafted free agent trying to make a roster, and you’re throwing closed fist punches at a helmet-less team leader when the coach of the team has expressed multiple times how much he hates fighting, you might be able to accurately predict your outcome in a week or two.

Injury Update: Cornerback Mario Butler (ankle), cornerback Bobby Felder (groin) and linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (knee) were the only three that did not participate in practice in any capacity Wednesday.

Up Next: The Bills wrap up training camp at St. John Fisher College with their final practice at 2 pm. For the last time in 2014, practice is open to the general public. No ticket is required for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills training camp observations: Day 19
The Buffalo Bills got through their second straight day of work on Tuesday and took another step in their preparation for the upcoming regular season. Practice had a bit of a different feel to it than what the Bills had been doing throughout the rest of their time at St. John Fisher College.

In addition to a change in operations, the team’s quarterback also had one of his better days since training camp started in late July. Here are some observations from Tuesday’s practice:

It’s game week!
- The second-to-last preseason game is often known as the dress rehearsal for teams ahead of the grand opening that is Week One of the NFL season. Starters typically play longer, with the hopes that the first units can simulate a regular season as much as they can before being removed at some point in the second half. The Bills are taking it a step farther with the idea of the “dress rehearsal” in clear view of their thought processes. Head coach Doug Marrone is having his team watch film on their upcoming opponents, putting together scout teams and preparing a scaled-back game plan for both the starting offense and defense to execute. Quarterback EJ Manuel said after the practice that Tuesday’s work on the field was quite similar to a typical Wednesday during the regular season. Wednesdays are usually known as the biggest installation day for teams as they prepare for their upcoming contests. If the usual regular season schedule comes into play for the rest of the week, the Bills might go through a scaled back practice on both Wednesday and Thursday. The team also tried to implement more tempo into the first-team offense, which means that could be a part of the attack against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

EJ’s perfect day
- Going up against the scout team on Tuesday, Bills quarterback EJ Manuel had one of his most successful days of training camp to this point. Regardless of where they were thrown, Manuel finished the day completing all 14 of his pass attempts in team drills. He settled for some short throws early on in the practice, but became increasingly comfortable operating in the pocket and started to take some more chances down the field. Two throws highlighted his day and it just so happened that they were his final two throws of the day. First, Manuel spotted T.J. Graham in single coverage on a go route down the left sideline. Graham battled through a defensive holding penalty, established separation and welcomed in the well-thrown pass for a 55-yard touchdown. Just two plays later, Manuel dropped back and saw Marquise Goodwin open on a slant over the middle that had an extremely tight window. Manuel trusted what he saw, zipped it over the outstretched arms of linebacker Preston Brown and got the ball into the hands of the wideout for a 20-yard gain. It’s an encouraging sign that Manuel has put together a quality performance in two of his past four times on the field.

T.J. Graham creeping closer?
- The recipient of Manuel’s best pass of the day also happens to be in a fight for his roster life over the next two weeks. Former third-round selection T.J. Graham struggled with confidence in his hands over the first few weeks of training camp which severely hurt his chances of sticking around on the final 53-man roster. Graham has been locked in a battle with wideout Marcus Easley for the sixth and likely final spot on the roster at that position, and up until this week, it’s looked like an easy decision. Easley provides more in special teams coverage and has shown well on offensive plays during camp. However, over the past two days of practice Easley has dropped a few passes, which has indeed opened the door a little bit more for his main competition. Graham has looked much more confident over the past two days of practice and is playing as well as he has this summer. Don’t count out Graham just yet. 

Bills cut benefits Kouandjio
- The team brought their active roster down to 88 players on Tuesday ahead of practice, releasing both wide receiver Kevin Elliott and offensive tackle Edawn Coughhman. While the Elliott release could be just the Bills trying to narrow down their rather large wide receiver contingent, it appears as though the Coughman release has a very specific reason for happening. On Monday, Coughman was moved over to right tackle on the third-team and took all the snaps that came along with it. Now with the third-team right tackle out of the way, the Bills can use Cyrus Kouandjio on both the second and third units, which helps get him more reps and helps the Bills try to develop their second-round pick a bit more. It’s temporary because the regular season is a little over two weeks away, but the more snaps the team can get Kouandjio will be for the betterment of his progress as a rookie.

Watkins returns
- The Bills welcomed back their first-round pick to practice after he sat out one day with a rib injury. Upon his return, Watkins was extremely limited in how much he participated in practice. He went through some of the individual drills, but that was the extent of it. During routes versus air, 7-on-7s and in team drills, Watkins watched from the sidelines. It is likely just a precautionary move for their prized rookie receiver. The Bills know he is much more important to them on the field against the Chicago Bears in the regular season rather than in action against either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Detroit Lions in the final two games of the preseason. Watkins might get some more time in practice on Wednesday, but don’t expect the Bills to try and force him into the lineup for Saturday’s exhibition.

Day 19 MVP: DE Jerry Hughes
- After left tackle Cordy Glenn rendered Jerry Hughes ineffective on Monday, Hughes came back on Tuesday with a fury. The first-team defense worked mostly against the second-team offense and Hughes was constantly in the backfield for sacks and tackles for loss. A three sack day during team drills is quite the way to bounce back from his worst practice of training camp in 2014. He’s been an overwhelming presence for the majority of camp this year.

Day 19 LVP: OT Chris Hairston
- When the Bills tried Chris Hairston inside at guard, it was a quality decision on paper. Hairston doesn’t deal well with speed rushers off the edge, and when he’s on the interior of the line, he doesn’t have those concerns. The experiment with him at guard failed, and the Bills kicked him back out to tackle — most notably as the second-team left tackle. Hairston fell prey to Hughes on multiple occasions Tuesday, and despite him being a once promising right tackle prospect, Hairston could be on his way out the door in early September.

Injury Update: S Jonathan Meeks (neck), LB Stevenson Sylvester (knee), CB Mario Butler (ankle) and CB Bobby Felder (groin) did not participate in Tuesday’s practice. TE Tony Moeaki left the session early for undisclosed reasons, but he had been previously dealing with a hamstring injury.

Up Next: The Bills will participate in their second-to-last practice at St. John Fisher College on Wednesday at 8 am. The session is open to the general public. No ticket is required for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Dareus speaks, implies he hasn't heard from league yet
The last time Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus addressed the media was on May 28, which followed his felony charges in the state of Alabama for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.

Dareus, at the time, said the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that it would be put behind him in the future.

"It’s behind me, it’s behind me. I mean, I’m not a trouble guy, I don’t cause any problems nowhere. I’m not a loud guy, I don’t do anything, just have fun and be myself. If things happen, things happen," he said. "I feel like I’m on the straight and narrow. Things happen; young, dumb. You’ve got to correct it and just work through it."

Just two days later, Dareus was arrested again. This time, he was booked for an alleged street race that resulted in multiple misdemeanor charges. From that day, the Bills and the defensive tackle have played it safe in nearly a three-month absence from addressing reporters.

That silence stopped on Tuesday.

"I'm 100-percent sure that everything is just fine and we're going to just keep moving forward. I don't have any worries," Dareus remarked, while not giving too many details about how the process is going. "I'm just kind of sitting back, putting my best foot forward and we're all riding together. We're just kind of doing the best that we can for the season for the Buffalo Bills."

The question that carries the most weight is in regards to the defensive tackle's standing with the National Football League. His two off-the-field transgressions could put him in jeopardy of missing games due to a suspension.

Dareus was asked multiple times about the league office's feelings on the matter, and he steered clear of making any notable comments. One could read through his answers that the fourth-year player has yet to be contacted by the league, however.

"I'm not really discussing that, because that's something I have to talk about with them. And when we get to that point, we get there," he quickly replied. "That there is just something, that if I do or when I do, that will be something I have to take up with them."

Dareus is among one of the most important pieces to the defense and is coming off a Pro Bowl season. The NFL has yet to give their decisions on some other players around the league that have gotten into trouble off the field through this offseason, which means the Bills are not alone in their wait.

The teams awaiting a decision from the league will likely have their answers ahead of the first week of the regular season. Buffalo opens up their campaign against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, September 7.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Bills training camp observations: Day 18
The Buffalo Bills have been at it longer than most NFL teams, but Monday marked the start to the final week of training camp for them at St. John Fisher College in 2014. The team ran on to the field for their final night practice in front of the fans at Growney Stadium and got another day of work in.

Following their third preseason game of the schedule, the Bills returned to Pittsford, NY with a lot of players back from injury, and quite a large amount of changes to first-team units. Who impressed? Who was moved where? Here are some notes from practice:

Not many shots taken by EJ
- Those that watched the team’s exhibition contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers noticed the tendency from quarterback EJ Manuel to settle down for the short attempts in the passing game. Manuel said most of it was due to the Steelers dropping seven into coverage as a very basic look. Against his own teammates, though, Manuel fell into similar tendencies on Monday. Out of an unofficial 19 pass attempts during team drills for the practice, Manuel delivered the ball past 10 yards only three or four times (one was ambiguous due to the sightline). Among the attempts was a solid 15-yard comeback to Robert Woods over the middle of the field, a pass to the deep right sideline that was behind the sprinting Marquise Goodwin that was eventually broken up and a deep throw to the left sideline intended for T.J. Graham who got derailed at the line of scrimmage by press coverage. The rest of it was short throws to running backs, tight ends and wide receivers which can move the ball, but eventually teams will start daring the Bills to beat them deep just as they did against Ryan Fitzpatrick a few years ago. They aren’t the same quarterback by any means, but Manuel just needs to get into the habit of backing off the defense from time to time.

The biggest OL shuffle yet
- Against the Steelers on Saturday, the first-team offensive line from left to right was Seantrel Henderson, Doug Legursky, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears. On Monday, all but one of those positions had a different player at it with the top unit. From left to right once again, the top offensive line had Cordy Glenn, Chris Williams, Wood, Pears and Henderson. Glenn returned from his illness, Williams from a lower back injury, while both Pears and Henderson shifted positions. There was only speculation regarding Henderson switching sides upon Glenn’s return, but the Bills made it a reality on Monday. The rookie seventh-round pick played right tackle in his time with Miami (FL) and could give the upgrade at the position that the team has been looking for. Both Cyril Richardson and Kraig Urbik were relegated to the second-team offense, with the latter even getting snaps at center.

Pears settles in at guard
- For the first time since he’s been a member of the Buffalo Bills, Erik Pears shifted inside to play offensive guard. The 6-foot-8, 312-pound tackle would likely be among the tallest interior linemen in the league if the team elected to keep things the same way, but it would allow him to potentially extend his career and not have to rely on his limited athleticism against speedy edge rushers. From one showing, Pears looked like he took to the position fairly well. During one-on-one drills with the defensive linemen, the 32-year old held his ground against Corbin Bryant, Landon Cohen and Stefan Charles during his three reps. He won all three, which might lead you to believe he’s better suited against bigger, more physical players with some help attached to each side. It’s too premature to anoint him the starter, but it went well enough to deserve an extended look.

First look of Graham at safety
- Leading up to the start of voluntary workouts one of the hot topics of the offseason revolved around the defensive secondary, and more specifically, what the Bills would do to fill the Jairus Byrd void. A free agent acquisition this year, Corey Graham has some experience all over the backfield and was one of the rumored players to help out at safety. That never ended up happening for Graham and the Bills. Since practices have started Graham has exclusively been a cornerback… until Monday. With Jonathan Meeks still sidelined and a returning Leodis McKelvin, the Bills moved Graham to the back end and had him play safety on either the first or second defensive units, depending on the period in practice. It could just be a reaction to losing one safety to an injury for practice and having the flexibility to move the versatile player back there for a day. However, with the way both Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams played against the Steelers, perhaps the Bills are just seeing exactly what they have before they make a final decision on a starting job.

Dareus limited; someone not named Branch gets his reps
- With all the returning players from injury, the Bills couldn’t sign off on a full practice from one of their top young players. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus had to be limited throughout the session, only taking part in positional drills near the beginning. When it came to one-on-one’s and team drills, Dareus was kept away from the action due to undisclosed reasons. A rest day isn’t out of the question at all considering he is one of their better players, but it’s also worthy of an effort to monitor on Tuesday and beyond. Without Dareus, his first-team reps didn’t go to Alan Branch as some would expect. Instead, it went to both Corbin Bryant and the upstart Landon Cohen, who might just be playing his way on to the roster. Branch is stuck on the third-team defense just as he has been all throughout training camp and in the preseason games. He’s battling to make the 53-man roster, and right now he might just be on the outside looking in despite signing a three-year extension this offseason.

Bills’ Day 18 MVP: OT Cordy Glenn
- It was quite the return for Glenn to team drills where he was able to match up against a player that had been having one of the strongest training camps this summer. Lined up against Jerry Hughes for much of the day, Glenn turned in an A-plus performance to solidify MVP honors. Hughes has not been accustomed to being thwarted the majority of the time, often taking advantage of rookie Seantrel Henderson. Hughes learned that Glenn is not a rookie, and the left tackle won all three matchups on the edge during one-on-ones. Head coach Doug Marrone said they wanted to see how he looked this week before deciding on his status for Saturday’s game. He certainly looked ready on Monday.

Bills’ Day 18: LVP: C/G Kraig Urbik
- You’ve got to feel for Urbik in this training camp, heck, even dating back to last December. The Bills have tried just about everything to find a replacement for Urbik at right guard. In December, it was all about J.J. ‘Unga (who is likely a roster cut in September). Then, fifth-round rookie Cyril Richardson started getting more and more first-team reps at right guard, but Urbik withstood that pressure as well. Now with Glenn back at left tackle they moved Erik Pears inside to right guard, and to make matters more dire, they used Urbik as a center with the second-team on Monday. The veteran offensive lineman still has the opportunity to stick on the roster, but it doesn’t look like the Bills really want him to be a part of their opening day starting lineup. The actions speak too loudly to indicate otherwise.

Up Next: The Bills have their third-to-last practice on Tuesday, August 19 at 2 pm. The session is open to the general public. No ticket is required for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Glenn returns, Watkins sits at Monday's Bills practice
After their extended stay in the state of Pennsylvania, the Buffalo Bills took back to the field at St. John Fisher College on Monday night for the start of their final week of training camp. It was a bittersweet day for the Bills, too. While they got one of their best young players to take a step forward in his return, their first-round pick had to sit out due to injury.

On Monday, the Bills had left tackle Cordy Glenn taking part in team drills for the first time since being activated off of the Reserve/Non-Football Illness list. Glenn was just bumped up to the active roster following the completion of the team's game against the Carolina Panthers. He got the clearance from the medical staff to participate in 11-on-11s and Glenn did exactly that.

He didn't take all of the first-team reps at left tackle as the team is still trying to work him in slowly. Glenn was out there for the first snap of every team drill, showing a significant step forward. Head coach Doug Marrone said before practice that they would see how the left tackle reacts to the increased workload before coming to a decision on his playing status Saturday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills also had the return of some other previously injured players. Left guard Chris Williams (back), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hip), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin) and linebacker Ty Powell (medical) all were back on the practice field.

On the negative side of things, wide receiver Sammy Watkins could not practice on Monday after he suffered an injury to his ribs during the team's game in Pittsburgh over the weekend. The Bills did not comment on both the severity and timetable that Watkins might be facing. All the wide receiver was able to do during the session was ride the bike and do light exercises with the training staff.

In addition to Watkins, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus did not participate in team drills during the practice. He was, however, dressed in full pads and took part in positional drills. Safety Jonathan Meeks and cornerback Bobby Felder were the only others on the roster that did not practice in any capacity due to an injury.

The Bills have only three more days of training camp before they get back to Orchard Park for the remainder of 2014. Tuesday's practice is scheduled to begin at 2 pm and is open to the general public.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills 53-man roster projection: 8/18
It’s that time of year. The Buffalo Bills have been in training camp long enough to the point in which that impressions have been made on both the coaching staff and front office.

The team has played three of their five preseason games, and with only eight days to go before the first round of cuts, it’s also a good time for WGR’s first roster projection of the summer. Who makes the cut? Who doesn’t? Any surprises?

Let’s find out:

Quarterback (3)
EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel, Thad Lewis
Cuts: Dennis Dixon
- The quarterback group has been the weakest from a depth perspective. EJ Manuel is trying to find the consistency required for the Bills to take the next step. Behind him, both Jeff Tuel and Thad Lewis have failed to discern themselves as the backup quarterback the Bills were hoping for. Tuel has been mediocre and would likely win the job by default because Lewis has struggled throughout all of camp. Don’t be surprised if Lewis gets cut and the Bills look to the first or second round of cuts around the league for a veteran backup with some game experience.

Halfback (4)
C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon
Cuts: Ronnie Wingo
- This is as straight forward as it gets. The team still has big plans for both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, and they acquired Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon in the offseason. Ronnie Wingo will be playing in the fourth and fifth preseason games to try and hook on with another team, or to prove himself worthy of practice squad consideration.

Fullback (1)
Frank Summers
Cuts: Evan Rodriguez
- In this battle, Frank Summers still takes the first-team snaps and is the better blocker of the two. In a run-heavy scheme that gives Summers, who isn’t as gifted athletically, the edge in the debate. Evan Rodriguez needed to show he could make big plays out of the backfield, but he’s coupled the good (big receptions) with the bad (scuffles, fumbles).

Wide Receiver (6)
Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods, Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Easley
Cuts: T.J. Graham, Kevin Elliott, Chris Summers, Tori Gurley, Caleb Holley, Naaman Roosevelt
- With five spots essentially locked up the sixth receiver position comes down to T.J. Graham, the former third-round pick, and Marcus Easley. Graham has picked it up over the past week or so, but his problems with drops have plagued his training camp and he doesn’t offer enough in the special teams category to win the sixth spot. Easley, on the other hand, has shown enough offensively in camp to warrant the final spot, allowing the team to keep his special teams presence on the roster.

Tight End (3)
Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Chris Gragg
Cuts: Tony Moeaki, Dominique Jones
- The Bills probably really wanted Tony Moeaki to make this roster. Unless he gets healthy enough to play in this week of practice and during the final two preseason games though, it could be the end of the line. The Bills likely want to keep an athletic tight end, and since Moeaki has been injured, Gragg stays on.

Offensive Tackle (4)
Cordy Glenn, Erik Pears, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio
Cuts: Chris Hairston, Edawn Coughman
- Seantrel Henderson has played his way on to the 53-man roster by showing much more than his actual draft position in the seventh round. Had he not been a second-round pick and instead a fifth, sixth, or seventh-round selection, Cyrus Kouandjio’s chances of making the roster would be slim. The Bills are between a rock and a hard place here, though. They can’t subject either player to the open market and need the tackle depth behind Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears. Don’t be surprised if the Bills experiment with Henderson at right tackle once Glenn proves to be ready to return, but he’ll have to show quite a bit in a short amount of time to unseat Pears. Chris Hairston saw his roster spot vanish when his move inside to guard early in camp failed.

Offensive Guard (3)
Chris Williams, Cyril Richardson, Kraig Urbik
Cuts: Antoine McClain, J.J. ‘Unga, Jared Wheeler
- The Bills thought both Antoine McClain and J.J. ‘Unga had some upside to them heading into training camp, but neither have been able to show more than that potential. Cyril Richardson has played his way on to the 53-man roster, but whether or not he starts at right guard at the beginning the season is up for debate. They might opt to continue to work with Richardson over the course of the first few weeks either until he’s deemed ready, they need to replace Kraig Urbik in the starting lineup due to poor play, or a combination of the two.

Center (2)
Eric Wood, Doug Legursky
Cuts: Macky MacPherson
- It’s safe to say that Doug Legursky wasn’t exactly a fan favorite after starting the majority of games in 2013 at left guard. Regardless, he’s the only player on the roster with significant experience at all three interior positions. For that reason, he sticks.

Defensive End (4)
Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson, Jarius Wynn
Cuts: Jacquies Smith, Ike Igbinosun, Bryan Johnson
- The final chop off the roster was to remove Jacquies Smith from the 53. He has had a very solid camp, but up against the other final spot finalist (who we’ll get to shortly), Smith has not been nearly as productive. With this quartet, the Bills have two sets of defensive ends that are similarly built. Mario Williams and Jarius Wynn are the bigger ends that can set the edge and hold their ground, while Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson are more of the smaller, quick-twitch players.

Defensive Tackle (5)
Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Stefan Charles, Corbin Bryant, Landon Cohen
Cuts: Alan Branch, Damien Jacobs
- The most notable part of this roster projection is defensive tackle Alan Branch not being included on the roster. There are certain facts regarding his 2014 that one can’t ignore, however. First, he signed a contract extension early on into the offseason. After that, though, Branch has not necessarily been in the good graces with the coaching staff. He didn’t show up to any offseason workouts, which led to head coach Doug Marrone publicly saying that they haven’t even heard from him through the process. Then, at the start of training camp, Branch failed his conditioning test and couldn’t practice for the first few days. To top it all off, he has fallen behind on the depth chart to Stefan Charles, Corbin Bryant and Landon Cohen, and didn’t get his first action in Saturday’s game until the fourth quarter after all of the aforementioned three got some time. Marrone all but confirmed Branch might be in trouble by saying after the game that the defensive tackle is competing for a spot on the roster. With how disruptive both Charles and Cohen have been, Branch is on the outside looking in. Cohen was the last one in, beating out Jacquies Smith for the final spot.

Linebacker (5)*
Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers, Preston Brown, Stevenson Sylvester, Randell Johnson
Cuts: Ty Powell, Jimmy Gaines, Xavius Boyd
- Due to Nigel Bradham’s one game suspension, he will not count against the roster until the week after the team’s first game. With that in mind, both Stevenson Sylvester and Randell Johnson make the cut. Sylvester hooks on perhaps only on a temporary basis. They need a fifth linebacker without Bradham available, and Sylvester can be that depth they need. Once available, a flip of Sylvester for Bradham on the active roster isn’t out of the question. Rookie Randell Johnson makes the team because of his raw tools and athleticism, but he'll be one of the most common inactives throughout the season.

Cornerback (6)
Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Nickell Robey, Corey Graham, Ross Cockrell, Ron Brooks
Cuts: Mario Butler, Bobby Felder, Kamaal McIlwain, Sam Miller
- Cornerback joins running back as one of the more straight forward positions to predict. The only one in doubt heading into training camp was Ron Brooks, but he has had quite a strong summer.

Safety (4)
Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy, Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks
Cuts: Kenny Ladler, Deon Broomfield, Jajuan Harley, Derek Brim
- Although he has plenty of college accolades, Ladler’s pair of injuries combined with the roster squeeze prevents him from making the roster. The practice squad isn’t out of the question, though.

Kicker (1)
Dan Carpenter
Cuts: Dustin Hopkins
- Dustin Hopkins is doing exactly what he can’t afford to: sitting out of practices and a game due to an injury. He needs to prove that he can be an asset in the kickoff department, and he isn’t doing that by being on the sideline. This week is a big one for Hopkins.

Punter (1)
Brian Moorman
Cuts: Jake Dombrowski
- The only way Jake Dombrowski will unseat Brian Moorman, who is a longtime fan favorite, will be if the younger punter has vastly outperformed Moorman throughout camp and in games. That hasn’t happened, so Moorman’s stay with the Bills continues.

Long Snapper (1)
Garrison Sanborn
Cuts: None
- The team experimented with both Lee Smith and Mike Caussin as a long snapper at times, but they don’t get much better than Garrison Sanborn.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Reaction: Steelers 19 - Bills 16
The Buffalo Bills put their best effort into bringing a second victory back to New York with them in the preseason, but a slow start by both the first-team offense and defense inevitably ruined their chances. The team concluded their five-day stay in Pennsylvania with a 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

On Thursday night, just two days ahead of the game, Bills quarterback EJ Manuel had one of his best practices as a professional football player. Was he able to capitalize on that performance and implement it into the game setting? Here are some reactions from the Bills’ most recent contest:

No TD-ville
- Five drives, no touchdowns. Heck, let’s take it a step farther. Three games, 10 total drives, no touchdowns. That is the stat line that bogs down the first-team offense with quarterback EJ Manuel at the helm. They haven’t managed to scrounge up anything more than a field goal to conclude a drive, leaving most frustrated by their inability to do so in a meaningless, exhibition contest. On Saturday, the inconsistent version of Manuel was seen and it cost the Bills on more than a few separate occasions during their offensive drives. While Manuel wasn’t hesitant, he settled in for a lot of underneath throws to running backs and tight ends, due to (what he said was) the Steelers dropping seven back into coverage. The Steelers likely saw what Manuel did to their defense on Thursday at practice and vowed not to allow any intermediate-to-large gains through the air. The quarterback threw some errant passes, with the interception to Ryan Shazier and the two inaccurate throws on the run being the most glaring ones. He did bring about a pair of very good throws, too. He found Robert Woods on a deep comeback route that Manuel placed on the money along the sidelines with a hearty amount of anticipation laced into the throw. Later on he found T.J. Graham open in some space for a third-down pickup as well. What matters is that the drives stalled deep into Steelers’ territory, which means that the Bills have to figure things out next weekend against Tampa Bay.

Watkins scare
- On the first drive of the game, most Bills fans gasped for air when they saw first-round selection and wide receiver Sammy Watkins get injured. When he went to the locker room, there was a very small amount of panic in regards to Watkins, too. The wideout was discovered to have an injury to his ribs, which doesn’t give any indication as to the timetable that he could be out.’s Ian Rapoport reported during the game that Watkins’ rib injury didn’t appear to be serious, although the report wasn’t specific as to when the rookie would return in full. Head coach Doug Marrone wasn’t aware of the severity of the injury and only called it a contusion, but quarterback EJ Manuel said that he thinks Watkins “will be fine.” For now, it’s a wait-and-see approach.

Rush defense continues to shine
- Coming into Saturday night’s contest, the first-team defense allowed only 18 yards on 10 carries of designed run plays combined between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers. They kept that in tact against the Steelers by allowing just 11 yards on five carries. Granted, the Steelers were moving the ball down the field through the air as they pleased, but the run defense showed once again why this could be a much improved unit. Brandon Spikes, Jerry Hughes, Nigel Bradham and both Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus all contributed to one of the lone bright spots of the evening for the top units.

Pass defense problem?
- If teams aren’t having success in the run department, odds are you know what their countermove will be: they’re going to try and spread the ball around to get the opposition to back off the line of scrimmage. With all the success that the run defense had, the pass defense was left in the dust on Saturday. The Bills had Stephon Gilmore, Corey Graham, Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams as the starting unit, and all four struggled throughout the evening. Gilmore gave up the touchdown in the corner of the end zone to Markus Wheaton, which was his second beat for a score in as many weeks. Graham had the best day of the group as a tackling corner, but he lost a step on Antonio Brown on the 76-yard touchdown which allowed for Duke Williams to run straight into Graham to cancel each other out. On that same play Searcy was slow to recognize both what was happening and what was coming his way, got caught flat-footed and by that point the speedy Brown was already long gone. Some might ask why Aaron Williams wasn’t in with the first-team, but head coach Doug Marrone implored everyone to not read into it. He said the exercise was just to familiarize Duke Williams with the top unit before the season, but the coach remained that Aaron Williams is in fact the starter. The secondary could be an issue if the pass rush isn't there for the Bills, so it's certainly a situation to monitor.

Backup QB
- Question: “Are you satisfied with your backup quarterback play?”
Doug Marrone: “No.”

The look on Marrone’s face paired with the tone of voice he used to answer the question makes one believe that he is not at all happy with how the backup quarterback competition is shaping up. Both Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel have really struggled to discern themselves, with Lewis having the worst camp of the two. That continued on Saturday night with Lewis completing only 1-of-6 passes for 18 yards, and throwing a fairly poor interception to end his day. On the ensuing drive, Tuel came in and was a tad better than Lewis completing 5-of-9 passes for 48 yards, but was also sacked four separate times and lost a fumble to Pittsburgh. Turnovers will drive any coach crazy, especially when it’s the two men trying to be the backup plan for second-year player EJ Manuel. While Tuel will likely stick on the roster regardless of what else happens, the same can’t be said of Lewis. Should the right player become available on the open market the Bills might look to strike to help bring some composure to the position past Manuel. Lewis’ job could be in jeopardy if he doesn’t pick up his play… and quickly.

Branch bubble?
- At the beginning of the offseason, the Buffalo Bills signed defensive tackle Alan Branch to a contract extension and thought he would serve as the top substitute for Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. That idea, like the very contract that kept Branch in town, looked good on paper for all parties. However, Branch went missing in action during all the offseason workouts. While he didn’t have to show up because the practices were voluntary, but Marrone gave the impression that the two weren’t even in contact at all. Branch also flunked his conditioning test at the start of camp, and he did admit that there was some displeasure voiced to him early on for not having his body ready for training camp. Since he’s returned to the field, Branch has been placed at the back of the line for defensive tackles. Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles and now Landon Cohen are all getting time on the field before Branch. That trio has looked good, whereas Branch is barely noticeable outside of his size. It’s not the greatest of indicators that he started his night in the fourth quarter. He needs stark improvement to solidify a spot on the roster, because Marrone said that the veteran defender is "working for a spot."

Bills MVP: DT Stefan Charles
- Stefan Charles was a master of disruption against the second-team offensive line for the Steelers. Charles made his presence felt early on with a sack, then followed it up with another sack and the forced fumble that led to the eventual Bills recovery, which put their team in great position for points. With how disruptive he has been and how unnoticeable Branch has been, there is a case to be made for Charles to be the third defensive tackle on the roster even though he doesn’t have all that much experience on defense. He's having a great camp.

Bills LVP: OT Cyrus Kouandjio
- If Cyrus Kouandjio were a fifth, sixth or seventh-round draft choice, he would be in danger of being released by the Bills altogether. However, he is a second-round pick and the Bills won’t walk away from him after just one training camp. Marrone is an offensive line coach through and through and could welcome the challenge of trying to get the most out of Kouandjio. But he has a lot of work to do, which includes being able to fix his poor effort on the Steelers’ strip sack that secured the game-winning field goal for the black and gold.

Up Next: The Bills have Sunday off and then get back to work for their final week of training camp at St. John Fisher College. The first of their final four practices is Monday night at 6 pm.

Final Thoughts:
- The Bills have started training camp before anyone else and will be one of the last to end it, too. With this much time and that many reps under their belt already, the offense needed to be a lot farther ahead than what they showed against the Steelers. It all boils down to EJ Manuel and how he’ll react to a given coverage and an actual game situation. He displayed it at times against Carolina and all throughout Thursday’s joint practice with Pittsburgh. Simply put though, no touchdowns in 10 drives is unacceptable with all that time spent on the practice field already. Manuel knows it, Marrone knows it, the rest of the players know it. For the Bills to be successful they need to learn how to score as an offensive unit which is a task that they just haven’t been able to master yet. Quite obviously, it’s essential to both the short term and longterm plans of Buffalo moving forward.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Watkins injured, Bills struggle in third preseason game
The first-team offense of the Buffalo Bills had one of their best days since training camp started during a joint practice on Thursday night. That success didn’t translate into their next time on the field, as EJ Manuel and company struggled all the way through their five drives allotted by the Bills’ coaching staff.

EJ Manuel and the first unit, for the third straight outing, failed to perform a function that is essential to the survival of most offenses in the NFL. After a total of 10 drives in the preseason, the Manuel-led Bills have yet to score a touchdown.

“There wasn’t any looks that we didn’t see throughout the week in practice,” said tight end Scott Chandler. “We just have to finish drives. We have to get in the end zone.”

It wasn’t for a lack of effort. On two separate drives the Bills had the ball deep into the territory of the Pittsburgh Steelers and were set up with a fourth-and-short opportunity they elected to go for. Both attempts followed through with the same result: a pass that fell incomplete and a turnover on downs.

On their nearest attempt, which also happened to be their fifth and final drive on the field, the Bills had two straight shots at the end zone to end the drive, but each fell incomplete and kept the first-team without their coveted touchdown.

"Man, coming off the field, it was frustrating, I'm not gonna lie. We got down there and I even pleaded to Coach Marrone to let us go for it on the fourth down. Went to the right place with the ball, the defense just made a good play on it. Just gotta go back to the drawing board," quarterback EJ Manuel remarked. "We've just gotta capitalize truly because, we need that get fixed obviously before we play Chicago."

Manuel finished the evening completing 17-of-27 passes for 148 yards, but also chucked an interception right into the midsection of Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier. The pass was intended for Chandler down the seam before the rookie Shazier undercut the route and forced the turnover.

The performance of the first-team offense isn’t the only worry of the team following the contest. First-round pick and starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins injured his ribs during the team’s first drive of the game. He walked slowly to the locker room for examination and did not return to action.'s Ian Rapoport reported during the game that the injury to Watkins is not considered serious.

The Bills came back to tie up the game in the second half, but the team couldn’t overcome their poor start and fell to the Steelers 19-16 at Heinz Field.

The two teams had previously faced off against one another on Wednesday and Thursday for a joint practice session on the campus of Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

The first-team defense for the Bills struggled as well, allowing both a 76 and 16-yard touchdown pass from the arm of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The longer of the two occurred when Steelers receiver Antonio Brown ran a simple slant pattern and made cornerback Corey Graham and safety Duke Williams collide into one another. Markus Wheaton was the other touchdown recipient.

The Bills continued their prowess against the run in the preseason, however. The first unit allowed just 11 yards on five carries, bringing up their preseason total to just 29 yards on 15 total carries for designed run plays.

The second-team defensive line stood out for the Bills, with a strip-sack by defensive tackle Stefan Charles being the highlight. Defensive tackle Landon Cohen picked up the ball and scampered down into Pittsburgh territory before being brought down. Buffalo was able to take the ball and punch it into the end zone in the third quarter on a Boobie Dixon one-yard touchdown run.

The Bills were without left tackle Cordy Glenn (illness), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hip), left guard Chris Williams (lower back), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) and linebacker Ty Powell due to injury. Doug Legursky started the game at left guard, Corey Graham made his third straight start at cornerback.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Glenn, McKelvin top Bills inactives vs. Steelers
The Buffalo Bills end their road preseason schedule on Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they'll be without a similar set of players that they have been without in practice over the past few nights. The Bills will play in the contest without a total of eight players, three of which being starters.

The team has declared left tackle Cordy Glenn (illness), left guard Chris Williams (lower back), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (hip), kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin), safety Jonathan Meeks (neck), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and linebacker Ty Powell (medical) as inactive against the Steelers.

The Bills and Steelers get started at 7:30 pm at Heinz Field.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP​

5 things to watch for during Bills - Steelers
To conclude their five-day stay in Pennsylvania, the Buffalo Bills meet the same team that they’ve seen on the practice field for two days in the past week. The Bills will take part in their third preseason game, their last exhibition contest on the road in 2014 and finalize their series with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As their practices with the Steelers wrapped up on Thursday, quarterback EJ Manuel had one of his best sessions as a professional athlete. Once again, Manuel will be one of the focal points along with four other things to watch in the upcoming preseason game:

1) Can EJ’s unit get a touchdown?
- In the team’s first preseason contest versus the New York Giants, the starting offense got their feet wet with a pair of uninspiring drives. EJ Manuel completed only two passes and it riled up nerves for some fans of the team. In their second preseason game against Carolina, Manuel looked much more comfortable in the pocket and finished the day with nine successful completions, two of which that went for significant gains (28 and 32 yards). The common theme between both outings, though, resides in the fact that the first-team offense of the Bills failed to convert any of their drives into one that ended in a touchdown. In the preseason, nothing is really a necessity for the first-team offense to accomplish, but it will still allow them to feel comfortable with finishing off a drive before they get to their first regular season contest in September. It’s a marker that both Manuel and head coach Doug Marrone would like to cross off.

2) Richardson nailing down RG job?
- All along the offensive line there are still more questions than answers. Will left tackle Cordy Glenn return to the lineup before the start of the season? Will left guard Chris Williams improve from his average play through training camp and the first two preseason games? Is Cyrus Kouandjio or Seantrel Henderson going to push for the starting right tackle job? Lastly, who will be the starting right guard? The answers to all of these questions, for the time being, are unknown. However, the Bills could be getting closer to finalizing the last of that list due to the current injury to Williams. In past practices, rookie Cyril Richardson would fill in at left guard while Kraig Urbik would get all the starting snaps at right guard. That trend has changed, however, and the difference could be notable. Williams has sat out each of the past two practices and the Bills decided on Richardson getting all the first-team reps at right guard. The team has been trying to find someone to replace Urbik in the starting lineup since the end of last season, and perhaps the latest decision in practice time could mean the rookie is close to earning the role. With a successful game against the Steelers, he could go a long way in securing that starting position.

3) Hogan vs. Woods: Round Two
- Over the past two weeks the first-team offense has sported the trio of receivers that included rookie Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams and, surprisingly, camp standout Chris Hogan as the slot receiver. Left out of that starting mix is second-year wideout Robert Woods, who many expected to play a substantial role for the team in 2014. Unlike against the Giants, Woods did get some time with the first unit in both the practices leading up to and the actual game versus the Panthers… but as an outside receiver. The Bills have yet to relent in their flirtation with Hogan as the slot receiver for EJ Manuel’s offense, and if it continues into the third preseason game and beyond, perhaps the former ‘Hard Knocks’ star will have a bigger role on the team than anyone would have predicted.

4) First-team defensive dominance
- Through two preseason games, the players that make up the top unit on defense have bought in to Jim Schwartz’s system and have shown impressive results. Over the first two preseason games, the Bills top defense has allowed only 103 yards on 24 plays, one long touchdown and they also forced and recovered a fumble. The majority of those yards came on only the drive against the Panthers that resulted in a Kelvin Benjamin touchdown reception, which showed that the other four series the first-team defense played in came away with elite results. To take their yardage totals a step forward, the first-team run defense — which was a problem area in 2013 — has only allowed 18 yards on 10 carries to designed run plays. They’ll face a good test with a better offensive line than waht they faced last weekend, and two successful running backs that bring a physical nature to the game (Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount).

5) Defensive tackle depth showdown
- After the first-team defense gets their fill of plays, that’s when the real competition starts in the middle of the defensive line. With the emergence of Landon Cohen as a playmaking defensive tackle, there could be a bit of a fight for a roster spot going on. Should the Bills only elect to keep five defensive tackles, that leaves Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, Alan Branch and Cohen as four players looking for three spots on the 53-man roster. The team could ultimately decide to keep six at the position, but that will be totally dependent on the play of those four linemen and if they are all worthy of being kept on the roster. Either way, keep a close eye in the second half on that heavy-set quartet.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills training camp observations: Day 17
Thursday was the day most fans of the Buffalo Bills were waiting for. With a second-year quarterback taking all the first-team snaps, many were hoping the light would go on for EJ Manuel, and that as soon as he started to play well enough that he would turn the corner and become the player that some are holding out hope for.

The fans of the team, although most were unable to attend due to the joint practice between Buffalo and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, had to read all the rave reviews about Manuel and crack a bit of a smile. What made Manuel’s day so good, and who else stood out? Here are some observations from the second day at Saint Vincent College:

EJ’s earmarked day
- All throughout training camp, daily practices have been a struggle for EJ Manuel. While he has had his moments in camp at St. John Fisher College, Manuel has lacked the overall consistency and accuracy that many clamor for. For two-and-a-half hours at least, Manuel looked like he had taken a step forward for how he picked apart the Steelers’ first-team defensive unit. Throughout practice, Manuel finished the day completing 17-of-23 passes for 216 (unofficial) yards, which both serve as a massive improvement from the previous day of work against the Steelers. Manuel was sacked three times throughout the day but the collapsing pocket didn’t seem to rattle him at all. In fact, the Bills quarterback dropped all the way back and looked for whichever target had already won, or was in the process of winning, and delivered his passes with confidence. Thursday was undoubtedly the most comfortable he has appeared in the pocket during a practice, which led the way to Manuel’s poise and accuracy to take a step up from where it had been even a day ago. None of his incompletions were mistakes that the Steelers’ defense were ready to pounce on. As Manuel said after the practice, he still needs to work on finding the right level of consistency so that way the ups and downs of training camp won’t have as large a disparity as it has. By all means, though, not only was that Manuel’s best practice of 2014, but it also could be the best he has shown at practice since entering the NFL.

Nearly 30-percent of Manuel’s passes went to…
- The Buffalo Bills addressed the wide receiver group with a few bold moves, jettisoning one longterm player and replenishing with the top wide receiver in the draft, Sammy Watkins, and also trading for the previously troubled Mike Williams to help contribute to the team. Manuel now has one of the shiniest of shiny toys in his arsenal, and he’s taking advantage on daily basis. Of his 17 completions, five of Manuel’s passes were thrown Watkins’ way, who collected five receptions and 61 yards, far more than any other player. The quarterback also targeted Watkins two other times but the throw on both of those plays was either too far out in front or it was lacking touch on the deep pass down the field. The pairing of Manuel and Watkins is likely to be one that will demand attention for much of the season, but the two seem to be on the same page quite a bit going up against a different opponent.

Bryce Brown’s struggles
- On three separate occasions Thursday, third-string running back Bryce Brown lacked the defining characteristic that made EJ Manuel’s day such a good one: Brown lacked an overall decisiveness and it led to the demise of two other plays as well. It started off with the running back taking in what looked to be a harmless pitch play that took the runner to the offense’s right side, and it even looked like the running back had caught it well enough to tuck it away. Brown took two more steps and the ball popped up and out of his hands which allowed the Steelers defense to pounce on it. Later in the day, Brown also dropped a swing pass that was wide open to gain big yardage. All that, was followed up by the young running back trying to pull a C.J. Spiller and reverse fields because the original rushing lane was shut down by the defense. Not shockingly, he was held to just a minimal gain. Brown has done many positive things in both camp and the preseason games, but Thursday wasn’t his brightest evening.

Hogan experiment not over
- Sometimes in a training camp setting, head coaches will deliver messages to some of their more important players by giving their backups more time during practices and games just as an attempt to teach them a lesson. At first, that could have been the construed case for wide receiver Chris Hogan and second-year wideout Robert Woods. The latter has been thought of as a big part of the offensive attack for much of the offseason, but as of two weeks ago the Bills haven’t been using Woods with the first-team nearly as much as many were expecting. Instead, Hogan has been getting the majority of repetitions at slot receiver with the first team. Initially, Hogan’s rise could have just been to rile up Woods. However, Hogan just doesn’t want to seem to go away. His impressive play throughout training camp has him in a spot where he’s getting closer to lock territory for the 53-man roster. It will be especially safe if he continues to supplant Woods with the first-team offense.

Bills’ Day 17 MVP: QB EJ Manuel
- This is the day many have been waiting for. Manuel truly had his first great practice of 2014, dispersing the ball to the open man and almost always hitting that player in the perfect position and in stride. One practice doesn’t mean a player has made the next step in their career, regardless of the position. Manuel will simply look to build off the positivity he has helped create for himself on the second day in Latrobe.

Bills’ Day 17 LVP: HB Bryce Brown
- The trio of aforementioned negative plays was enough to earn him these honors for the day. Don’t look too deeply into it, though. Brown will still figure in with the team once they define his role. It may not even happen in 2014 if both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson get through the entire season. If something does happen to one of those two, Brown will be part of the new duo of runners.

Injury Update: K Dustin Hopkins (groin), S Jonathan Meeks (neck), LB Ty Powell (medical), G Chris Williams (lower back), TE Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) all could not participate in the practice due to their injuries.

Up Next: The Bills get Friday off and then prepare for their third preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night at 7:30 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills' Brandon mum on sale process
There hasn’t been any shortage in new reports or speculation since the Buffalo Bills were put up for sale in 2014. The entire time that the team has prepared for the 2014 regular season has played second fiddle to what will inevitably happen to the team.

The trust of late Bills owner Ralph Wilson has been reportedly meeting with prospective owners that have advanced as finalists into the next stage of the sale process. One man that has been there for those meetings has been Team President and CEO Russ Brandon.

Unlike most years, Brandon has been away from training camp practices as the sale of the team has ramped up over the course of the past few weeks. His presence at the team’s joint practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania was notable because of the ongoing sale.

The team president hasn’t addressed the media since the Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, Ohio, but took questions from reporters on Thursday night. Not surprisingly, Brandon didn’t offer up much new information about the impending sale of the franchise.

“Well what I can say, unfortunately, is pretty much what I've been saying in that the process is ongoing. It's a private transaction and I'm not really at liberty to discuss it at any length or form,” he said. “We know the level of interest, but we also appreciate the private nature of this moving forward.”

The sale, by many accounts, could be wrapped up by early October if all goes well. On October 7-8, the NFL will get together for one of their owner’s meetings and the ratification of the next owner could be completed.

Brandon wouldn’t comment if that was the preferred resolution.

“There's no timetable on anything,” he said. “It's a process and that's why we handed that to the investment bank and to the investment council. We'll leave it with those two fine firms and, stay tuned.”

The latest report, from Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, indicated that the sale could be Terry Pegula’s to lose. Brandon was simply asked to comment on how close the sale was to nearing a conclusion, to which he replied, that he could not at this point in time.

Pegula, Jon Bon Jovi and his Toronto-based group, Donald Trump and Tom Golisano are the four reported finalists in the sale of the Bills.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills WR on EJ: "It's the best I've ever seen him"
While the Buffalo Bills wrapped up their second joint practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers, there was one overwhelming story line that had to do with the player every fan is hoping to see more from in 2014. Bills starting quarterback EJ Manuel had, by many accounts, his best practice since the team started training camp.

It wasn’t just a reaction from the onlooking media, either. His teammates definitely took notice as he was spreading the ball around during team drills on the campus of Saint Vincent College against Steelers defenders.

“I told EJ, man, to be honest I told, my exact words: It's the best I've ever seen him,” said wide receiver Mike Williams. “I don't think he incompleted a pass today. Everything was on time, we got everything we wanted, it was like perfect. Coming out of our breaks, the ball right there... this is the best I've seen him. If he keeps getting like this, we're going to be something to play with.”

Manuel looked crisp on the majority of his throws and hit his receivers in stride throughout team drills on Thursday. While he has performed well on occasion at St. John Fisher College during training camp, what was it about Thursday’s practice that helped him play at that level?

“Competition. It's a competitive environment, we're going against a different team,” Manuel answered. “Obviously this is their house so we wanted to come in and give them a good look. And we didn't want them to feel like we were wasting their time.”

The practice was perhaps his best since he’s taken the field in 2014, but one practice does not mean that Manuel has arrived. The quarterback would even be the first to admit that.

“I thought I was consistent, and that's something I want to continue to build on,” he said. “Don't let it be a one, or a two, or a three-day streak... make it an every day thing. It's a process. I'm still going to continue to buy into the process.”

Manuel and the Bills concluded their two-day practice session in Latrobe, Pennsylvania on Thursday night. The two teams get Friday off and meet once again in a preseason setting at Heinz Field on Saturday night.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
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Report: Bills are "Pegula's to lose"
The entire time that the Buffalo Bills have been preparing for the 2014 regular season during training camp and their multiple stops on the road, most everything has been underlined by the impending sale of the team. The future of the franchise is on the line and multiple jobs in the organization could depend on who gets selected as the winning bidder.

Through all those thoughts, there have been four identified bidders on the Bills during the process -- with only two groups that have made the majority of headlines: Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim, and the Toronto-based group fronted by Jon Bon Jovi. Still a few weeks before binding bids will be made to the estate of Ralph Wilson, a new report has indicated that things may be trending in a certain way.

And, It's a direction that will likely draw cheers from Bills fans that have been paying close attention to the sale.

According to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, the franchise is now "Pegula's to lose," and that their competition is not as strong as first thought. Graham also tweeted that the Toronto-based group with Bon Jovi, Larry Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers is both "unfocused" and "disorganized" in their attempt to win the franchise.

Graham also wrote that an educated source told him that the Bills will remain in western New York "for a very, very long time whether they get a new stadium or not."

Outside of the two aforementioned main players, both Donald Trump and Tom Golisano have also made it through to the next stage as finalists in the sale process. According to John Wawrow of The Associated Press, three of the finalists have already gone to a presentation performed by officials of the Bills. The meeting was to give each prospective owner "extensive financial and background information on the franchise."

Pegula, the Bon Jovi-led Toronto group and Trump have all sat through those meetings within the past two weeks, according to Wawrow's report.

The team is expected to continue to march through the sale process and have binding bids due around the start of September. Once binding bids are in the estate can start to narrow down the candidates and ultimately select a winner, with the expectation and hope that the new owner(s) can be ratified at the league's upcoming meetings on October 7-8.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP​

Bills training camp observations: Day 16
It’s been nine years, but the Buffalo Bills finally participated in a joint practice with another NFL franchise on Wednesday. After making the relatively quick trip down to Pittsburgh, the Bills drove down the interstate to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania to take part in a session with the Steelers.

Many of the joint practices around the NFL have resulted in a testy environment with some skirmishes sprinkled in. Following suit, the Bills and Steelers both raised the intensity from a normal training camp practice.

How did the Bills perform against the Steelers in the controlled setting? Here are some observations from the day:

Control kept in live atmosphere
- After the Bills and Steelers went through their positional drills and stretching, they all came together on the main field and started off the very lively joint practice. When they got to team drills the Bills’ offense and Steelers’ defense paired off to one half of the field, while the Bills’ defense and the Steelers’ offense went to the other side. If anyone was expecting them to softly get into the joint practice, they were sorely mistaken. The teams immediately went to a live tackling drill and the tempers flared from there. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore laid a big hit along the sideline on a Steelers wide receiver, fullback Evan Rodriguez got into it with some Steelers defenders and safety Aaron Williams even had his helmet thrown after it fell off on a special teams play. Other than those three instances though, the Bills and Steelers showed quite the amount of restraint and poise throughout the practice. While the attitude and energy was a notch higher than most other practices against teammates, the two teams kept it clean for the most part.

EJ’s poor day
- One of the biggest questions heading into the pair of practices in Latrobe is how second-year quarterback EJ Manuel would perform against a team that was so successful in stopping him last year. Even with a solid performance in Carolina under his belt, Manuel showed inaccuracy in the first session with the Steelers more than most his other training camp practices in 2014. His throws were all over the place during team drills, whether they were short, intermediate or deep attempts, the ball just wasn’t being put in the proper place to facilitate a reception all the time. He did have his moments with some positive throws in the intermediate area to Scott Chandler, but aside from that, Manuel’s performance was one to be forgotten.

First-team run defense
- On the bright side of the day, the Bills on the other half of the field continued their recent stretch of positive play. The first-team was outstanding against the first unit of Pittsburgh’s offense, specifically against the run. The defensive linemen were occupying their blocks and the linebackers plugged the gaps to limit what Ben Roethlisberger, LeGarrette Blount and the offensive line could do for the majority of practice. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and outside linebacker Nigel Bradham especially stood out in limiting what Blount could do. Pittsburgh’s offensive line isn’t one of the best in the league, but the defensive line of the Bills once again showed why they are such a potent unit against another group that isn’t their own.

Urbik struggles
- The one-on-one battles between the offensive line of the Bills and the Steelers’ defensive line were among one of the more entertaining parts of practice, but the men representing the city of Buffalo weren’t exactly winning the battle. One of the main players that struggled throughout the drill is incumbent starting right guard Kraig Urbik, who was actually playing out of position on Wednesday. For the first time in a training camp practice the Bills used Urbik as the first-team left guard, partially due to the injury suffered by starter Chris Williams. In that role, Urbik just couldn’t seem to find his footing. He failed to engage with the defender on his four separate one-on-one attempts and lost all his battles easily. That, in comparison to the day that his direct competitor for starting right guard duties had in the drill, has to make Urbik feel a bit uneasy.

Glenn, McKelvin getting increased workload
- Two players that figure significantly into the starting lineup are left tackle Cordy Glenn and cornerback Leodis McKelvin, although each have been missing in action due to separate conditions. Glenn was just recently activated from the Reserve/Non-Football Illness list and McKelvin has been slowly recovering from offseason hip surgery. On Wednesday both took a step forward in their potential return from injuries. Glenn actually took some full contact one-on-one drills, the first time he’s done that since his activation. McKelvin was at first announced to likely miss practice, but dressed for the day and partook in both punt returns and even some team drills near the end of the practice. With the amount that cornerback Corey Graham struggled on Wednesday, a quick McKelvin return could be a welcomed sight for the Bills.

Bills’ Day 16 MVP: G Cyril Richardson
- The fifth-round rookie picked a great afternoon to have his best practice since coming to the NFL. With Chris Williams injured and sitting out of practice, the Bills elected to have Richardson take all the starting snaps at right guard with Kraig Urbik at left guard, and the rookie was quite impressive. He used his strength to lock up defenders along the line during both team drills and one-on-one’s, leading to some praise from offensive line coach Pat Morris. If there are more days like that, Richardson could go a long way in potentially securing the starting job as a rookie.

Bills’ Day 16 LVP: G Antonie McClain
- On the flip side, second-team guard Antoine McClain couldn’t get the hang of going up against the Steelers defense at any point of the practice. McClain lost all three reps in one-on-one battles, and easily. He’s gotten some opportunities throughout camp to audition for perhaps a bigger role, and even a roster spot, but hasn’t been able to break through just yet. He’s running out of time.

Injury Update: K Dustin Hopkins (groin), S Jonathan Meeks (neck), LB Ty Powell (medical), G Chris Williams (back), TE Tony Moeaki (hamstring), WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring)

Up Next: The Bills and Steelers get back to work on Thursday night for their final joint practice. Saint Vincent College will house the session at 5:30 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Bills haven't been contacted about Spiller
The tradewinds are blowing with plenty of rumors popping up about Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller. All the speculation, as much as it has increased, is still only that according to the man ultimately in charge of pulling the trigger on any deal.

"We have not been contacted by any team about C.J. Spiller," Bills GM Doug Whaley said quite plainly at Saint Vincent College ahead of the first of two joint practices with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "These rumors are news to me."

Spiller has been a hot topic for some, with the first insinuation implying that the Bills could be fielding plenty of offers for their former first-round pick as early as this month. That, in concert with some basic roster logic could help get plenty of people to believe that the running back could potentially be on the move if the right deal comes along.

Spiller, who has an electric second-step is going into the final year of his contract with the Bills. Despite his age (27) and the data that points to the age 28 as the biggest drop-off point for most running backs, the former top ten selection could be a relatively hot commodity if available.

Whaley played any of the talk off even more.

"I'll tell you guys, and you know I'm a straight shooter. We have not been contacted by any teams," the GM said. "I can probably see where people see our depth at running back and try to connect the dots with teams that don't have depth, but, again, nobody has talked to us."

The depth is the other part of it. In addition to Spiller, the Bills still have Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon on the roster to give them one of the deepest groups they've had at the position in many years. But until Whaley and the Bills get a call about him, and it's an offer that sweeps them off their feet, the running back likely isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Spiller rushed for 933 yards and two touchdowns in 2013 while dealing with a high ankle sprain for much of the season. He is listed at the top of the running back depth chart for the Bills.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP​

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