When Mike Pettine left the Buffalo Bills to take the job as the head coach with the Cleveland Browns, many considered the departure of the defensive coordinator to be among one of the biggest losses of the offseason. Pettine had a unique playcalling style on that side of the ball and it resulted in the Bills setting a franchise record for sacks in one season.
To replace him, the Bills hired former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, who before that was a well-respected defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Through his time in the National Football League, Schwartz has been heralded for having strong defensive lines that have set the tone for his unit.
In Buffalo, that won't appear to be a problem with the quartet of starters they've lined up in Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Due in part to the failed experiment of Dave Wannstedt as the Bills defensive coordinator very recently, some have made the connection of Schwartz's defensive theory being similar to that of Wannstedt: rely on the front four to create pressure and rarely blitz.
Some might even be scared of the defensive coordinator when he called on logic and simple math Monday, explaining that a blitz isn't always necessary due to the front four being as talented, and strong as they are.
"Generally offenses are going to protect with five, six guys," Schwartz started. "We've got four, there's a couple of guys that are gonna be one-on-one, and we've got guys that can win one-on-one."
If the first seven practices are any indication, though, the Bills won't be hesitant to blitz... at all. The Bills have sent linebackers both inside and outside, cornerbacks and safeties alike to get the offense to make a mistake. Instead of blitzing from all over like they did with Pettine in 2013, Schwartz has a little bit of a different interpretation on how to best utilize the added pressure.
"I think any time you can blitz on your own terms, you're at an advantage defensively," he said. "By that I mean you don't have to blitz to get a pass rush. If you can rely on your front four to get a pass rush, you can do so many more things with your coverage. And then when you want to blitz, you can blitz. It's not, 'Well we've got to get pressure on the quarterback so we have to blitz.' And I think that's one of the advantages of having a strong front four."
While other teams around the National Football League are just getting started at training camp, the Buffalo Bills have already gone through a full week's worth of work. Only a week away from their first preseason game, the Bills have a lot on their collective plate at practice throughout the next few days.
Head coach Doug Marrone introduced live hitting on Saturday for the first time in 2014 and they kept that going for a second straight day, giving the team their first taste of goal line work. Compared to their efforts on Saturday, specifically by the offense, Sunday brought about much more optimism.
- The man with the most influence on the outcome of the 2014 regular season is undoubtedly EJ Manuel, and to this point in training camp he hasn't done much to inspire the overwhelming confidence his coaches and teammates seem to have in him. While that much held true during the seventh practice of camp, Manuel showed a lot more than he did in previous efforts. A difference from a practice a few days ago, the second-year quarterback was decisive in 7-on-7 drills and found a lot of receivers in space. He still struggled with going through all of his reads, which is concerning because it appears as though Jeff Tuel has no problem doing so in the offense, and that has limited him at practice so far. That, in addition to his inaccuracy, is what holds him back from realizing the potential the Bills believe that he has. In his favor, however, is the fact that the Bills went out this offseason and acquired two receivers that are very good at making bad throws look good. With transactions like those and how those two players have performed in camp so far, the Bills appear as though they're eliminating any and all excuses for Manuel's second season.
Hogan gets time with the 1s
- It has been written numerous times over the past two years, but wide receiver Chris Hogan had another very good practice for the Bills on Sunday. Shaking off a two-drop performance on Friday night, Hogan was strong in his routes and on the ball whenever given the opportunity during the afternoon practice. Due to all his strong play throughout the first six days of camp, the Bills rewarded him with time on the field with the first-team offense as the third wide receiver. It wasn't a direct shot at Mike Williams, but more of a pat on the back to Hogan who has done mostly everything right to this point. Williams also got time with the first unit. It's quite a long training camp so there are no guarantees on July 27, but with more performances like the one he's had consistently (and special teams experience to boot), he could remove any doubt that he makes the roster.
Red Zone Mike
- Captain Obvious supports the next sentence: The Bills want to be much better in the red zone and on the goal line than they were in 2013. To help them do just that, from a theoretical standpoint anyway, they traded for Mike Williams and his 25 career touchdowns in four seasons (after grabbing 23 in his first three). Williams showed off that skill set on Sunday as the team continued to work in tight and help the offense progress. If there was a jump ball to be had, the wideout went up and got it on all but one occasion. After one catch in the back corner of the end zone, he looked at the crowd and took a bow, which drew some laughs from the crowd but also indicated that he is totally in control in those areas of the field. That will be where he is most important to the team, considering their dreadful past at capitalizing on in-close opportunities with getting six points rather than only three.
Don't run with your head down vs. 2nd team defense
- Through two days of live hitting at St. John Fisher College the biggest hitter has been identified, and it's not someone one would initially expect. Jonathan Meeks, the team's fifth-round pick in 2013 and backup strong safety, has been crushing teammates during the last two practices. He was the player responsible for the big hit that left wide receiver Kevin Elliott, to put it ever so delicately, a bit woozy. The hit was clean and it was one of a handful that he's brought to practice over the weekend. He likely won't push for a starting job in 2014, but his presence on the roster as a suitable backup is evident.
Richardson gets a step up
- An inauspicious start to the training camp of fifth-round pick and rookie guard Cyril Richardson has led to many being skeptical about his chances of making an impact on the roster in his inaugural season. Despite some bad beats through the first five practices, starting on Saturday night Richardson was bumped up a unit. Initially serving as the third-team left guard Richardson and Antoine McClain, who was the second-team left guard through the first five practices, switched places. It's been a steep learning curve for the rookie and he hasn't necessarily taken advantage of his heightened opportunities in the past two days, but at the very least the Bills are giving him the chance to prove himself.
Day 7 MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- Gilmore has been a cool customer through the first six days of training camp, and it wasn't until Sunday that he started to show the signs of what he did at St. John Fisher College in 2013. He mirrored the receivers anywhere they went and minimized their impact on the given play, regardless if they made the catch. He earned MVP honors with a fantastic one-handed interception in the end zone against EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins, sticking with the impressive rookie and then turning his head around to be in perfect position to come away with the turnover. He added another interception in the practice to put his day over the top.
Day 7 LVP: WR Chris Summers
- Among the players fighting to get noticed out of the wide receiver group, Summers really hasn't stood out for any reason beside his height. In a drill where a 6-foot-5 player should dominate against smaller corners, Summers failed to make an impact in jump-ball setting in the end zone. He doesn't get a lot of separation on the initial route and then fails to rise up and meet the ball at it's highest point. The throw needs to be there, but even when it was not it didn't appear as though he had the right positioning during and after the route's completion to inspire confidence in a successful attempt.
Up Next: The Bills resume practice on Monday morning at 8 o'clock. The session will once again be open to the general public. [Edit: The Bills, likely due to the expected weather, have changed Monday's practice to 6 pm. It's open to the public and fans will not need a ticket for entry.]
One full week of practice is over and done with at St. John Fisher College, and with all things considered, the Buffalo Bills haven't been hit too hard by the injury bug through the first seven sessions. The tight end room, however, would beg to differ.
The Bills are already without both Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Chris Gragg (heat cramps) due to injuries, and the team suffered another one on Sunday with starter Scott Chandler. Last year's leading pass catcher for Buffalo, Chandler had to leave practice in the first hour and did not return at any point. The team announced that the tight end had suffered a groin injury, but any timetable for his return is not immediately clear.
With the third injury to the group, the Bills are now down to two healthy tight ends on their roster in Lee Smith and Dominique Jones, who was just signed by the team on Saturday. Marrone hinted that the team may use some players already on the roster to help out at the spot in the interim, rather than going out and signing another free agent.
One player that could fit into the mold is current fullback Evan Rodriguez, who played tight end both during his college career and at the beginning of his professional career. He has been used exclusively in the backfield as a blocker and receiving option for the team, and is in a battle for that starting position with Frank Summers. Rodriguez is listed as 6-foot-2 and 239-pounds on the team's official roster.
The Bills incurred one other injury during their Sunday practice, having lost wide receiver Kevin Elliott to concussion-like symptoms following a snap during team drills. Elliott ran a post route to the end zone and was wide open, but missed the easy catch. He immediately took his helmet off, walked through the back of the end zone and crouched down as trainers ran over to him.
There could have been some residual effects from the play prior to that one, in which safety Jonathan Meeks laid perhaps the biggest hit of the day on Elliott as he was trying to make a play for the offense. The wideout is battling for one of the final spots available to that position along with the likes of T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley and others.
In addition to Chandler, Moeaki, Gragg and Elliott the Bills also practiced without safety Kenny Ladler, who like Moeaki, suffered a hamstring injury two days ago and hasn't practiced since. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin hasn't taken any snaps during team drills for the past three practices, to which Marrone replied that they were being "smart" with him.
McKelvin had offseason hip surgery and was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list ahead of the start of training camp, which is the reason for the team limiting his snap count during camp. He has since been removed from the PUP list and participated in full through the first four practices of training camp.
The Bills did get the return of one key contributor back to practice. Following a lower body injury sustained on Friday night, running back Fred Jackson was able to get back on the field and took normal repetitions with the team.
The team will get back on the practice field on Monday evening at 6 o'clock. Once again, the session is open to the general public but fans do not need a ticket for entry.
For the first time during the 2014 version of training camp, the Buffalo Bills gave their players their first taste of real football. Before the practice, head coach Doug Marrone announced that the Bills would be going "live" under the lights at St. John Fisher College.
The players dressed in full pads, they got themselves mentally prepared and full contact (except for the quarterbacks, of course) was on for the first time since last December. Who stood out during the real hitting session?
Here's a recap of Day 6 for the Bills:
Issues at right tackle
- Despite the overwhelming thought that the competition between Erik Pears and Cyrus Kouandjio would be one of the key things to watch in camp, it hasn't really gotten too competitive just yet. Kouandjio has struggled to stand out while Pears has been solid to this point in Pittsford, NY. On Saturday night, Pears left the door wide open for Kouandjio to steal some reps with the first unit in the near future but the rookie turned in an even worse performance than his competition. The play of both right tackles was downright dreadful during 11-on-11 work, leading to multiple sacks throughout the practice and a frustrating night for Doug Marrone, Nathaniel Hackett and EJ Manuel. Kouandjio has not been the player the team was expecting when they selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In fact, he has been outplayed by seventh-round selection Seantrel Henderson, who has spent the first week of practice as the first-team left tackle.
8 sacks in 17 plays
- It wasn't only the fault of the right tackle position on Saturday: during one portion of non-contact team drills, the defense came away with the aforementioned statistics. Do the Bills have a solid defensive line? They absolutely do. However, it wasn't just the first unit that was working their way into the pocket at will. Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Xavius Boyd, Bobby Felder and a pair of others were the gentlemen that came away with the sack tallies -- and a reminder: Boyd and Felder were just signed this past week. Thad Lewis and the third team trotted out for their reps, but a bobbled snap was all Marrone needed to see. He stopped that period of work and had the team take a five-minute break to try and get what was easily the worst offensive showing of training camp, thus far, out of their minds.
Henderson showing ability
- If you removed the biographies and watched rookie tackles Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio side-by-side on Saturday, you would think their actual draft positions were reversed. The Bills have been without Cordy Glenn throughout training camp due to an undisclosed illness, which has given Henderson all the reps with the first unit at left tackle. He's had his rookie moments throughout, but he was one of the stronger offensive linemen during the night practice. His best moment came during one-on-one drills up against Mario Williams, the highest paid defensive player in league history, with no one else to help him out. Henderson displayed quick feet, pushed Williams out wide and didn't surrender any territory to the Pro Bowl defensive end. The rookie was called for a hands to the face penalty, but from a technique perspective, he was solid all throughout the rep.
The 'live' highlights
- The entire tone of practice was set early on when the players partook in a full-contact period, and it was there that the defense started showing that Saturday night would be theirs — and in a big way. Out of the 19 plays (unofficial), the offense came away with a good play only three times. One was a 22-yard pass from EJ Manuel to Lee Smith in which the tight end broke some tackles, another a Jeff Tuel read-option keeper and the third was a jump ball deep down the right sideline roped in by Mike Williams. Other than that, it was all defense. Marcell Dareus and Brandon Spikes both flashed against the run when they were on the field. Safety Jonathan Meeks provided the biggest hit of the day, on a Ronnie Wingo rush attempt. Even rookie cornerback Ross Cockrell got a big hit in on wide receiver Kevin Elliott as he attempted to catch a pass along the sidelines, which as you could guess, wound up incomplete. The physicality was there throughout for the defense, and they dominated the live session.
Don't sleep on the Schwartz blitz
- Saturday night was yet another reminder that new defensive coordinator isn't shy to call a blitz, or two, or five. In fact, he did it in bunches and the offense couldn't recover during team drills. He was sending linebackers, safeties, boundary corners, nickel corners, running stunts to confuse the offensive line in their assignments. It was a wildly successful evening for him but it's likely to be expected with such a talent gap between the first-team defensive line in comparison to the first-team offensive line. However, it's what he did with the second and third units that was equally as impressive.
Day 6 MVP: DE Manny Lawson
- Asked to switch back to his position from college, Manny Lawson was a bit slow out of the gates but erupted for a big practice on Saturday night. Lawson found his way into the backfield during one-on-one drills and team drills alike. He also chipped in as a stout edge defender, which is one of his biggest strengths, to bring down a ball carrier quickly on a third-and-long rush attempt. His most impressive pass rushing rep came against rookie Cyrus Kouandjio in the one-on-one drills. Kouandjio started backpedaling and looked stiff and too upright all throughout the rep. Lawson recognized it, used his long arms to push Kouandjio up near his shoulder pads and it sent the right tackle stumbling backwards, allowing the defensive end to walk in for the sack. It was Lawson's best day by a wide margin.
Day 7 LVP: OT Cyrus Kouandjio
- If you've read the recap all the way to this point, you know why.
Injury Update: Leodis McKelvin was dressed for practice but didn't take team drills for the second straight day. Despite that, the team said the starting cornerback is not on the injury report. Running back Fred Jackson, safety Kenny Ladler, tight end Tony Moeaki and tight end Chris Gragg all did not participate in practice.
Up Next: The Bills resume practice on Sunday at St. John Fisher College for the seventh session of training camp. It begins at 2 pm and is open to the general public.
Injuries will always be a part of training camp for a team in the National Football League, and sometimes they come in bunches to effect one position in particular. The Buffalo Bills are no exception to that rule, having suffered two separate injuries to their tight end group in the first week of camp.
Following the release of Mike Caussin earlier in the week, the Bills lost both Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg to injury which left them with only two tight ends on the roster. Moeaki will be out with a hamstring injury for "a significant amount of time" according to head coach Doug Marrone. The head coach clarified that "significant" could mean missing three, or four days of work, and with that reasoning, he did not give a timetable for the tight end's return.
In Gragg's case, he had to be hospitalized a few days ago due to heat cramps and hasn't been able to practice since. Marrone said they're hoping to have him back sometime next week.
With those two unavailable for practice the Bills only had two players (Scott Chandler and Lee Smith) at the position that could practice, which led to the signing of Dominique Jones as an unrestricted free agent. A 6-foot-3, 270-pound tight end out of Shepherd, Jones first entered the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts. He also spent some time with the Kansas City Chiefs and has appeared in 12 games over the past two years.
To make room for Jones, the Bills have released offensive lineman Mark Asper from the roster.
With their first day off while at training camp now behind them, the Buffalo Bills took the field Friday night with a familiar, and quite welcomed face to help lead the defense in their 2014 efforts. Despite his current legal predicaments, that player is vital to the success of the team in the upcoming season.
Following his successful conditioning test on Thursday, Marcell Dareus was back on the field practicing with the Bills on Friday night. The stud defensive tackle did not take long to make his presence felt during team drills, earning some praise just barely an hour into practice.
- Despite missing the first four practices at St. John Fisher College, Marcell Dareus was brought back into the fray as though he never missed any time. When the Bills started up team drills for the first time on Friday, Dareus trotted out on to the field and took reps alongside Kyle Williams with the first-team defense. On his first day back Dareus didn't disappoint, looking light on his feet and getting through the offensive line on a few occasions. On one play, Dareus ripped right tackle Erik Pears aside and made solid contact with EJ Manuel as the quarterback was surveying the field in the pocket. He didn't take all the first-team reps, but received many more than maybe some were expecting considering his six-day conditioning problem.
Hughes continues sterling camp
- Last year's training camp showed that defensive end Jerry Hughes had a definite ability in rushing the passer, often beating his opponent on the offensive line to get into the backfield. That trend has continued into 2014, with seventh-round rookie left tackle Seantrel Henderson taking the brunt of the Hughes-led punishment. Hughes made Henderson look silly on a couple of plays during team drills, with one outside-in move that looked effortless on the defensive end's part. Of course, he is going up against a rookie in practice so there's no use in projecting a bigger season than last year just yet, but Hughes has been a consistent, disruptive force for the defense thus far.
Pair of young CBs flash
- One of the more intense portions of practice on Friday night occurred with the wide receivers and defensive backs going up against one another during one-on-ones. Fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell and the recently signed Kamaal McIlwain were the two cornerbacks that really stood out in that portion of practice, and then extended the positive play into team drills. Cockrell has struggled throughout offseason practices and the first few days of training camp, but he was strong both at the line of scrimmage and in sticking to his receiver on Friday. He was assigned the unenviable task of covering Sammy Watkins during team drills at one point, EJ Manuel looked for his wideout and thought he completed a pass over the middle of the field for about 15 yards. Cockrell was right in Watkins' hip pocket, extended as the wideout tried to make the hands catch and knocked the ball loose for an incompletion. McIlwain consistently played physically against his assignment and only allowed easy yards in front of him. He also showed awareness, reacting to a tipped pass and leaping up for the interception. This isn't the first day McIlwain has looked impressive, but it's been his best day thus far. If he continues this stretch of play, he could be in the mix for the final cornerback spot.
- For the most part in the first four days, the Bills' base defense featured the same three linebackers: Brandon Spikes was at middle linebacker, Keith Rivers at strongside with Nigel Bradham manning the weakside. Having a day off from practice, the team must have decided to get more players in the mix and started a rotation of five different players. Spikes, Rivers, Bradham, rookie Preston Brown and the recently signed Stevenson Sylvester rotated through with the first defensive unit. The fascinating thing, though, was that none of them were locked into a specific position besides Spikes. The Bills are clearly training most of their linebackers to know each of the three positions, and getting them time there on the top unit is a good first step. The peculiar addition to the rotation is Sylvester, who hasn't even been with the team for more than two weeks. The team must have seen something they liked from him on their off day and he was rewarded with additional time on the field.
Backup QB contenders fail to impress
- When head coach Doug Marrone declared that the backup quarterback job was up for grabs between Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel, the expectation is that one would grab the reins and make up the coach's mind for him. If one were to only watch Friday night's practice and be pressed to make a decision on one of them, most would likely take whatever is behind mystery door number three. With that written one must also consider this: it's only the fifth day of practice, meaning there is still a lot of time for improvement. However, both were scattershot during team drills and the red zone 7-on-7 period at the end of practice. Passes were sailing a good four-to-five yards away from their intended targets and a couple of interceptions were thrown along the way. Through the first five days, Tuel has been average but is playing with a lot more confidence than he did last year. Lewis on the other hand has more zip on his passes but has struggled mightily with accuracy since getting to Pittsford, NY. The duo will resume their battle on Saturday.
Day 5 MVP: WR Robert Woods
- Woods is as smooth as they come and for the first time since camp has begun he and EJ Manuel started connecting in the way that they did throughout training camp last year. He provided a sustainable target throughout the evening and brought in anything that was close.
Day 5 LVP: CB Michael Carter
- One of the last players added to the roster ahead of the offseason workouts, Carter didn't only have the problem of getting beat by receivers often during Friday's session. In fact, he made the problem exponentially worse by holding on to the jersey of the receiver after he got beat in a one-on-one setting. Carter was flagged for it three separate times, leading to a lot of long looks from defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson.
Up Next: The Bills are back on the field Saturday night for their second straight practice under the lights. The session starts at 6 pm and is open to the public, but one must have a ticket in order to gain entry.
The return of one of the Buffalo Bills' best players to the practice field on Friday was also coupled with the injury to one of their most popular and well-respected members of the roster. Running back Fred Jackson had to leave the practice prematurely due to an injury and did not return for the rest of the evening.
The Bills were participating in team drills and Jackson received a hand-off that ran him to the right side of the line of scrimmage. He ran hard through the hole, cut up field and ran into a defender in what seemed like a mostly harmless collision. As Jackson got up from the play, he immediately started limping over to the sideline and spun the football away from him in frustration.
The team's training staff examined him for roughly 10 minutes and then eventually walked him back to the locker room. Jackson, who was walking under his own power, suffered what the team is calling a lower leg injury. There is no initial timetable for Jackson at this point in time.
In addition to Jackson, the Bills also lost two others to injury during the Friday night practice at St. John Fisher College. Tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Kenny Ladler each left the session with an injury to their hamstring and had to go to the locker room for further examination.
Cornerback Leodis McKelvin did not take any reps during 11-on-11s Friday, paving the way for free agent acquisition Corey Graham to get time with the first-team defense. McKelvin was limited, while tight end Chris Gragg (heat cramps) and linebacker Randell Johnson (lower body injury) could not participate in practice in any capacity.
The Bills will resume practice on Saturday night, their second straight day with a session under the lights of Growney Stadium. The team will take the field at 6 pm and it will be open to the public, but a ticket is required for entry.
For the first time since they've been back at training camp, the Buffalo Bills had one of their best defensive players on the field and participating in practice. Following his clearance by the medical staff on Thursday, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was back in action for the Bills on Friday night.
Dareus may not have gotten the full amount of repetitions throughout the practice, but he did start out with the first-team defense as he attempted to get back into the swing of things. Following all the off-field issues, his teammates were just happy to have him back on the field.
"It's good," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said after the practice. "With him to come back out here and to start working back and getting ready for the year is a big thing for us. So we're excited to have him and we're gonna work him back into it."
Dareus had to wait until Thursday to pass his conditioning test, having been placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list since Saturday. With a brief excursion down to Alabama for a court date (in which he was excused by head coach Doug Marrone), the defensive tackle did some work with trainers on Wednesday and then passed the running test on Thursday.
Marrone didn't seem over the moon about Dareus' return, but did say they were going to work him back into the mix.
"I take it day by day," said the head coach. "I'm happy to have him back."
Facing felony counts in Alabama and misdemeanor charges in Hamburg, New York, Dareus has had his share of troubles off the field. Now that the team is in training camp and he's with his teammates and coaching staff for most of the time, at least one teammate believes this will quiet things down for a while.
"At this point in time, I think this will probably be the end of it I would think. He's back out here on the field, he passed his conditioning test, we're ready to go," Williams said. "We'll see how everything pans out with all the off field stuff, I'm sure there will be a day for that. But, right now, the good thing about it is he's in pads, we're practicing and he's ready to go."
Both Dareus and defensive tackle Alan Branch passed their conditioning tests on Thursday and were back on the field for practice Friday. The Bills get back on the field for another day of work on Saturday at 6 pm.
For the second straight day, the Buffalo Bills have made moves on their roster. On Thursday the team brought in a reserve offensive lineman to help out in camp while releasing cornerback Brandon Smith. Just hours before their Friday evening practice, the Bills replenished the cornerback position.
The team announced that they've come to terms with free agent cornerback Bobby Felder. A former undrafted free agent out of Nicholls State in 2012, Felder spent the past two seasons on a practice squad. During his rookie season, he was with the Minnesota Vikings practice unit. He then signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the same role in 2013.
To make room for Felder on the roster, the Bills released defensive tackle Colby Way from the team. An undrafted free agent out of the University at Buffalo, Way signed with the team shortly after the 2014 NFL Draft. He was likely made expendable with the signing of defensive tackle Landon Cohen earlier in the week.
The Bills removed one more off their non-participation list for training camp. Seventh-round pick and rookie linebacker Randell Johnson started camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list but has now been cleared by the medical staff and will resume practice with his teammates.
All that remains on the team's non-participation lists are left tackle Cordy Glenn (Active/Non-Football Illness) and linebacker Kiko Alonso (Active/Non-Football Injury). The Bills resume practice Friday night at 6 pm at St. John Fisher College.
Before their first day off from the 2014 version of training camp, the Buffalo Bills got on the field one more time to help improve on their efforts from Tuesday. The offense struggled mightily just a day ago and the Bills entered the field at St. John Fisher College Wednesday with the goal of shaking off any lingering rust.
For the second straight day the team participated in the session in full pads, and the players were a little more physical this time around. Most of the physicality occurred during the first round of one-on-one's between the offensive and defensive linemen, and that's where we'll start.
OL vs DL
- The defense clearly got the better of the offensive line on Tuesday, but the offense more than held their own in this drill Wednesday. The best offensive lineman of the exercise, believe it or not, was right tackle Erik Pears. He took two reps and didn't look distressed in the least bit in thwarting Manny Lawson's attempts to get to the quarterback. Left guard Chris Williams also won both of his attempts, standing up Kyle Williams and then keeping Ikponmwosa Igbinosun at bay. From the defensive perspective, Stefan Charles used a speed move to get by right guard Chris Hairston and then used power to push third-string center Macky MacPherson back into the pocket. Backup left guard Antoine McClain and rookie Cyrus Kouandjio also won both of their matchups.
Pears stiff arms Kouandjio for the time being
- Early on during Organized Team Activities, second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio was getting first-team repetitions at right tackle in addition to Erik Pears. That slowly drifted away, and now Pears has taken every snap with the first unit since training camp started four days ago.
"Erik really feels healthy. He's coming off an injury I guess last year. He's really performed well. It's still going on, nothing is locked in stone yet. It wouldn't be smart of me to sit here right now and say, 'Hey, this is locked in stone, this is locked in stone.' Everyone has to go out there and prove that they can do it and we'll see how it goes as camp goes on. But Erik has done a very good job so far." - Doug Marrone
It appears Kouandjio will either have to step up his game or wait for Pears to falter at some point in camp or the preseason.
Spikes getting a nickel look
- Without Kiko Alonso in the lineup the Bills are mixing and matching personnel with the first unit to see what the best combination is of linebackers in nickel coverage. Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were all expected to get looks in that respect, but middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was always thought to be the one that would come off the field in that scenario. Noted as a solid run defender and also someone that has had struggles in coverage in the past, the nickel isn't a fit for him — at least not on paper. For a few plays during team drills though, Spikes was in the nickel look as one of the two linebackers on the field. His athleticism wasn't tested in these looks, but the Bills are weighing all their options.
Hogan has down day
- Over the past two years in offseason workouts and training camps, one consistent throughout has been the steady play of wide receiver Chris Hogan. He always finds a way to get open and he usually makes at least one tough catch per day. On Wednesday, however, Hogan couldn't seem to perform like he normally does. He was still getting open but had at least two drops on the day, including one that should have been a huge gain down the field. On that specific play, Hogan snuck behind the coverage on a post and the ball was delivered right into his hands, only for him to bobble and eventually drop it. Normally he stands out for the right reasons, but that wasn't the case Wednesday.
Local linebacker stands out
- As the Bills continue their quest to build the best 53-man roster for September, it's fair to note some of the younger, less-heralded players that make solid contributions during practices. One of those on Wednesday was Buffalo native, Canisius High School graduate and undrafted free agent Jimmy Gaines. Getting a solid amount of reps during practice, Gaines especially stood out on a sweep to the right with Anthony Dixon. Gaines didn't hesitate one bit, recognizing the play and weaving his way through traffic to get a tackle for loss. While still likely a longshot to make the team outright, at least he's showing signs of playmaking ability that could help him get on to the practice squad.
Branch in same boat as Dareus
- The Bills made an announcement on Wednesday before training camp started that several players had been put on non-participation lists, and among them was defensive tackle Alan Branch. He, along with Cordy Glenn, was listed on the Active/Non-Football Illness list. However, when Branch came up in conversation with Marrone today, it was revealed that he had failed his conditioning test and that was the reason why he was still on the list. The only peculiar thing was that like Branch, Marcell Dareus failed his conditioning test, but unlike Branch, Dareus was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. The Bills explained that the difference in listings were a mere technicality, and something for Branch was initially flagged and tested for an illness ahead of the conditioning workout, but it was later found to be nothing at all. Basically, Branch and Dareus just have to get themselves in good enough shape to pass their conditioning test.
Day 4 MVP: WR Sammy Watkins
- By now, everyone has seen the catch in the early portion of practice. Watkins continued to dazzle through the day, even burning top cornerback Stephon Gilmore quite easily on a few occasions. So far, so good for the rookie and fourth overall selection.
Day 4 LVP: DE Manny Lawson
- Lawson gets the distinction because he was a non-factor in the one-on-one's conducted between the offensive and defensive linemen. Lawson was no match for Pears and then lost a third time against third-string right tackle Mark Asper. At defensive end, Lawson is a fish out of water as a pass rusher. If Mario Williams or Jerry Hughes go down with an injury, they may need to blitz a bit more to provide consistent pressure. Either that, or they need to sign someone that can provide some better pass rushing depth. It's just not Lawson's strong suit.
Injury Update: CB Brandon Smith missed practice due to a lower body injury. FB Evan Rodriguez and TE Chris Gragg were both held out for the second straight day due to heat cramps which resulted in both being hospitalized. Rodriguez was released on Wednesday, but Gragg remained there.
Up Next: The Bills have Thursday off from practice, then get back on the field Friday for their second night practice of training camp. It starts at 6 pm and is open to the public, but fans need a ticket for entry.
The Buffalo Bills made a concerted effort in the offseason to upgrade the offensive line and now, only four days into training camp, it sounds as though they aren't done after addressing both the left guard and right tackle starting positions. The only other spot in question this offseason is now officially a competition. Kraig Urbik's hold on the starting right guard job is going to require him to tighten his grip a bit.
Head coach Doug Marrone once again explained the the backup quarterback job is an open competition well, and that opened up the questioning for other positions. At right guard, Urbik has been splitting first-team snaps with Chris Hairston, making many wonder if Urbik's job was in trouble.
Asked if right guard was "up for grabs," Marrone's answer was simple: Yes.
Hairston has been getting time as an interior offensive linemen through three of the first four days of camp (the lone exception was when Seantrel Henderson could not practice and Hairston played left tackle), as well as through the duration of the three-day mandatory minicamp in June. A former offensive tackle at Clemson and then later on with the Bills, the fourth-year player is making his first legitimate move to the inside.
Urbik, 28, is signed through the next three seasons and has cap hits of $3.375 million in 2014, $3.675 million in 2015 and then $4 million in 2016. He has served as the Bills starting right guard for each of the past three seasons, but lost a few snaps to the young J.J. 'Unga late in the season.
Hairston, on the other hand, is signed only through this year. He missed all of last season with an undisclosed illness and is attempting to make a comeback and secure a starting job.
The two will likely continue to get reps with the first unit as the team continues to try and determine a winner for the job. The team has a day off scheduled for Thursday and then resume practicing on Friday evening.
On Monday, the Buffalo Bills trotted their prize of the offseason out in front of all the national media and they came away with a lot of praise. The big networks didn't stay for Tuesday's practice, and that was probably for the best from an offensive perspective.
The most humid day of the three practices by far, Tuesday morning provided closure at some positions while others became wide open. It was also the first time of the summer that the Bills practiced in full pads.
- To put it bluntly, the Bills' offense had their worst day of training camp to this point. The quarterbacks weren't on the same page as the wide receivers and the offensive line couldn't consistently keep the defense out of the backfield. Head coach Doug Marrone called the opening parts to the practice "sloppy," and concluded that they need to be better than what they were. No arguments here, or from mostly anyone else that viewed the practice. EJ Manuel was indecisive during 7-on-7s and coupled it with some inaccurate throws to his receivers throughout team drills. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz brought the first taste of his blitzing packages at the offense and caught them off guard for most of the day. It would be prudent not to overreact to such a down day by the offense, considering that it was only one of their first practices. However, they can't afford many more days like that one if they want to progress like they think they can.
Tuel gets some time
- A strong few weeks of offseason workouts for Jeff Tuel (in the opinion of the coaches) mixed with some poor play by normal backup Thad Lewis has put Tuel squarely in the discussion to be the backup quarterback in 2014. Tuel put a lot of effort into improving himself physically from where he was last season and it has helped him get into the mix to be the backup perhaps a year earlier than expected. On Tuesday Tuel and Lewis alternated series with the second offense, and then Marrone confirmed following the session that it was indeed an open competition. The way it looked on day three, Lewis needs to be a lot better than he was to hold off Tuel.
Tori Gurley problems
- One of the biggest issues for Lewis was his inability of getting on the same page with recently signed wide receiver Tori Gurley. On at least three occasions during the practice Lewis looked Gurley's way and delivered the pass in one area of the field, only for Gurley to run an entirely different route than what was expected. It resulted in two incompletions and one interception, which visibly frustrated Lewis — and for good reason. Those types of things will happen during training camp, but it's partially the quarterback's job to make sure everyone gets on the same page.
Kicking competition complete
- One "competition" is over before even starting. The Bills emphatically proclaimed Dan Carpenter their field goal kicker for the 2014 season. In two of their first three practices the Bills worked on their field goal kicking units, and for all 16 attempts Carpenter was the man doing the kicking. Despite selecting Dustin Hopkins in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Bills are giving him no chance to push for the job. Head coach Doug Marrone told reporters following the practice that the only way Hopkins could make the roster would be as a kickoff specialist. The competition, if you can call it that, is over. For what it's worth, Carpenter has hit 15-of-16 field goal attempts.
Moorman wins Round 1
- While there wasn't much to the kicking competition, Brian Moorman is at least facing a bit of a challenge in having to beat out Jake Dombrowski for the punting duties. On the third day of practice, Moorman came away the clear winner. On punts that were designed to gather both distance and hang time, Moorman was far more effective. On seven punts, he averaged a hang time of 4.85 seconds, getting in to the five-second realm twice. Dombrowski's punts were shorter and only had an average hang time of 4.68 seconds on his six attempts. Although Dombrowski had the best individual hang time of the day (5.26), his day wasn't as good as the one Moorman had.
Day 3 MVP: DC Jim Schwartz
- It appeared as though Schwartz had the Bills' offense confused for much of the practice, sending blitzes from his linebackers and cornerbacks both. He overloaded the offensive line and they couldn't do anything to thwart it.
Day 3 LVP: The offensive line
- It didn't matter where the blitz was coming from, the Bills had a hard time picking up a good portion of them throughout the first few parts of 11-on-11s. They started to get the hang of it later on in the practice, but by that point the damage was already done for the day. The defense won Tuesday, and now they await the offense's retort.
Up Next: The Bills get back on the field Wednesday morning at St. John Fisher College. They're scheduled to take the field at 8 am.
For the second straight year in Pittsford, New York, the Buffalo Bills have a quarterback competition on their hands. No, not the most obvious one. EJ Manuel is still firmly the top man on the depth chart and will enter the 2014 season as the starter.
The competition lies within the backup role, meaning Thad Lewis has a battle on his hands if he wants to keep his job as the next man in this season. Second-year quarterback Jeff Tuel, who made one start during the 2013 season, split time with the second offense on Tuesday which raised some eyebrows.
Head coach Doug Marrone confirmed the suspicions to the surrounding media.
"We have a battle for the second-team quarterback," he said bluntly. "We're trying to find out who it is, Jeff did a nice job in OTAs and he's earned himself some more reps."
Tuel has the prototypical frame in comparison to Lewis, and the team has always said they believe in him as a long-term option as a backup quarterback. Given the new opportunities so short into his second training camp, Tuel isn't taking anything for granted and is making sure to do all the little things.
"I feel like I've progressed tremendously in the mental aspect of the offense, and just learning protection and plays and where to go with the ball when and stuff like that," he said. "That's just what I need to continue to do. I'm just going to play the best I can every day and wherever it takes me is just where it takes me."
Any time Tuel's name was brought up and the Bills were asked what they would like to see from him, some variation of the words 'he needs to get stronger,' was used. The second-year quarterback took it to heart, nailed down a program with the training staff to get leaner in the offseason and has come back to the Bills with a new physique.
"I feel a lot stronger and a lot better," Tuel said. "I'm lighter on my feet and stuff. I definitely took that upon myself this offseason and took it pretty serious."
With Marrone declaring that there is indeed a competition to be Manuel's backup, the expectation is that both Tuel and Lewis will continue to split time with the second offense for the next few practices at least. The two will get back on the field on Wednesday morning to continue their attempts in impressing the coaching staff.
Practice resumes at 8 am at St. John Fisher College and is once again open to the general public.
Through the first five days of training camp at St. John Fisher College, one of the biggest storylines have been about stud defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and when he'll be able to get back on the field for practice. After having been excused from the team on Monday to attend a court hearing in Alabama, Dareus was expected back on Monday evening.
Mother nature got in the way, apparently, and disallowed Dareus' return to the team. Head coach Doug Marrone told reporters following Tuesday's practice that the flight for Dareus back to the team had been delayed until Tuesday morning due to inclement weather, and now they have the full expectation that the defensive tackle will be back in Pittsford, NY at some point in the day.
Dareus flew down to Alabama to officially be accepted into a pretrial program that could result in his felony charges being dropped if successfully completed. He was arrested and charged with two felony counts in May for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.
Adding another layer to the story, Dareus also hasn't been able to take the field for the team after a failed conditioning test on Saturday. The team said they'll continue to evaluate him and determine when they believe he'll be ready to take the test again. No timetable has been given, but the Bills remained confident that he'll get back on the field.
Dareus rejoins the team for practice on Wednesday at 8 am, and will likely work with trainers to the side of the session.
The Buffalo Bills are now through their first three practices of the summer and have been fairly fortunate when it comes to lingering injuries at this point. Outside of a few bumps and bruises, most of the roster has been healthy to start training camp at St. John Fisher College.
The Bills got their first bit of bad news on Tuesday regarding two players on their roster. Cornerback Brandon Smith and linebacker Darrin Kitchens, each who were injured during Monday afternoon's practice, have suffered what head coach Doug Marrone termed a "lower body injury."
Both Smith and Kitchens, according to the head coach, will be out for a period of time.
Smith is battling with the likes of Ron Brooks to stick on the active roster at cornerback following the completion of the preseason. He is a former college wide receiver that converted to cornerback upon entering the NFL.
Kitchens is an undrafted free agent out of Florida that is presently buried on the depth chart despite the injury to Kiko Alonso. He's likely considered to be a longshot to make the roster.
The Bills were able to get through practice on Tuesday without a single injury. They did, however, hold out both fullback Evan Rodriguez and tight end Chris Gragg from the session due to heat cramps.
The team gets back on the field on Wednesday at 8 am for practice. Once again, it will be available and open to the general public.
For the second straight day the NFL world revolved around Pittsford, New York, as the Buffalo Bills were once again the only team to have a practice. That will change in short order as the rest of the teams start reporting to camp over the course of the next week, but with the spotlight still on the Bills, their prized addition of the 2014 offseason showed off in a big way.
Watkins wreaks havoc
- Sammy Watkins picked a great day to have his best practice as a member of the Buffalo Bills. With the bigwigs at ESPN, NFL Network, FoxSports1 and the MMQB all in attendance on Monday afternoon, Watkins put on a show for all to see. The crowd 'oohed,' 'aahed,' and cheered anytime the first-round selection touched the ball... and it happened quite a lot. He burned Leodis McKelvin very early on in the practice deep, he caught a pass tight in coverage with a defender on his way to him and then he jumped up on a tipped pass to bring it in over three defenders, all while getting poked in the eye. It's been a great start for Watkins to say the least.
A plus and minus for EJ
- The evolution of EJ Manuel as a quarterback continues with every day at training camp, and today had a brief example of what he needs to do more of, in addition to what he needs to stay away from. First, the good: Manuel saw Watkins have a step on his man on a 12-yard slant, recognized the underneath coverage from the linebacker and fed the ball into the perfect spot over the hands of the linebacker and just short of the oncoming safety. He allowed his receiver to make a play and trusted himself in the process. He needs to do more of that, especially in game settings. On the negative side of things, Manuel stared down his target over the middle of the field and allowed undrafted rookie safety Kenny Ladler to step through the receiver and pick off the pass. That's the second straight day Manuel tipped his hand and it resulted in an interception.
- The second day of practice was not kind to cornerback Ron Brooks to say the least. Brooks got beat down the sideline deep for a touchdown twice during one-on-one battles, and then completely blew an assignment during team drills that left Chris Hogan wide open on the sideline for a reception and a subsequent touchdown. Brooks can't afford many more days like he had on Monday if he wants to make the roster. The Bills likely already have five spots spoken for at cornerback (Gilmore, McKelvin, Graham, Robey, Cockrell) and they could choose either to just go with those five or settle on Brooks, Kamaal McIlwain, Mario Butler or Brandon Smith for a sixth spot. The point is, his safety is not guaranteed in 2014.
Back to a little order on the O Line
- When Cordy Glenn couldn't get on the field for the first day of practice and then rookie Seantrel Henderson, who was taking the first-team left tackle repetitions in his place, got injured within the first hour of practice, some were quick to say the Bills were doomed. Less than 24 hours later, Henderson was back on the field taking reps with the first team and all was right again in the world -- outside of Glenn not being available, of course. There wasn't any variation with the right tackle in first-team reps, with Erik Pears continuing to get all of them. At right guard, however, Kraig Urbik lost some snaps to the challenging Chris Hairston just as he did at mandatory minicamp. That job could be for the taking.
Spikes needs to cool off
- The Bills welcomed in Brandon Spikes in the offseason to help stop a problem that has plagued them for some time: allowing teams to run all over them. While those are the big plans for him and his one-year contract, he had to end his practice early. It was quite a hot and humid day in Pittsford, NY, and Spikes got a cramp and went and spoke with the trainers. They immediately removed his helmet and shoulder pads, and dabbed a cold towel on the back of his neck. After a few minutes of observation, he was sent to the cooling tent to take a dip in the pool right next to the field. There isn't any word on if he'll be back for Tuesday's practice, but dehydration on a football field must always be taken seriously. It was a good job by both Spikes and the Bills to recognize it and not push through it.
Bradham buzz building from Marrone
- Nigel Bradham was once again taking first-team snaps at weakside linebacker and has a big opportunity in front of him. Head coach Doug Marrone was asked about Bradham specifically, and really complimented the linebacker on what he's done so far in 2014:
"I saw a change, more of a commitment from him when we came back, which I give him a lot of credit for. He came back and really had a solid OTAs and really played well. I think that when obviously the situation with Kiko, and talking with Jim, and we've been talking about Nigel for a while of how pleased we were with his play. We said, hey you know what, we've got a guy that's been playing real well, that's a heck of an athlete, that's played and has done some good things and I'm excited about him having that opportunity."
Camp's first skirmish
- Much to the dismay of head coach Doug Marrone, wide receiver Robert Woods and safety Da'Norris Searcy got into a bit of a scuffle following a play during team drills. The two locked up and never let go, with both players ending up on the ground. Teammates quickly swooped in and broke up the pair of players, with defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson taking Searcy aside and having a word with him. Since Marrone has been head coach, he has continuously said that he wants his players to stay away from that behavior in practice. Searcy and Woods both got back on the field and took a rep two plays later without any other words exchanged. It appears Marrone's message sunk in.
Day 2 MVP: WR Sammy Watkins
- It didn't matter what the route was or where the ball was thrown, Watkins caught everything on Monday.
Day 2 LVP: CB Ron Brooks
- Three (really) bad beats is enough to bench a player in a game. Brooks needs to be a lot better and way more consistent if he has designs on making the 53-man roster.
Up Next: The Bills get back on the practice field bright and early Tuesday morning at St. John Fisher College. The practice will be held at 8 am, and open to the general public.
The Buffalo Bills got done with practice Monday and head coach Doug Marrone was once again asked about the process that star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will go through to get back on the field.
During that answer, Marrone dropped a tidbit of information that Dareus actually wasn't in attendance at training camp on Monday, catching a few off guard.
"At the present time, I have excused Marcell," the coach revealed. "He is taking care of some personal stuff, but he'll be like everybody else. You've seen him before on the side, training and getting ready to pass the physical."
That "personal stuff" Marrone referred to was a court date in Alabama according to Jeff Russo of WKBW. At this hearing, the judge accepted Dareus into a pretrial program that could result in the dismissal of all his felony charges in Alabama if completed successfully.
In addition to the pretrial program, Dareus must also go through the NFL program regarding the same charges and "provide the court with periodic updates," according to Russo.
While Marrone didn't provide any of those specific facts, he did tell reporters that Dareus is expected to be back with the team at St. John Fisher College at some point on Monday night. That is not the only issue for Dareus, however.
As it was previously alluded to in Marrone's quote, the defensive tackle needs to pass a conditioning test in order to get on the field for the Bills. He failed the first test on Saturday and was promptly placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list.
The head coach said it was the running portion of the conditioning test. The next time he'll take it will be when the team's weight coaches "feel that he's ready," according to Marrone.
ESPN's Sal Paolontonio told WGR Sports Radio 550 Monday morning that Dareus wouldn't take the test until Thursday or Friday at the earliest. The Bills get back on the practice field Tuesday morning at 8 am, likely without Dareus once again.
Since it was announced on the Wednesday heading into training camp, not much has been learned about Buffalo Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn and why he was listed on the Active/Non-Football Illness list. The starting player, and perhaps the best offensive lineman on the Bills' roster, is set to miss practices until cleared.
At this point, there is no end in sight for the illness that has claimed the first two practices for Glenn. Head coach Doug Marrone, despite repeated attempts from the media on Monday, couldn't give any other details regarding Glenn's situation.
"I don't know that. It's a medical condition. I'm preparing to go on as if he's not playing, which he's not," Marrone said. "I'm just waiting for the doctors, and I can't speak about the condition because it's something that happened outside of football."
Even trying to get a gauge on the situation, Marrone was asked if he is fearing the worst in regards to his starting left tackle.
"I'm not allowed to speak about it guys. I'm sorry about that."
One of Glenn's teammates along the offensive line is center Eric Wood, and he expressed optimism about the left tackle's outlook. It's really been the only real claim anyone has made about Glenn to this point.
"And then with Cordy, that was kind of bad luck," Wood told WGR Sports Radio 550 Monday morning. "As far as I know, he had an illness and he'll be back."
Without their normal starter on the field, seventh-round pick and rookie Seantrel Henderson has been getting the first-team repetitions at left tackle. Glenn may return whenever medically cleared by the doctors on the Bills' staff, though Marrone could not provide any timetable for any testing in the future.
A native of Buffalo and former training camp mainstay is back with the Bills organization. The team announced shortly before the start of their second practice of the summer that wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt has been re-signed by the organization.
Roosevelt originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of the University at Buffalo, spending two whole seasons with the Bills until his release in 2012. He then hooked on with the Cleveland Browns on the practice squad, then with the Detroit Lions' practice squad in 2013. The Lions recently released the graduate of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute.
Roosevelt will be joined on the roster by former seventh-round pick and defensive tackle Landon Cohen. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Cohen played with both the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears last season and has eight career starts since entering the league in 2008. He was added likely as a result of the Bills being without both Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch (Active/Non-Football Injury) to start camp.
To make room on the roster, the Bills have released wide receiver Ramses Barden and linebacker Nathan Williams. The roster remains at 90 players with the transactions.
When all the players on the Buffalo Bills were busy enjoying their time away and preparing for whatever Fourth of July celebrations they had planned, they were simultaneously greeted by news that would have a distinct effect on their season. Top linebacker and defensive rookie of the year runner up Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL training in Oregon, likely ending his season.
Alonso played a key role for the Bills in 2013 in taking every single defensive snap and also serving as the signal caller for the defense. The team thought they could make him into an even more productive player just by switching him to weakside linebacker ahead of all the offseason workouts.
He seemed destined for another big step, but now they won't get any satisfaction in the move likely until the 2015 season. In his stead, the man getting the first crack at the starting lineup at weakside is former fourth-round selection Nigel Bradham.
Bradham, however, couldn't help but feel a bit torn when he initially heard the news about Alonso.
"Me and Kiko, we're close, we're just really close -- pretty much like brothers. For that to happen to him, somebody that works so hard. I know how he works hard, I work out with him," he said. "It's a hurtful feeling for that to happen to such a good guy with great character."
The adoration and subsequent sadness for the injured Alonso didn't stop there. Bradham didn't minimize the loss one bit.
"Huge part of the defense, leader of our defense, really. Signal caller, made tremendous plays. He's actually one of the best linebackers in the league right now," he said. "So for that to happen [to someone] who works so hard, it's devastating, man. It really was."
With weakside linebacker all but locked up by Alonso ahead of the July 1 news, Bradham was likely training to compete for the other outside linebacker position that wasn't nearly as set in stone: strongside linebacker.
The Bills signed Keith Rivers in the offseason to a two-year contract to play that role, but it was also Bradham's best chance to see the field in a defensive capacity. Those courses changed, almost immediately, when general manager Doug Whaley announced Alonso's season was likely over.
"Any way I can contribute to the team, I know they're counting on me to step up," Bradham remarked. "They know what I can do and I know what I can do. We can't replace Kiko but you can have some guys step up and make some plays just as well, and that's one of the things you have to do."
The third-year player doesn't have the job wrapped up by any means. However, he is the most natural fit to get time at weakside linebacker of any player on the active roster. While he doesn't possess the same reaction time as the man he's charged with replacing, Bradham still has plus-instincts that puts him in position to make plays dating back to his days at Florida State.
Before getting to Buffalo, he manned the weakside linebacker spot for the Seminoles throughout his career and flourished in that role. He was noted for his big hits and athletic ability, which helped him stick with the Bills as an important depth player.
Even heading into 2013, Bradham looked primed to take over as the inside linebacker next to Alonso in the team's 3-4. He was getting ample repetitions with the first-team defense for the first two weeks at training camp.
Then, Bradham effectively shot himself in the foot with a brand new coaching staff that he was trying to impress. Following the team's second preseason game in 2013, Bradham was pulled over at 2 am and ticketed for marijuana possession.
From that point forward, despite getting the charge dismissed in September, the linebacker had to effectively work his way up from the bottom once again. He was in the doghouse of head coach Doug Marrone. Arthur Moats took his place with the first-team defense and it wasn't until late in the year that Bradham got meaningful snaps in games again.
He knew he screwed up and he still knows it to this day, which is why he brought it up Sunday without even being asked.
"I had a couple off-the-field issues that kind of set me back, because a lot of stuff went on. But that was one of those things, I just had to grow up and learn from that," Bradham said. "I feel like that kind of humbled me and got me back to the ground like how I was before all of that stuff."
The linebacker has a tremendous opportunity in front of him to take the reins at a high profile position in a 4-3 defense. Describing the weakside spot as one that allows players to free style and to "pretty much just roam around and just play football," he could play a vital role for the Bills if he hangs on to the opportunity.
He will be challenged most notably by rookie third-round pick Preston Brown, but Bradham will get every chance to fulfill the potential the Bills saw in him as a rookie and even last year.
"You have to be ready for any opportunity that you have," he said. "For me, it's exciting to be out there getting a lot of reps, making calls and just trying to make plays... make the defense better."
The Buffalo Bills opened up the training camp season for the National Football League on Sunday night and did so in front of a packed house at St. John Fisher College. As the team clustered together just outside the locker room facility to get ready to run on the field, the reality of the new season had finally arrived.
The Bills have already dealt with their fair share of drama even over the past week with some of their top players, but that was all pushed aside when the players got on to the field. As one would expect the first day back from an extended break resulted in a slow start for some, while others hit the ground running.
Manuel's first day back
- The Buffalo Bills are looking for EJ Manuel to take the next step in his progression as a starting quarterback in the league. It's a very vague request, but one that can only be seen and established during the regular season. In his first day back at training camp Manuel had mixed results despite having a couple of new toys to throw to. On the positive side of things, Manuel looked extremely comfortable when he rolled out of the pocket and it even appeared that his downfield vision improved once he gave himself a new angle to throw from. One on play in particular Manuel rolled to his right, let Robert Woods find the soft spot in the zone along the sideline and delivered a perfect pass to him. On the downside, some of the demons from last year that plagued him reappeared in spots. Manuel failed to look off the safety on a deeper throw, put too much loft on the ball and was intercepted. He also had a few instances of misfiring on some of his intermediate targets. It was every player's first day back, so it's hard to be too critical, unless of course it becomes habitual.
Summer of Sammy
- The Bills made the move during the 2014 NFL Draft to trade up and select Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and the fans in attendance at St. John Fisher College made sure they let the newest pass catcher know he was welcomed with open arms. Anytime Watkins did anything somewhat positive, it drew a large round of applause from the fans. Watkins made it easy for them to admire him from afar, as he will in most practices where there is barely any contact. In those settings, the rookie will likely dominate just because of his skill set and overwhelming athleticsm. However, Watkins displayed a good chemistry with Manuel in their first practice together and made at least one tough, contested catch over the middle of the field. The real test will be how he reacts to either a padded practice or in his first few preseason games to see if he operates with similar ease.
Flash dazzles, then dashes practice
- Among the top four receivers on the roster, the Bills don't have anyone quite as fast as second-year player Marquise Goodwin when he's at full health. That's the way things started on Sunday night and opposing cornerbacks had a world of trouble trying to stay with him in one-on-one battles. On one play, Goodwin turned Leodis McKelvin (who is also trying to recover from offseason hip surgery) inside out in one of the best beats of the day. Goodwin also flew down the field for a deep ball connection, but then had to be removed from practice due to "medical" reasons. He revealed later on Twitter that it had to deal with "sickle cell" and "asthma," while the team divulged that he would be ready for practice on Monday.
Absences and their replacements
- Heading into training camp, the Bills were set to take the field for their first practice without their starting weakside linebacker, their starting left tackle, one of their starting defensive tackles and their best substitute at the same position. While their presences were sorely missed on the field and will continue to be if any of them have extended absences, the Bills had to go on with some younger players taking meaningful reps. Kiko Alonso is likely lost for the season due to his torn ACL, and on Sunday third-year player Nigel Bradham took all the first-team snaps as the weakside linebacker. At left tackle, seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson opened at that position with the first squad, but a hip injury forced him to miss the rest of practice and Chris Hairston took over from there. With both Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch unavailable for practice, reserve defensive tackle Corbin Bryant was the man next to Kyle Williams with the top unit, while Stefan Charles was their top sub.
Igbinosun chipping in
- The absences of both Dareus and Branch made it so the Bills only had three defensive tackles with some game experience available to them for Sunday's practice. Kyle Williams, Corbin Bryant and Stefan Charles all got their share of time, but undrafted free agents Colby Way and Damien Jacobs didn't get much playing time during team drills. To complete two separate rotations of defensive tackles the Bills elected to use Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, a normal defensive end, as the second-team tackle next to Charles. Igbinosun is a bigger end (6-foot-3, 286-pounds) that can help control the line of scrimmage and may have helped himself to be in a brighter light for the coaching staff by showing he can play all along the defensive line.
No kicking competition in Buffalo?
- In the 2013 NFL Draft the Bills used on of their choices on Florida State's Dustin Hopkins, hoping that he would be the big-legged kicker that could cut through the wind at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the winter months. An injured groin changed the course for the Bills and their field goal plans in 2013, but it also helped them find their next mainstay at the position. If there was any thought that Hopkins had a chance to unseat Dan Carpenter, that line of thinking was openly challenged by the Bills not even giving Hopkins an opportunity to kick field goals on Sunday. Instead, Carpenter was given all eight attempts and made each one of them. It appears Hopkins' only hope may be to steal a roster spot as a kickoff specialist.
Day 1 MVP: S Aaron Williams
- On a day where everyone was trying to get back into the swing of things, it appeared as though Aaron Williams didn't need that warmup period. The team's starting free safety was challenged only a handful of times but made sure not a single big play was made while he was in the vicinity. During a one-on-one rep against tight end Scott Chandler, Williams looked like he lost a step on the initial route but then allowed his natural athleticism to kick into high gear and got in position for a potential interception. It was an over-the-shoulder attempt that didn't result in the safety picking off the pass, but he was in perfect position to force the incompletion. He went on to get his interception later in the day, reading the eyes of EJ Manuel during 7-on-7s and forcing the turnover.
Day 1 LVP: CB Brandon Smith
- A former college wide receiver, the first day for Smith was not kind to him especially during the one-on-one portions. His first downfall was against veteran wide receiver Mike Williams on what looked to be a pass that could have been intercepted. It was a little underthrown by the quarterback and Smith was in position, but Williams was able to wrestle the ball away from Smith for a catch and a big gain. It's still quite a short amount of time since Smith converted to the defensive side of the ball, but turning and running with the receiver on a deep ball also plagued the cornerback's day.
Up Next: Practice resumes Monday, July 21 at 2 pm. The session is open to the general public.
With Cordy Glenn starting training camp on the Active/Non-Football Illness list, Buffalo Bills seventh-round pick and rookie Seantrel Henderson had a humongous opportunity in front of him. Glenn's absense to start camp paved the way for Henderson to take the first-team reps at left tackle as the team opened up at St. John Fisher College.
That opportunity only lasted under an hour into the team's first practice of summer, however.
As the players were going through positional drills the rookie walked gingerly to the back of the end zone near where they were taking reps and the Bills training staff began a series of tests on him. Just a few minutes later, Henderson was sent back to the locker room and missed the remainder of practice.
After the session wrapped up the Bills relayed that Henderson had suffered a hip injury in the early stages of practice. His status for Monday's practice and beyond, however, is unknown to this point in time. After he left the field, former fourth-round selection Chris Hairston took first-team reps at left tackle.
Speedy wide receiver Marquise Goodwin also had to leave the team's first practice prematurely. Fortunately for the Bills, Goodwin simply had something "medical" that the training staff addressed in the locker room. The team expects him to be back at practice on Monday.
Second-year tight end Chris Gragg was the only other player to be checked on by the training staff on Sunday night. Gragg suffered a cramp near the end of practice and was held out for what little time was remaining. He's expected to return in time for Monday's practice as well.
The Bills will hold their second practice of training camp on Monday afternoon at 2 pm. The session is open to the general public.
The challenging offseason for Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has extended into the start of training camp. A few hours after the team held their yearly conditioning workout the day before the first training camp practice at St. John Fisher College, the team announced that Dareus has been place on a non-participation list to start.
He and offensive lineman J.J. 'Unga were each placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list on Saturday. With that designation, both Dareus and 'Unga will likely not be available to practice with the team during their first session in Pittsford on Sunday night.
The reason for the pair to be placed on this list has not been revealed at this point in time, but the media is scheduled to speak with head coach Doug Marrone ahead of Sunday's practice. Like all training camp designations, the players can be removed from those lists by being cleared by the team's medical staff.
As an example, the Bills have already activated one of those players from a different non-participation list. Starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list earlier in the week, was activated and brought back on to the normal 90-man roster.
McKelvin had offseason hip surgery and didn't participate much during the offseason OTA and mandatory minicamp workouts, leading the Bills to try and bring him along slowly. Following the conditioning testing, McKelvin was deemed ready to participate in practices.
The first session gets started Sunday night at 6 pm. A ticket is needed for entry, but if fans were hoping to attend and haven't gotten one already, there are no more tickets available to fans for the practice from the team.
On Friday afternoon Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley said they were in the process of bringing in two young players and that an announcement could be coming on Saturday. Whaley was a man of his word.
The team announced Saturday morning that they've signed wide receiver Tori Gurley and cornerback Kamaal McIlwan. Both players participated in the team's mandatory minicamp on a tryout basis in June.
Gurley is a 6-foot-4, 230-pound wideout that spent the 2013 season with the Cleveland Browns. He first came to the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina, and has had stops with five other teams besides the Browns and Bills (Vikings, Raiders, Buccaneers, Chargers, Ravens) already in his short career.
Like Gurley, McIlwan also entered the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Newberry College. His only previous stop was with the Kansas City Chiefs, who released him ahead of the 2013 season. The cornerback stands at 5-foot-10 and 175-pounds.
The tall wide receiver and undersized cornerback replaces the tall wide receiver and undersized cornerback that was just released from the roster on Friday. Gurley and McIlwan replace wideout Cordell Roberson and cornerback Darius Robinson.
With the move on Saturday, the team's roster is back up to it's full capacity of 90 players.
In less than two weeks the sale process will reach it's next step and prospective owners will start to see the more detailed financial information of the Buffalo Bills. In the meantime, some of those interested in purchasing the franchise are having their intentions made public, and the Toronto-based group of rocker Jon Bon Jovi, Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family have expressed interest in buying the Bills.
According to John Wawrow of the Associated Press, the group has hired a banking firm and sent their paperwork to the Bills in order to gain access to the franchise's financial information. Their, and other prospective buyers' next step will be to provide more paperwork by the July 29 deadline, which includes their own financial information for the team's financial and legal firms to review.
Bon Jovi was only rumored to be interested in the Bills prior to the report, and now both Tanenbaum and the Rogers family (most notably Edward), have been tied to the rock star as well. According to Wawrow, there is no indication at this point if the Toronto-based group would bid on the franchise with the intention to move it north of the border.
The Bills current lease has a brief window in 2020 to break the lease with Erie County and Ralph Wilson Stadium to move the franchise for a penalty of $28.4 million. At any other time during the span of the lease, the team would be assessed a $400 million penalty if attempting to move the franchise.
In addition to the Toronto group, one man previously linked to the sale of the team didn't do anything to remove speculation of his intentions of bidding on the franchise. Speaking with WKBW on Friday, Syracuse developer Scott Congel did not deny that he's interested in bidding.
"The speculation may be correct," Congel said. "Obviously we have a strong interest in making sure that the Buffalo Bills stay in western New York, and we're taking a serious look at it."
Congel was mentioned in the same breath as another prospective bidder, Tom Golisano, and at one point there was some thought that the two sides would team up. Since that speculation, Tim Graham of The Buffalo News reported that the pairing were no longer working together. The report also said Golisano was intending on bidding on the team by himself.
In addition to the Toronto-based group, Golisano and now Congel, other prospective buyers that have been reported to have interest include Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, Donald Trump as well as Jeffrey Gundlach. The Bills were most recently given a value of $870 million by Forbes.
Most were caught by surprise when the Buffalo Bills sent out a press release earlier in the week that had three prominent players on the roster starting training camp on non-participation lists.
Of the three, the most notable was left tackle Cordy Glenn who didn't participate in full at the mandatory minicamp due to an illness. While it isn't known if it's the same illness that labeled him with this status, Glenn was placed on the Active/Non-Football Illness list.
Most remember Bills offensive lineman Chris Hairston and his battle with the same status during last year's training camp. Hairston ended up on that list permanently, ending his season without ever getting on the field.
Is Glenn's season in jeopardy? General manager Doug Whaley answered that when addressing the media on Friday.
"We don't think so at this time. It's just gonna have to see on how he progresses. We hope not," Whaley said. "We're still waiting on some reports on him, but it looks like it's gonna be one of those day-to-day things and we'll see how it progresses."
In addition to Glenn, defensive tackle Alan Branch received the same designation just a few days before training camp was set to begin. In the GM's explanation of the condition, the team is also awaiting on the word from their medical staff as to when Branch can be available.
"When he came in and did his physicals, there were some tests that came back that we need to wait on and see if everything is okay," Whaley remarked. "If they come back okay, he will be out on the field. He is at camp now, though."
Cornerback Leodis McKelvin will also start training camp on the sidelines because the Bills placed him on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list. Whaley said it wasn't a new injury, but the team would rather work him back in slowly following the cornerback's offseason hip surgery. There was no immediate timetable for McKelvin's return.
For any of the three, they can be activated from their non-participation lists as soon as they get full clearance from the team's medical staff. The Bills get on the practice field for the first time at St. John Fisher College on Sunday night.
Right in the middle of the final lull and time off throughout the summer, the Buffalo Bills received some of the worst news that they could have. Defensive rookie of the year runner up and stud linebacker Kiko Alonso tore his ACL, likely ending his season before the team ever got to training camp.
"It's nothing you want to hear on your vacation," general manager Doug Whaley told reporters Friday. "Absolutely it was a shock."
Since the injury was discovered and the team announced that he was likely lost for the year, the Bills set Alonso up for surgery as soon as possible. Whaley updated the linebacker's status post-operation.
"[He] had his surgery and from all the reports we're getting it was successful surgery," he said. "We're expecting him to be back after camp, let the swelling go down, do some rehab there, but he'll be back in Buffalo when we break camp."
Whaley was mum, however, on how the injury happened. The GM simply said that he wasn't there, and that he was going to let Alonso's camp handle the explanation of the injury.
The news leaves a big hole at linebacker in the team's switch back to the 4-3 defensive scheme, eliminating their starting weakside linebacker, and likely the man that was going to lead the defense in snaps for the second straight season. Whaley mentioned the young trio of rookie Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham and Ty Powell as candidates to get time on the field in Alonso's absence.
"This happens, injury is a part of the game. It's not an excuse for us, it can't be an excuse for the team and it won't be," he said. "It's exciting times for those guys and exciting times for us to say, alright, what we saw on these guys is true and they can play."
The player that will have the most on his plate due to Alonso's injury? Free agent acquisition Keith Rivers, who was initially signed to be the team's strongside linebacker. Now with Alonso out, there's no telling where Rivers will slot in, but he'll be seeing a lot more time on the field.
"He's going to have to step up and take the lead, between him and Spikes and whoever takes the other one," the GM replied. "But I think he can play on special teams and on passing downs and nickel situations."
More clarity will be had when the Bills have their first official practice at St. John Fisher College on Sunday night. The first of many practices will be held on July 20 at 6 pm.
Training camp has claimed the jobs of two members of the Buffalo Bills a full two days ahead of the team's first official practice. As players were moving into their dorm rooms on Friday, the team announced that they've released wide receiver Cordell Roberson and cornerback Darius Robinson from the roster.
Roberson joined the Bills during the 2013 season, signing with the practice squad at the end of October. He was one of the taller receivers the team had initially planned on bringing to training camp, standing at 6-foot-4. He was entering his second year in the league out of Stephen F. Austin.
Robinson joined the Bills shortly after the 2014 NFL Draft, signing as an undrafted free agent with the team. The undersized cornerback injured himself in one of the first practices of Organized Team Activities and could not get back on the field at a consistent level for the remainder of offseason workouts.
With the release of both players, the Bills roster now sits at 88. General manager Doug Whaley spoke with reporters on Friday afternoon and said they are intending on bringing the roster back up to it's full capacity of 90.
"We're in the process of looking at two guys now," he said. "We've got to get some physicals and stuff like that, so we may have an announcement [Saturday]."
Whaley said the team intends to sign two younger players, not veterans. The Bills have a conditioning workout on Saturday, followed by their first official practice of training camp on Sunday night.
The Buffalo Bills are entering a season that brings high hopes with both a head coach and quarterback in their second year with the team. Many within the orgainization believe the Bills have the talent to make the jump into the postseason, but national pundits and betting websites are still skeptical.
That doesn't seem to have an effect on starting safety Aaron Williams. He's used to the lack of respect since he's been in the National Football League.
"It's nothing new. It's every year. Everybody thinks we're just the same old Bills -- and that's fine with me," he said. "They think we're the same old Bills that every year everybody gets hyped up for an incredible season, then people get let down with a 6-win season. To me, I'm getting tired of it as well."
For many, the belief exists that you won't change the results unless you change the way you prepare. Williams is subscribing to that theory for 2014.
"We're not gonna play any games this year," the safety said. "To me, I'm getting tired of it as well. It's a new attitude I'm bringing to the table. We're going to be a winning team and we're gonna come out here with a new attitude and be aggressive, and bring this city more wins."
General manager Doug Whaley also welcomed the criticism and agreed that it was warranted, but is very clear in their designs to change that perception.
"They should. We haven't done anything. We've got a lot to prove," Whaley remarked. "Like Russ [Brandon] said, we won't hide from it. We haven't been to the playoffs in a long time, and we owe it to the fans, our late owner and everybody in this business to show that we're not the Bills anymore. We want to be a playoff team and we're planning to be a playoff team, and that's our goal."
As Williams, Whaley and the rest of the team knows, talk is cheap unless one actually goes out and does what they say they will on the field. Fans will get their first glimpse of that new attitude on Sunday during the team's first practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Why he's here:
- Dareus tops the list for many different reasons. Out of all the players on the Bills' roster, he is the player that has the best blend of natural skill level, actual performance on the field and he's young enough to project a very long and strong career into the future. When Dareus is on, he makes it look easy. That's not to say he didn't struggle early on in his career, because he did. In his rookie season he was inconsistent but showed flashes of greatness. In his second year, Dareus became a little bit more consistent but still wasn't overwhelming offensive lineman consistently enough. Last year, the former third overall pick was quite close to being dominant on more than a handful of plays each game. With that type of progression over the first three years, there's no telling how good Dareus can become in the future. He has all the size and the physicality to rip offensive linemen to the ground and get off blocks to stop plays before they start. Despite his off-the-field troubles, he tops the list of top 20 talents heading into training camp.
- Much will be decided about Dareus' short-term outlook by the league office. He may face a suspension for two separate off-the-field incidents that resulted in him accruing charges for his poor decision making. If you speak with Dareus a few times, you'll come away knowing that football is everything to him. With the threat of that being taken away, Dareus could be at the age where the immaturity finally starts to fade. He's at a bit of a crossroads at this point: He could become one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the game, or he could waste that talent by continuing to make poor decisions. He'll need to prove to the Bills that he is a changed man starting this season, and use all his frustrations to terrorize opposing teams when he is on the field.
Ladies and gentlemen…. number two on the list of the top 20 Bills.
WR Sammy Watkins
Age: 21 (6/14/93) Height: 6'1" Weight: 211
Why he's here:
- There is a clear reason why the Bills traded their first-round pick in 2015 for the right to draft Watkins this year: he's that damn talented. Watkins has every single tool you could want out of a wide receiver, boasting elite speed, outstanding hands, great range, jump ball abilities, yards after catch, physicality and a small injury history. Coming out of Clemson, he is one of the best receiving prospects in recent memory -- even the Bills likened him to Julio Jones and A.J. Green coming out of college. It isn't a stretch to say that he has more talent than any other player on the Bills right now, and the Bills feel as though he can be an immediate impact player on the offense. The reason he is not the top player on the list is quite simple: he hasn't played a down yet. There is a very good chance he will top this list next year, but for now the results haven't been seen just yet. The skill level and projection of his future are both there, it's just a matter of going out and proving that all the positive words about him are true.
- The Bills will use Watkins immediately as their number one receiver and for good reason. With a weapon like him at EJ Manuel's disposal, it would be fair to expect that the team uses the Clemson approach with Watkins. In 2013, the Tigers got the ball into his hands as quickly as possible and allowed his top notch yards after catch ability go to work. Might Watkins be limited in his impact based on the run-heavy likelihood of the offense this year? That would likely be the expectation. However, Watkins will be able to put his talents on display on a weekly basis. Unless Manuel is able to get to the next level as a quarterback, it would be unfair to expect Julio Jones or A.J. Green-like production out of Watkins in his first season.
The Bills top 20 talents countdown concludes today, and the first entrant to the top three is a player that has had so much potential since he walked in the door, and it only seems as though he's scratched the surface.
Let's just cut to the chase. Here is the man that ranks third on the list of top 20 talents:
(Note: The link for number two follows the write-up. Enjoy!)
HB C.J. Spiller
Age: 26 (8/5/87) Height: 5'11" Weight: 200
Why he's here:
- The reason why C.J. Spiller was so highly thought of during his draft year was because teams were enthralled with his specific skill set and how that could translate to the NFL. Boasting one of the most explosive first and second steps in the game, Spiller was finally able to put it all together in 2012 for a very memorable season. He has elite speed and vision once he gets to the second level, but his biggest problem is getting through the first level of defenders. A home run threat every time, Spiller makes teams pay if they're not on their responsibilities in the run stuffing department. In 2013, the Bills thought Spiller was a different type of player that you center the entire offense around. While that isn't a case, he can be a very important cog if used correctly in both the run and passing games. Spiller falls short of the top two for one important reason: he'll be 27 years old this year, and running backs historically decline once they hit age 28. For projection's sake, he doesn't do as well as the top two players.
- In this writer's opinion, Spiller is in line for a very successful campaign. The coaching staff understands his strengths more than they did a year ago, and Spiller will be the recipient of more than just carries this season. It was almost criminal how little, and how ineffectively they used Spiller in the passing game, averaging over five yards per catch less than he did in 2012. Expect that to change, expect new formations and expect the ball to get into a healthy Spiller's hands in more ways than just handing it off in the backfield. It's hard to predict how many touches he will get in this new offense, but one of the major highlights of the offseason had to be how to get more out of Spiller. For all these reasons, expect Spiller to bounce back in 2014.
The countdown is winding down as we get closer to declaring who has the best blend of natural talent, using that talent to produce positive on the field results and with how they project into the future of the NFL. Our next member of the list went from a mid-round pick to one of the team's best defenders since they drafted him.
The league, and most notably players at player number four's position, are often built much bigger than he is and much stronger than he is, but there may not be more than 10 players better than him at his position. The fourth-most talented Bill on the roster has been a mainstay of production.
DT Kyle Williams
Age: 31 (6/10/83) Height: 6'1" Weight: 303
Why he's here:
- The Buffalo Bills hit a home run in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, because they found themselves an immediate starter, and someone that would go on to be one of their best players over the past eight seasons. As previously mentioned, Williams lacks the certain height and strength that teams look for in the prototypical defensive tackle. But he makes up for it with everything else. He has one of the quickest first steps off the snap that you'll see in the NFL today, even initiating contact with the offensive lineman before they even react to the snap at times. He's smart, well-read and can anticipate plays. He's made countless plays in the backfield over the course of his career, and has also paved the way for another smaller, disruptive defensive tackle to be taken seriously (Aaron Donald, drafted 13th overall by the St. Louis Rams this year). If this were done four or five years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone on the team that would rank higher than him. Due to his age, however, you can't project him to keep up similar results for as long as the top three on the list. Regardless, Williams has been a dynamite find and one that will be missed by the team when he hangs up the cleats.
- Switching back to the 4-3 defense under new coordinator Jim Schwartz, not much changes for Williams. He'll still be depended upon to be an aggressive, disruptive, tone-setting defensive tackle to help make the opposing quarterbacks and running backs sweat. Don't expect his sack production (10.5 in 2013) to continue at that rate, but he'll still have a solid season playing alongside one of the more talented defensive lines in the NFL. Since 2009 (when yours truly started covering the Bills full-time), there hasn't been a single game where Williams failed to make his presence felt by the opposing team. Even though he's 31, expect that trend to continue into 2014.
Training camp is on the way for the Buffalo Bills this weekend, but they had quite a few transactions to announce just two days before the team is set to report to St. John Fisher College. Three normal starters on the team and one major contributor will all start training camp on the sidelines with different designations.
Linebacker Kiko Alonso (Active/Non-Football Injury), left tackle Cordy Glenn (Active/Non-Football Illness), cornerback Leodis McKelvin (Active/Physically Unable to Perform) and defensive tackle Alan Branch (Active/Non-Football Illness) all were not deemed to be ready for the start of training camp. The Bills also placed seventh-round draft pick and rookie linebacker Randell Johnson on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list.
The important thing to note at this time of year is that any of these players can be taken off their respective lists if given clearance by the team's medical staff. Alonso will likely miss the remainder of the year due to tearing his ACL earlier this month. Glenn missed some time at the mandatory minicamp due to an illness, but it isn't clear if the same illness is what is keeping him out to start camp.
The team also announced the signing of linebacker Stevenson Sylvester to the active roster. Sylvester is entering his fifth professional season after spending his first four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. To make room on the roster, the Bills have released tight end Mike Caussin.
As far as impact defenders go, the Buffalo Bills have an extremely talented one in player number five. Early on in the season you heard his name called out quite often, and his level of play was among the best in the league at his position until he hit a wall near the end of the year.
Before a couple of weeks ago, player number five encompassed all three important facets of the countdown. Those include overall raw skill level, performance on the field and projection of future success. Due to a mishap in the offseason though, it dramatically shut down the latter of the three -- at least temporarily.
LB Kiko Alonso
Age: 23 (8/14/90) Height: 6'3" Weight: 238
Why he's here:
- Alonso has the right blend of speed, instincts and general disregard for his body that makes for an excellent linebacker in the National Football League. He blazed on to the scene last year by posting four interceptions in the first four games, eight games total where he wrapped up double digit tackles and he played every single snap for the Bills last season. For where he was drafted in 2013 (second round), he was an absolute steal of a pick and one that had a very promising 2014 lined up.
- The past tense was used in the last sentence because, of course, Alonso's season is over before it even got started. The linebacker suffered a torn ACL working out in Oregon and will likely miss the entirety of the 2014 campaign. It's a big blow to the Bills because they lose one of their most explosive players on defense, and there is a clear gap between him and whoever his replacement will be this season. He was also set to play at weakside linebacker, which would have suited his skill set and body best, but he will likely no longer have that chance. Nowadays professional athletes bounce back from the torn ACL injury quite well, and the Bills will have to hold on to hope that Alonso can be one of the increasing trend.
During the offseason the Buffalo Bills subtracted one of their best, if not the best, player on defense by allowing him to test free agency. Jairus Byrd left the team for a humongous contract in New Orleans, causing the Bills to make other arrangements at safety and re-signing Aaron Williams to a lucrative contract as well.
There are many questions heading into training camp regarding the safeties on the roster. Who will be the second starter? How short of a leash will it be for the second starter? How many will they keep? While those answers can't be discovered until training camp concludes, one can certainly handicap the position heading into their time at St. John Fisher College.
The (Guaranteed) Starter (1) Aaron Williams
- Of course, there will be two starting safeties on the roster once training camp concludes. However, due to the open competition for strong safety that must play out in Pittsford, NY, only Williams can be looked to as the definitive leader of the group. After converting to safety last season, Williams enjoyed his most productive season and it appeared as though he really came into his own. Even though he was playing strong safety mostly, the position switch highlighted his skill-set much more effectively than when he was playing cornerback. He shifts over to free safety, which is likely his more natural position on the back end, and can focus on his playmaking ability to cause some turnovers for the defense.
The Depth (2) Da'Norris Searcy, Duke Williams
- It's a completely wide open competition to be the starting strong safety. Searcy and Williams are the two main competitors, with Williams perhaps getting the benefit of the doubt because the current regime drafted him. However, Searcy has loads of experience in games on defense throughout his past three seasons in the NFL which would qualify him for the position as well. Searcy's weakness is in coverage, but has a definite strength in run support. If Williams can show he's more adept in coverage than Searcy and provides a comparable amount of ability in run support, he'll likely land the job.
The Bubble (3) Jonathan Meeks, Deon Broomfield, Kenny Ladler
- Meeks is an intriguing player to track during the upcoming training camp. He's likely better suited to be a strong safety in the defense, and could even push Searcy and D. Williams if he has a good enough camp. His safety (no pun intended) is not guaranteed, however. He could face some stiff competition from both Broomfield and Ladler for the fourth safety spot on the roster. Broomfield made a fair amount of positive plays during OTAs and minicamps to warrant bubble status heading into camp. Ladler is a highly decorated player coming to the Bills as an undrafted free agent from Vanderbilt. It's most likely that Meeks is the fourth safety on the 53-man roster. Don't rule out the idea of the Bills keeping five safeties again this year if one of Broomfield or Ladler have an outstanding camp, though.
The Longshots (2) Derek Brim, Jajuan Harley
- Harley made some plays in the offseason workouts, but he'll have to work his way up past both Broomfield and Ladler to have a shot at cracking the top five — if there is even a top five to be cracked (they could keep only four players). Brim is a great local story, being a native to Buffalo, a Canisius High School graduate and also a graduate of the University at Buffalo, but that's likely where the story will end. Brim is perhaps the biggest longshot of all the safeties to crack the 53-man roster.
The term 'talent,' when it comes to evaluating football players, is a word that can lead people to value different parts more heavily than the others. Some view 'talent' as an overall, raw skill level that just jumps off the page at you. In terms of that raw talent, there's little doubt that number six has more than most on the team.
However, this countdown isn't only a judge of that raw talent level. It also accounts for performance on the field, the consistency in that performance and projecting that player into future years. When player number six was drafted, he was thought to be one of the best, and most genetically gifted pass rushing prospects since Bruce Smith.
DE Mario Williams
Age: 29 (1/31/85) Height: 6'6" Weight: 292
Why he's here:
- In terms of the combination of size, speed and strength off the edge, Williams had to come in on the high side of this list every single time. He is the prototypical 4-3 defensive end and the type of player that makes coaches and general managers drool over if available. However, there are legitimate reasons he did not crack the top five of this list. For starters, his film is not consistently among the same levels from week to week. There will be games that he finds a weak right tackle (Carolina's Byron Bell, Miami's Tyson Clabo) and he beats that player time and time again. But when playing against above average to good right tackles, Williams disappears. Despite his 13 sack season in 2013, he had only two sacks over the team's final eight games. The other knock against him is the age factor. While he isn't old by NFL standards just yet, he is older than four of the five players remaining on this countdown, which means he may not project towards the future as well as some of the others. All in all, Williams has the ability to be an absolute monster on the field but doesn't always make his presence felt.
Switching back to the 4-3 defensive scheme, there isn't much of a change for Williams despite the move. In 2013, Williams basically played the role of a defensive end rushing from the left side of the defensive line. This season, he'll be doing the same in a scheme that will ask the defensive ends to win their matchups to get pressure on the quarterback. In Mike Pettine's scheme last year, blitzes were brought from all over the place which led to enhanced opportunities for the men on the defensive line. While blitzing won't be completely eradicated, there will be more straight-up four-man rushes from the defensive line this year than last. Williams is always one of the most fascinating to watch on film, because he has perhaps more raw ability than anyone on the team, and it's always a matter of if he capitalizes on it from week to week.
When the Buffalo Bills selected the player who is number seven on the list of the team's top 20 talents, there was much debate about where he would best fit in. There wasn't any debate amongst the team, and they found themselves a day one starter that has become one of the most consistent offensive players in the organization.
As a reminder, the countdown accounts for overall skill level, their performance level on the field in games as well as projection of the future based on film study. With all things considered, it's hard to keep this player out of the top 10.
LT Cordy Glenn
Age: 24 (9/18/89) Height: 6'6" Weight: 345
Why he's here:
- Most draft analysts looked at Glenn's game, his experience at Georgia and declared that he would best at guard. However, the one thing that was vastly overlooked in that process was that Glenn not only had quick enough feet, but extremely long arms that made playing left tackle against speed rushers easier for him than some who are at more of a genetic disadvantage. Those two factors were not overlooked by the Bills, and they made him their starting left tackle almost straight away. Since then, they've been rewarded by a player that doesn't get beat all that often and is improving upon his game from his rookie to sophomore season. It was especially impressive in 2013 due to the poor play of the starting offensive lineman right beside him at left guard.
- Once again, Glenn resumes his role as the team's starting left tackle and might have a much easier time of it with an upgrade beside him in Chris Williams. Glenn plays within himself and never gets to a point on film where you feel as though he's lucky to have escaped without giving up a sack. As the Bills said last year, it's a very good thing when no one is talking about the starting left tackle. It was the case for Glenn, and they'll continue to give him that opportunity at the league's most high profile position on the offensive line.
Fair or not, some of the struggles of Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel in 2013 were attributed to some below average play at certain positions of the offensive line. Some players struggled mightily which frustrated the offense during head coach Doug Marrone's first year on the job, leading to an offseason full of movement.
The Bills have made a considerable effort to not only find replacements for a pair of starters in 2013 on the offensive line, but to improve the depth as well. Because of all the offseason maneuvering, there aren't many things that are a sure bet for the final 53-man roster in early September.
The Starters (3) Cordy Glenn, Eric Wood, Chris Williams
- The Bills are set at left tackle, left guard and center for 2014 with Glenn, Williams and Wood. Glenn proved his draft doubters wrong last year and turned in an excellent season protecting the blindside of his then rookie quarterback. Glenn will look to continue to build on that success with a little more stability next to him in Williams. Although thought of as a former first-round bust, he'll be a dramatic upgrade over both Colin Brown and Doug Legursky who weren't effective at left guard for different reasons. Williams also has the size the Bills covet. Wood is a team leader and recently signed an extension, so he'll be the leader of the offensive line for the next few years at least. Of course, there are five starters, but the right side of the line is very much up for debate.
The Depth (2) Kraig Urbik, Cyrus Kouandjio
- While it's likely that Urbik will resume his role as the starting right guard in 2014, the Bills have made it clear through both OTAs and the mandatory minicamp that they aren't satisfied at the position. Urbik lost some first-team reps throughout the workouts, most notably to Chris Hairston during the three day mandatory minicamp. Even if he loses his job, Urbik still likely lands on the roster as a depth/experience player. The Bills would certainly like the second-round pick Kouandjio to take hold of the starting right tackle job over Erik Pears, but he hasn't earned the full amount of first-team reps just yet. Kouandjio, at worst, will be the backup swing tackle.
The Bubble (8) Erik Pears, Chris Hairston, J.J. 'Unga, Mark Asper, Seantrel Henderson, Doug Legursky, Antoine McClain, Cyril Richardson
- It's a very large bubble along the offensive line. Pears has been a starter but both his starting job and spot on the roster are in jeopardy if Kouandjio performs well enough. There are a lot of questions about Hairston considering he missed all of 2013, but his impact during spring workouts at guard was especially notable. He could be Urbik's biggest competition at right guard. Legursky started the majority of 2013 as the left guard, but struggled mightily in that role. However, he is the only player on the bubble with a considerable amount of experience at center, which could prove him to be valuable. Richardson and Henderson can be grouped together as the two rookies that can steal jobs if they have a good enough camp. For instance, if Kouandjio unseats Pears as the starting right tackle, a solid camp from Henderson could send Pears packing. The same goes for Richardson at one of the guard spots. 'Unga, Asper and McClain can all be clumped in together because they were the three Marrone discussed ahead of the draft that they were excited about getting a whole offseason and camp to work with. The eight of these players are likely fighting for just three spots. If someone plays well enough, the Bills could keep four of them, and nine offensive linemen total.
The Longshots (2) Edawn Coughman, Macky MacPherson
- Although he's gotten some second-team reps, Coughman has never been mentioned along the same lines as 'Unga, Asper and McClain even heading into the offseason. He's not the biggest longshot in the group, though. Those honors belong to undrafted rookie center Macky MacPherson. Listed at 6-foot-2, MacPherson looks like he actually might be below the 6-foot level. He's a former Syracuse offensive lineman and one that Marrone presumably trusts, but it likely won't work out for MacPherson in making the roster outright.
The hours and minutes continue to tick away before the start of training camp for the members of the Buffalo Bills organization. One of the brightest spotlights once they get to St. John Fisher College will be on the player that comes in at number eight of the top 20 talents.
Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and his contract status was the cause for a lot of conversation that didn't have to do with football. Now that he's out of the door it removed the situation, but it also removed one of the best players on the team as well. Without Byrd, it is up to the man that ranks number eight to keep the secondary afloat.
S Aaron Williams
Age: 24 (4/23/90) Height: 6'0" Weight: 199
Why he's here:
- In terms of raw ability and projection, Williams can become one of the best on the team if he continues down the path that was cleared out for him after he switched to safety. An impressive first year at the position made the Bills very aware of what they had in Williams, and they quickly inked him to a lucrative four-year extension. While his instincts aren't as well-refined as Byrd's (few are), it's still much better than the average player and he has elite athleticism for the safety position as well. One thing is for sure: the Bills are counting on him to help the backside of the defense pick up where they left off late last year.
- By moving to free safety Williams now has the opportunity to become not only an impact player each and every week, but he can also be the leader of the secondary which is something he's really taken to since the start of offseason workouts. Always a very vocal player, Williams now has the experience to go along with his chatter. Much like another player in the secondary, a very high quality season can help him become one of the elite talents on the roster. He has all the potential and the role to do it in 2014, now there's nothing left for him but to go out and prove that he is that player that the Bills hoped for.
The Buffalo Bills have done a fine job in recent years of adding young talent through the draft, and number nine on the list is no exception. Early on in his college career, the next player was thought to have first round talent, but an injury kept him from fulfilling those initial claims.
Instead, the Bills got the man that has a solid blend of raw talent, on-the-field results and potential in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He was part of the reason that made one of the mainstays of the team expendable this offseason, and one of EJ Manuel's most trusted targets.
WR Robert Woods
Age: 22 (4/10/92) Height: 6'0" Weight: 190
Why he's here:
- Woods is as smooth a route runner as they come. He has a solid understanding of how to set up defenders, and he's done so very early on in his career. Although he didn't have spectacular numbers in the offense last year, the talent of Woods is evident enough for the Bills to look at him as a longterm number-two option at wide receiver. The only problem, though, is he isn't likely to take over a game. He's quick enough, savvy enough and has good enough hands to make an impact, but he lacks the elite traits of other playmakers on the team, such as Sammy Watkins. Regardless, he's an outstanding talent that will be a permanent fixture in the starting lineup as long as he stays healthy.
- Woods will be one of the top two receivers in that base set alongside the presumed top wideout in Watkins. When the Bills go to three wide receiver sets however, Woods will provide the Bills the flexibility to play on either the outside or on the inside as the slot receiver. With Manuel a little bit more comfortable with the offense and his role in that offense, there's a fair expectation that Woods' stat line at the end of the year will receive a jump from where it was last season (40 receptions, 587 yards, three touchdowns).
Heading into the 2013 season, one of the biggest areas for concern was how the cornerbacks would play in Mike Pettine's system, and if they would be as big of a weakness as some had speculated. Without Stephon Gilmore due to an injury, the pass defense was tested quite a bit leading to some success for opponents.
A healthy and improved Leodis McKelvin helped the team, as did the removal of Justin Rogers from the lineup. Once Gilmore came back and shed the club on his hand, the Bills pass defense improved.
In 2014, though, it's a new scheme with a new defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz. With a few new additions, the cornerback group has an interesting summer in line for one player that was a former fourth-round draft pick of the team.
The Starters (2) Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin
- Barring an injury, these will be the two starting cornerbacks heading into the season. Gilmore has as much promise as any person on the team following an outstanding training camp in 2013, while McKelvin is coming off his best season in the NFL. The starters are plagued by two very legitimate questions. First, will Gilmore regain the form he had last year at St. John Fisher College? He was on the cusp of playing at a level near the top of the position before his injury against Washington in the preseason. Second, was 2013 a fluke for McKelvin? It's a new defense that will put more pressure on the cornerbacks to cover their assignments longer, which was not a recipe for success during his first five years in the league. He's done quite well to put all the bad beats from the past in the rearview mirror thanks in part to the teaching of Donnie Henderson, but the signing of Corey Graham could mean that they're not going to settle for consistent lapses just because there isn't anyone else.
The Depth (3) Corey Graham, Nickell Robey, Ross Cockrell
- Graham's role isn't entirely defined just yet, and there may not be any definition when we get to the start of the year, either. At this point, Graham looks to be a matchup-based option that puts him in front of the proper personnel. If McKelvin struggles, he can go in and has the ability to start on the outside — he showed as much in Baltimore. For now, he'll be in the jack-of-all-trades mold. Robey is the team's best option at nickel corner after a very strong rookie season. It would be foolish to remove him from the roster. Cockrell is the team's fourth-round selection, and despite a slow spring, it would be doubtful that he's in jeopardy of making the roster.
The Bubble (3) Ron Brooks, Brandon Smith, Mario Butler
- Once seen as a promising talent by the last coaching staff, now Brooks is in a fight to keep his job. With so many players ahead of him on the depth chart you have to wonder if the light will ever go on for him, or if the Bills will wait long enough for it to happen. If the Bills only keep five cornerbacks, he likely won't have a chance. If they elect to keep six or an injury happens, then he has to beat out both Smith and Butler. Smith (6-foot-1, 205-pounds) is the new age cornerback that has the size teams covet. A former college wide receiver, Smith's size continues to make teams want to give him chances to convert to the defensive side of the ball. Butler makes "the bubble" section barely, but his play during spring practices was impressive.
The Longshots (2) Michael Carter, Darius Robinson
- Carter is getting his first chance with the team and the NFL, over a year removed from leaving the University of Minnesota. Robinson, an undrafted free agent, is undersized (5-foot-10, 175-pounds) and missed most of the spring practices due to an injury suffered during one of the early sessions. Both would need very strong camps just to get on the roster bubble.
The first half of the top 20 talents on the Buffalo Bills is over and done with, paving way for those atop the hierarchy to be unveiled. To start off the week, the featured player at number 10 was on the cusp last year of being much, much higher on this list.
Fitting in well to the parameters of both raw skill level and projection of play over time, the next entrant to the countdown was only missing the on the field success which results in him coming in on the bottom half of the top 10. Through training camp last year he was one of the best players on the field every day, but lost all that momentum with an injury during the preseason.
CB Stephon Gilmore
Age: 23 (9/19/90) Height: 6'1" Weight: 190
Why he's here:
- Brought in by the Bills as their first-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, Gilmore was thought to be the exact mold of the new NFL cornerback. He's big, he's physical and he can turn and run which fits the league's obsession with finding bigger cornerbacks now that wide receivers are just getting bigger and bigger themselves. Gilmore's first season in the league got off to an average start, resulting in some bad beats but also promising plays. Then in his second season, Gilmore was borderline dominant at training camp before suffering a wrist injury that cost him the first five games of the campaign. Even when he came back he struggled to get acclimated, essentially playing one-handed with a big club on his arm to support the wrist. Gilmore started to find his footing late in the season and can only hope to build off of it after a wash of a year.
- The 2013 season wasn't a step back but a lateral one. With a relatively healthy offseason and a clear pass to hit the ground running at training camp this year, Gilmore has the opportunity once more to develop into the top cornerback the Bills believe he can be. Already boasting the necessary physical nature and hip fluidity needed in cornerbacks, Gilmore has a straight-line personality as well. He never gets too hyped up and he certainly never gets down on himself, leading to a level-headed approach to the game which is a huge advantage for playing such a volatile position. In a defense that will allow its cornerbacks to shine, everything is there for Gilmore to make the jump. It's just a matter of staying healthy and capitalizing on the positive play from training camp of 2013.
When the Buffalo Bills pulled the trigger on an offseason trade that sent away a young linebacker for an underperforming former first-round pick, it would be hard to imagine they thought they'd be getting as good of a return as they did. Desperately in need of a quality pass rushing option opposite Mario Williams, the Bills rolled the dice on a player that many felt was a bust.
Now with a year under his belt, the player that comes in at number 11 has the required raw skill level, on the field results and potential impact that ingrains him on to this list. He proved last year that he's another force off the edge and quieted the doubters of his last stop.
DE Jerry Hughes
Age: 25 (8/13/88) Height: 6'2" Weight: 254
Why he's here:
- The Bills traded Kelvin Sheppard for Hughes and the overwhelming return was almost immediate. Hughes had one of the best off seasons and training camps of any member of the team, and it had most wondering why he didn't have any success in Indianapolis. Displaying a sound knowledge and array of pass rushing moves, Hughes has shown that he can get to the quarterback in the NFL. A career high in sacks (10) last season is just proof that Hughes may finally be getting it, and he's turned that season into another offseason in which he's borderline unblockable. If he has another high quality season to go along with his skill level, he could be quite higher on this list this time next year.
- Hughes is likely in line for an enhanced role with the Bills in 2014. They didn't really know what to expect from him last year, and got a more than competent pass rusher that could chip in on the run on occasion. It might not be fair to expect Hughes to be an every down player, which likely paves the way for Manny Lawson to get some snaps on run downs. However, with another big season against the pass Hughes can not only put to rest his "bust" status from Indianapolis, but he can go into free agency next March as a hot commodity.
For the next position on the training camp primer tour, the Buffalo Bills literally did nothing to the group besides adding a couple of undrafted free agents. Along their defense last year, the defensive tackles weren't anywhere near the problem as to why they couldn't perform consistently.
It starts with the two guys atop the depth chart, which also happen to be two of the best players on the Bills roster. Could we be in for any sudden surprises at training camp? The only real question might pertain to how many they end up keeping.
The Starters (2) Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus
- You won't find many defensive tackle duos around the league with as much skill level as Williams and Dareus. One is a grizzled veteran absolutely fed up with losing, the other a younger and supremely talented player that couldn't keep himself out of the headlines this past offseason. When they're on the field and working in unison though, it's a fun thing to watch. Williams has the quickness off the snap and violent hands to work his way into the backfield. Dareus has a big body to lull offensive lineman in and then rip them down to the side with his strength. The biggest question will not be if they can be successful, but it's simply about Dareus' status at the beginning of the year and whether or not he'll be available to the team.
The Depth (1) Alan Branch
- After a successful first year with the Bills, the team elected to re-sign Branch to a multi-year contract extension. They view him as the perfect complementary option to the two starters on the team and can get valuable snaps in a rotational setting when everyone is both healthy and available to play. He's one of those players that regardless of the scheme change, he fits everything. The former second-round pick has done quite well for himself after an inauspicious start to his career in Arizona.
The Bubble (2) Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles
- While Bryant hung around through camp last year, Charles was a mid-season addition that helped provide the Bills not only with depth, but with a player that has a fair bit of upside as well. There really isn't much clarification as to whether or not Dareus will get suspended for his off-the-field transgressions and that could directly impact the job status of one of Bryant or Charles. Even if he isn't suspended, there is still a completely plausible scenario of all five making the roster outright. However, if the Bills decide they only have room for four, it will be a battle between these two.
The Longshots (2) Damien Jacobs, Colby Way
- The Bills rounded out their defensive tackles with two undrafted free agents that are each undersized. Jacobs (6-foot-3, 284-pounds) comes from the University of Florida and Way (6-foot-4, 293-pounds) has local ties to the University at Buffalo. With so many established players ahead of them on the depth chart, the better of the two will need a Dareus suspension and an injury to one of the other four defensive tackles at least for hopes of making the roster outright.
Along the offensive side of the ball, there haven't been many other identifiable pieces to the puzzle than the man the comes in at number 12 on the top talents on the Buffalo Bills roster. While the team continued to try and replace him, the player just kept on with it and continued to carve his hard-nosed niche.
The countdown uses the trio of overall skill level, on the field results and projection to the future for the basis of where the players rank, the third of which is why player number 12 is a bit lower than expected. However, he has shown that he can still play at a high level and has been a fan favorite for several years.
HB Fred Jackson
Age: 33 (2/20/81) Height: 6'1" Weight: 216
Why he's here:
- Over the past six seasons, no man has been more overlooked than Jackson. The team drafted two running backs in the first round only for Jackson to prove his worth each time and continue to be one of the most dependable players on the roster. His ability to not only absorb contact, but to keep his balance as well, has earned him the reputation of being able to gain tough yards every single time he's on the field. In all his years, Jackson has had only one season that eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, which could come as a surprise to some fans that don't check his stats regularly. Because of his age and the wear-and-tear that occurs to running backs over the course of time, the biggest negative for Jackson on this list is how he projects toward the future.
- Jackson will once again split time with C.J. Spiller in the backfield, but now the Bills added two other pieces at running back (Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon) that could cut into the 33-year old's snaps as well. He's entering the final year of his contract with the team, but is a very important person to the locker room. Many of his younger teammates look up to him, and with quite a young core group of starters, the veteran presence Jackson provides is essential. Regardless, the question that will be asked once the season is over is how much Jackson has left in the tank as regular contributor. If he plays like he did in 2013, though, it will go far to prove that he has a bit more left.
To be a captain of a team you usually have to have the overwhelming skills to go along with it. One of the Buffalo Bills' most vocal players has the ability and the respect to back up his, at times, strong opinions of what needs to happen.
This next person on the countdown exhibits those characteristics that led to him ultimately being extended by the Bills last year. With the list formulated by a combination of an overall raw skill level, on the field results and with projection in mind, number 13 is not only the first offensive lineman on the list, but a fan favorite to boot.
C Eric Wood
Age: 28 (3/18/86) Height: 6'4" Weight: 310
Why he's here:
- Coaches are always in search of players who just get it. Whatever it is, it can't be defined… but you know when a player has exactly what you're looking for. That fits Wood quite well, posing the right amount of skill level, a working knowledge of both the current and historical sides to the game as well as someone with an at times nasty demeanor on the field. A very smart player, Wood rarely gets caught out of position. Sometimes he gets beat by his man, but his normal Sunday exhibits someone that usually isn't caught lunging or trying to overcorrect a mistake. That's what gets a lot of offensive lineman into trouble, but not him.
- Once again serving as one of the top offensive lineman on the team, Wood might have an easier time of it this year now that the Bills signed Chris Williams to play left guard for them. That will prevent Wood from having to overcompensate and focus in on his own responsibilities without trying to do too much. Last season was not his best by any means, but he has the ability to be one of the 10 best centers in the league on a yearly basis. It also doesn't hurt his case by being one of the vocal leaders on the team, either.
The last two times the Buffalo Bills addressed the tight end position in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft was back in 1983 (Tony Hunter, first round) and 1994 (Lonnie Johnson, second round). Although they neglected it again in 2014, had they stayed at their original draft position there was a solid chance they would have ended that streak.
However, they didn't stand pat in the draft order. They made a trade with Cleveland to move up and get Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, leaving the tight end position to be decided amongst the men already on the roster.
Outside of quarterback and defensive tackle, tight end is really the only position that didn't see many changes from the start of the 2013 season up to the start of the upcoming training camp. The only change is that the incumbent starter might have to stave off another player that has had former success in the league.
The Starter (1) Scott Chandler
- Chandler is a bit undervalued in the offense mostly because fans will look at his lack of athleticism, compare him to a Rob Gronkowski or a Jimmy Graham, and many will scream for an upgrade at the position. While that line of thinking isn't exactly out of order, Chandler has been dependable for the Bills over the course of the past three seasons. The team can likely do better than him as a starter, but they can (and have in the past) also do far, far worse. If we're to take the offseason words of both head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley seriously though, Chandler could face some competition from a member of "the depth."
The Depth (2) Tony Moeaki, Lee Smith
- The man to watch from this group will be Moeaki, who isn't assured a roster spot at this point in time, but he has a much better chance to make the 53-man roster than others. While Chandler was away for personal reasons during mandatory minicamp, Moeaki got some valuable reps and made some nice plays in the process. He's had past success in the league, and the Bills are willing to find out if he can do it again after his fair share of injuries. Smith is essentially a sixth offensive lineman that they'll use to help the run game. There is usually room for a blocking specialist like him on a run-heavy team.
The Bubble (1) Chris Gragg
- This could be surprising to some because he was a draft pick in 2013, but let's face it. He's a seventh-round pick that couldn't get on the field outside of garbage time situations last year. The hope will be that athletic tight end progresses enough to the point where he can warrant a roster spot, but with a lot of talent being added to the roster at other positions, space could get tight. The 24-year old is firmly on the bubble, and the ultimate decision will be based on how effective he is in practice from July 20 through the end of August. He very well could force their hand and make them go with four tight ends. Or, they could to go with only the top three. Either way, Gragg needs a strong month.
The Longshot (1) Mike Caussin
- Caussin has been around the Bills for a while now ever since signing with the team in September of 2010. This will be his fourth training camp with Buffalo, entering Felton Huggins territory for training camps attended without ever making the 53-man roster. Before, the Bills had the advantage of being able to put him on the practice squad and maintain his rights. He's even had a pair of injuries that has taken away the past two seasons which has also maintained his status with the Bills. 2014 may serve as his last chance though, and he'll have to unseat at least one and maybe even two of the tight ends already ahead of him.
Just because a player has the size a team covets, it doesn't necessarily mean he's a better player than someone with the prototypical size. And by that logic, it brings us to number 14 on the countdown of the top 20 talents on the Buffalo Bills roster.
Using the trio of overall raw skill level, actual on-the-field performance and projection of what they might do in the future to rank players, it was hard to ignore the next person on the list despite his status as an undrafted free agent last year. His diminutive stature makes him a crowd favorite for some, but he certainly plays much bigger than he is.
CB Nickell Robey
Age: 22 Height: 5'8" Weight: 165
Why he's here:
- During the offseason workouts in 2013 the player everyone — including the coaching staff — took note of was the undrafted free agent Robey. His listed height might even be a bit generous, but Robey overcompensates for that with a blend of strength, an explosive lower half and instincts that gives the Bills no choice but to put him on the field. In the role as a nickel cornerback last year, Robey flourished once taking the job from Ron Brooks during training camp. His statistics (39 tackles, 3 sacks, 10 passes defended and one interception) don't tell the entire story. If you watch the film, you'll see Robey is usually always in the right position to make a play, making many quarterbacks look elsewhere for their targets. If he was just a bit taller and longer in the arms, a lot more people would be talking about his skills.
- It appeared as though once again in the offseason workouts, and under a new defensive coordinator mind you, Robey had to work his way up the depth chart. He didn't start out as the first-team nickel which caught a few, including yours truly, by surprise. By the end of the mandatory minicamp though Robey was back in his natural position with the first-team defense as the nickel cornerback. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz raved about him and head coach Doug Marrone certainly knows what he's capable of in both coverage and as an explosive blitzer from the edge. He's not an outside cornerback, but up against slot receivers, Robey is a very good talent.
The Buffalo Bills went out in the offseason eager to add pieces around quarterback EJ Manuel in an effort to help him make the next step forward in his progress. They drafted the best receiver available by trading a future first-round selection, and, they acquired another wideout with past success but one that fell out of favor with his first club.
That man, who is both a Buffalo native and has once carried a lot of buzz with his name, comes in as the number 15 most talented Bills player. The criteria for the countdown is a mix of overall raw skill level, on the field performances as well as a certain projection aspect to it. Having a solid blend of all three, once again the list goes to the offensive side of the ball with this player:
WR Mike Williams
Age: 27 (5/18/87) Height: 6'2" Weight: 212
Why he's here:
- Williams burst on to the scene in his rookie season in Tampa Bay, meshing with Josh Freeman well enough to earn him 65 receptions for 964 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns in his opening year. He followed that up with two more productive seasons in the 60-catch range, showing he could be a big target for the Buccaneers moving forward. Despite his height, Williams is a red-zone threat and someone that was depended on once close enough to the red zone. While he isn't necessarily the quickest, his ability to play outside the numbers and high point the ball is something the Bills haven't had. His off-the-field antics got him into some hot water, and ultimately got him traded away from the very team that was so impressed by him early on.
- Essentially on a one-year pact to stay on his best behavior and follow team protocol, the Bills can walk away from Williams if he doesn't hold up that end of the bargain or if he fails to make the type of impact they believe he can. The role for Williams still must be defined, but on paper he figures to come in on three wide receiver sets as one of the outside players, allowing either Sammy Watkins or Robert Woods to be able to play the slot. If he can provide a red zone presence it will go miles for EJ Manuel's progress. But since his role will likely be limited to that barring an injury, he falls a bit shorter than others on the list despite his raw skills and prior success.
Training camp hasn't even started yet for the Buffalo Bills, and already they have adversity to deal with at one of their starting positions, and a key one at that. A big push this offseason was to upgrade the linebacking core around Kiko Alonso, and they felt they found a pair of starters and some depth to go along with it.
What they didn't account for was the best player on that unit going down with a torn ACL in the beginning of July, paving the way for more questions to be asked about how the linebacker group will shake out.
How does that linebacking room look now, just under two weeks ahead of camp? Here's a look:
The Injured (1) Kiko Alonso
- The biggest blow to the 2014 season to date, the weakside linebacker and standout defender Alonso will likely miss the whole year because of a torn ACL. It's a devastating loss to a defense that hoped to be much improved, and the second-year player was among the best the unit had to offer in a more natural position on the weakside. At least the Bills will have the entirety of training camp to iron out how to deal with it, rather than figuring it out on the fly in a random week during the season.
The Starters (2) Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers
- Since there are no indications of what will become of the weakside position, only two starters are guaranteed at this point. Both Spikes and Rivers were brought in this offseason to play differing roles. Spikes will be the two-down, run defending middle linebacker and likely will be taken out in obvious passing situations. Rivers is described by GM Doug Whaley as a potential "four-down" player, so it's fair to expect Rivers will be on the field as much as he can handle. Before Alonso's injury Rivers was slated to play the strongside linebacker role, but the new information could cause them to rethink it and give him a look on the weakside, considering he has experience there in past stops.
The Depth (1) Preston Brown
- The third-round pick is the safest among the now top two on the linebacking depth chart. He created some buzz for himself following the offseason workouts and might even have put himself in the position to take the third starting job now that Alonso is injured. Whether it's at the strongside or weakside linebacker position, Brown has previous experience in college with both. If it's weakside, his main competition will be third-year player Nigel Bradham.
The Bubble (3) Nigel Bradham, Ty Powell, Randell Johnson
- Bradham leads the list as the player that will likely be safe, but until he carves out that niche for himself he remains on the bubble. The difference is that his bubble has a much harder exterior than most. If the Bills elect to keep Rivers at strongside, Bradham and Brown will battle for the starting job at weakside linebacker. Ty Powell is the backup middle linebacker at the moment, and someone that the Bills consistently brought up during the pre-draft process as a player they were excited about. Johnson was the team's seventh-round pick with an extreme amount of athleticism, but a lack of polish. Expect him to get looks at both strongside linebacker and defensive end during training camp, which will likely pave the way for him getting to the practice squad.
The Longshots (3) Jimmy Gaines, Darrin Kitchens, Nathan Williams
- The hometown Gaines will likely be the third-string strongside linebacker backing up both Rivers and Johnson. Kitchens is an undersized player that likely slots in on the weakside, meanwhile Williams will likely be the third-team middle linebacker. To have any shot, the trio will have to really stand out on special teams. Among the three, Gaines probably has the best chance (although remote) to stick, while Kitchens has the biggest mountain to climb.
Defense reigns supreme on the countdown of the top 20 talents on the Buffalo Bills roster, and that's where the next player on the list takes us once again. The next member of the list has never played a down for the Bills, but has the type of game that makes the team believe he can make an immediate impact in an area that they've struggled for several seasons.
The criteria for the top 20 is a blend of overall raw skill level, actual on-field performance and a projection as to what they might do in the future based on studying the players over the past couple of years. So who is number 16? A former villain to Bills fans and to a certain bearded quarterback that once started in Buffalo:
LB Brandon Spikes
Age: 26 (9/3/87) Height: 6'2" Weight: 255
Why he's here:
- A rather peculiar end to his tenure with the New England Patriots after four seasons landed Spikes as an unrestricted free agent and Buffalo pounced on the middle linebacker for their 4-3 defensive scheme. Spikes is not the jack of all trades type, but he is a master at one part of his game. On run downs, the linebacker will be among the best weapons the Bills can arm themselves with to help stop a problem that has plagued them since Chan Gailey took over as the head coach in 2010. Although limited as an athlete in pass coverage, Spikes' downhill, thumping style makes him an immediate upgrade to what they were working with last season in Arthur Moats on base sets to help stop opponents from getting big rushing gains.
- Spikes signed only a one-year contract with the team, and it screams as a "prove it" deal after the drama that unfolded in New England at the end of the 2013 season. The linebacker will likely be fully motivated to prove himself playing only on a one-year pact, and can provide the stability against the run when he's in there. However, the Bills should not attempt to use him too much even though Kiko Alonso is likely lost for the season. Spikes is very good against the run, but his game is not as a normal three-down linebacker. The expectation is that he'll be on the sidelines on those obvious passing downs.
As the Buffalo Bills and the rest of the National Football League approaches the start of training camp, WGR Sports Radio 550 continues to reveal the top 20 most talented players on the Bills roster. It's an exercise that looks at the player's overall skill level, success on the field and how they may project into the future.
Last time, the most important player to the Bills' hopes was revealed as number 18 on the list. Who is number 17? A talented defensive player that is perhaps miscast for the upcoming season:
DE Manny Lawson
Age: 29 (7/13/84) Height: 6'5" Weight: 240
Why he's here:
- Over the course of the 2013 season, Manny Lawson was one of the most consistent defenders throughout. You knew precisely what you would get from him on a weekly basis as a stout, edge-setting and run-defending player that stayed within his responsibilities. He was rarely caught out of position, and for the games that the Bills looked to be much improved against the run, Lawson played a big role in that. Although limited as a pass rusher, his ability against the run makes him a good defender that can pitch in for teams. His combination of length and strength makes him very good at keeping defenders from getting into his pads.
- Had Lawson continued to be in Mike Pettine's defense for the upcoming season, he likely would have been higher on this list. However, now he is a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. It's a role that he hasn't done well with, and one that doesn't exactly fit his skill set or body type. He'll be depended on as the third defensive end due to a lack of depth, which could cause him to struggle. However, in setting the edge against tight ends Lawson will continue to be effective. The problem, though, is that he'll likely get more matchups against offensive tackles than smaller players.
From the 2013 roster to the one the Buffalo Bills have in 2014, perhaps no other position saw more changes than what the team did with the wide receiver group. They drafted another player at the position, traded for a veteran, traded away a veteran and brought in a lot of bottom of the roster players they're going to kick the tires on.
With likely six spots up for grabs, wide receiver is usually one of the more compelling positions to watch as training camp rolls along. How does the current roster shake out, and who needs to fight? That's the next destination of the camp primer series.
The Starters (2) Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods
- When the Bills sent away their first round pick in 2015 to move up to take Watkins, there was little doubt that he would step in right away and be not only the team's starter, but their top wideout. His blend of explosiveness, hands and physicality make him a rare find from a talent perspective, so expect the Bills to have him on the field in bunches. He'll pair with Robert Woods in sets with only two wide receivers in hopes that they form a very dynamic duo. The Bills are still very high on Woods, believing that he is as good of a number two target as they can find.
The Depth (2) Mike Williams, Marquise Goodwin
- When the Bills go to three wide receiver sets, expect to see Williams trot on to the field. They view him as a potential instant contributor, and someone that could help EJ Manuel in both the red zone and as a player with high pointing ability on all areas of the field. Goodwin will be the change of pace wide receiver just as he was last year when healthy. Both Williams and Goodwin are likely locks for the final 53-man roster, as long as the former doesn't give the Bills an off-the-field reason to part ways with him.
The Bubble (5) Marcus Easley, Kevin Elliott, T.J. Graham, Chris Hogan, Cordell Roberson
- It will likely be five players for two spots in this bubble grouping. The standout amongst the five players is the former third-round pick Graham, who has failed to grasp on to ample opportunities since being selected by the team. He will be facing a training camp where he must show improvement not only as a receiver, but as someone that can chip in on special teams as well. Graham has a lot of work to do to secure a roster spot, especially with players like Easley and Hogan who each played a lot of special teams for the Bills in 2013. Elliott and Roberson are grouped together as two taller targets for EJ Manuel, and represent what the Bills have been trying to find in the offseason. Through the offseason workouts, Hogan is having the best 2014 to date. However, there's still a long way to go between now and the beginning of September when the real decisions have to be made.
The Longshots (3) Ramses Barden, Caleb Holley, Chris Summers
- Most will recognize Barden's name for being a former third-round pick of the New York Giants in 2009. He failed to latch on with them and then signed a contract with Buffalo in January in hopes to revive his career. The 6-foot-6 wide receiver is hard to miss on the field, but easily hideable in drills during offseason workouts. The same goes for Summers, who is a 6-foot-5 former small school (Liberty) receiver. Holley found his way on the roster after a successful tryout during the Bills' rookie minicamp, but faces an uphill battle to even get into bubble status.
The countdown of the top 20 most talented Bills on the roster is underway and started off on the offensive side of the ball. As it continues along, after a brief stop on defense, once more we find ourselves on the side that is in charge of putting up points on a weekly basis.
Using a blend of the player's overall skill level, success on the field and projection, the next player on the list is undoubtedly the most important to the outcome of the 2014 campaign. Coming in at number 18 is quarterback EJ Manuel.
QB EJ Manuel
Age: 24 (3/19/90) Height: 6'4" Weight: 237
Why he's here:
- When the Buffalo Bills boldly elected to use their first round pick on EJ Manuel in the 2013 NFL Draft in a year that many pundits believed no quarterbacks should be taken that highly, they were doing it with an eye towards what he could become. It's hard to ignore the talent that Manuel has from a skill level perspective, having the prototypical height, the prototypical arm, the mobility and the charisma that teams look for in quarterback prospects. The only problem is that Manuel cannot be viewed any differently than from a projectional prism. Most of the great NFL teams have their quarterback among the top of their talent lists, but the Bills aren't there yet with Manuel. Until his on the field success matches up with his skill level, the team might continue to find themselves yearning for the playoffs.
It's hard to predict what Manuel might do in 2014 from a statistical perspective. The Bills will likely utilize a run-heavy approach while also giving him more of a chance to diagnose defenses than he had in 2013. Now that he's acclimated to the NFL game, Manuel will have a better season than he did in 2013 — it's just a natural progression for most young quarterbacks in the game. The bigger question that needs to be answered will be if Manuel's progress as a player will match up with where the Bills want him to be. One of his biggest determining factors will be how accurate he is on intermediate throws, an area in which he has struggled since his time at Florida State. Now that the team has a bonafide top wide receiver target in Sammy Watkins along with another quality NFL player in Mike Williams, the Bills are about to begin to find out their answer on their former first round quarterback.
As can be expected, a majority of the Bills' top 20 talents will be on the defensive side of the ball. For the first time in this countdown, though, the defense appears on the list.
Mixing overall skill level, on-field performance and projection as the recipe for the analysis, the next member of the countdown had a step in the right direction in 2013. A highly hyped player coming out of college, number 19 on the list used to be among the most heavily criticized by fans. Playing a position that is under the microscope weekly, the 19th rated player has stuck around for quite a long time:
CB Leodis McKelvin
Age: 28 (9/4/85) Height: 5'10" Weight: 185
Why he's here:
- If this were a list that ranks raw talent only and which players have the most, McKelvin and his effortless athleticism would rank somewhere in the top 10. However, when you mix in how long he's been in the league along with his varying levels of play, it knocks him down a few pegs. Even still, at the age of 28, McKelvin possesses the skill level to be a good starting cornerback in this league. He started to scratch the surface in his rookie season, but was then derailed by injury. For the next few years his reputation was as a player that was always there to make a play, but usually ended up giving up the big play to the receiver. He had a solid season under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine which was the best of his six seasons in the league as a corner. The only problem, though, is that you can't ignore the middle four seasons which consistently questioned his status as a former first-round selection.
- There is one question hovering over the upcoming season for McKelvin: Was 2013 a fluke due to a pressure-packed defensive scheme that hid their cornerbacks, or, has McKelvin finally gotten his bearings and is on the way to being a dependable starter? It will be fascinating to find out which side will end up with the most evidence when the season is complete. The teachings of defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson have definitely helped McKelvin, but will they be enough to change the habits learned during his formative years as a player? His performance will be something to keep a close eye on throughout the year, considering his contract and the signing of Corey Graham in the offseason.
Bills Top 20 Talents
20) TE Scott Chandler 19) CB Leodis McKelvin
18) ??? - Tuesday, July 8, 8 am
17) ??? - Tuesday, July 8, 6 pm
The countdown to training camp is on for the Buffalo Bills. In less than two weeks, the Bills will move into the dorms at St. John Fisher College and get on the practice field for the first time on July 20.
In addition to the position by position training camp primer series, WGR Sports Radio 550 will also be counting down the top 20 most talented Bills. This countdown considers overall skill level, actual on the field performance and projection based on film study over the past couple of seasons.
On to the ranking, starting with Number 20:
TE Scott Chandler
Age: 28 (7/23/85) Height: 6'7" Weight: 260
Why he's here:
- Considering how his career started off in Dallas and San Diego, Chandler has made a remarkable comeback to become the type of productive player he is after essentially being written off by most. Although he isn't the fastest, which he'll be the first to admit, he has become an incredibly dependable target. In 2013, he led the Bills in both receptions (53) and yards (655) all while setting his own personal career high with each category. He also co-owns the record for most touchdowns in a single season by a Bills tight end, reaching pay dirt six times in both 2011 and 2012.
- Chandler returned to the team after a brief stint in free agency and is slated to be the starting tight end this year. He may face some competition for playing time if Tony Moeaki is able to get back to the same form he had in his early years, but for now Chandler appears as though he'll be the starting tight end. It's unlikely that he'll repeat as the team's leader in both receptions and yards with all the new wide receivers added in the offseason, but he'll still remain a tall target for EJ Manuel to go to under duress.
In under two weeks the Buffalo Bills will be back at training camp and the annual battle for roster spots will commence once more. Leading up to the opening practice on Sunday, July 20 at St. John Fisher College, WGR will take a position by position look at the roster to handicap who to look for when fans go to see the practices over the course of a month.
First stop? Defensive end:
The Starters (2) Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes
- An open and shut case as long as both players are healthy enough to contribute, Williams and Hughes will get the majority of time on the field during game settings. Williams is coming off back-to-back seasons with a sack total in double digits, while Hughes reached that plateau for the first time in his career. Through offseason workouts Hughes was consistently in the backfield, a trend he first started since arriving in Buffalo last year. Both players have shown that they can have a big impact on the game, and both will be heavily depended on in a defense that is predicated by pressure from their defensive line.
The Depth (1) Manny Lawson
- During the offseason the Bills made the declaration that Manny Lawson, who they had signed to play linebacker in Mike Pettine's defense in 2013, will instead play defensive end in Jim Schwartz's scheme this season. With no other players on the roster that have nearly the same experience on defense, Lawson will be the third man in to this group. The only way this will change is if the injury to Kiko Alonso causes the Bills to re-evaluate Lawson's role in the defense. However, since Alonso played weakside and Keith Rivers appears locked in as the strongside linebacker, Lawson will likely continue to work with the defensive ends.
The Bubble (3) Jarius Wynn, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Jacquies Smith
- The fourth defensive end on the roster will be up for grabs between these three, two of which that are very similarly built. In fact the only thing that separates them, according to the Bills' official roster, is one pound. Wynn (6-foot-3, 285-pounds) and Igbinosun (6-foot-3, 286-pounds) each provide the role of a bigger run defender, with the edge going to the former at the moment due in part to actual NFL experience. Wynn, 27, is entering his sixth year in the league and was a free agent acquisition of the Bills. Igbinosun, 23, was an addition to the practice squad during the 2013 season. Smith is a bit of a lighter defensive end but had some quality reps during the offseason workouts when Mario Williams couldn't participate and Manny Lawson was away from the team. The job favors Wynn, but a strong camp from either Smith or Igbinosun could put them in position to steal a spot.
The Longshots (1) Bryan Johnson
- The lone undrafted free agent of the group, Johnson (6-foot-4, 250-pounds) is built more like Hughes and Lawson. He'll likely get looks on the right side of the defensive line as more of a pass rushing specialist, but the odds of him making the roster aren't great. Coming from a small school, Johnson will need a healthy and strong camp to even get into bubble territory. He lost some ground during offseason practices by not getting on the field due to an injury.