DETROIT (WGR 550) -- With a swift sixty minutes in the Motor City, the preseason schedule comes to a close for the Buffalo Bills, paving the way for the last round of cuts across the league.
It was a big night for many players on the bubble -- many of which knew it heading in to the contest. How did they fare, and who might have played their way on to the roster?
Here are some of my thoughts from the game that was:
- Since I opened my preview article with looking to see how Tyler Thigpen would fare in his final audition for the coaching staff, it seems only right to start with the man that dons number-four. Despite two interceptions, I think Thigpen had a fairly solid evening. Out of 36 total passes thrown by the Bills, Thigpen threw 30 of them. The best style of pass he used all night was the back shoulder throw to his receivers along the sidelines, hooking up with several targets as the game went along. As the game wore on, Thigpen looked more and more comfortable. On the two interceptions, both plays were a result of it being tipped at the line of scrimmage. From my vantage point on the sidelines, the first interception looked as though it was totally his fault -- not putting enough velocity on a simple step-back by Derek Hagan. But it was tipped at the line, as was his other interception. Yes, they still count, but on the whole his 18-completion, one touchdown performance might have done enough to secure a roster spot for him. There's also another thing that plays in to Thigpen potentially being kept around…
- And that's Brad Smith pulling his groin, as Chan Gailey diagnosed in the post-game press conference. Just how long will Smith miss some action? If the answer is more than a week, the Bills are going to be put in a very precarious situation as they approach cut-down day. If Smith can't play as an emergency quarterback and they cut Thigpen, that leaves them with only four-play old Tarvaris Jackson to be the backup if anything were to happen to Ryan Fitzpatrick. By the time the New York Jets game rolls around, he'll have been in the playbook for a whole two weeks. Is it enough time? Do they want to keep Thigpen around as an insurance policy? If they do, will they pay Thigpen the $2.5 million owed to him if they kept him on through Saturday of next week? Or would they try to release Thigpen, and attempt to sign him back after 24 hours? These are the need-to-know answers that will come over the next three days.
- I don't know if it was enough to warrant a roster spot based off of how he's performed throughout training camp and three preseason games, but Marcus Easley certainly brought his A-game after a mental flub to start off his evening. Forgetting to go out as part of the kickoff return team, special teams coach Bruce DeHaven quickly hollered for Easley to get out there. An obviously flustered Easley had the kick come his way, and he dropped it in the end zone. An inauspicious start to say the least. As he continued to get reps, however, Easley became a nice part of the offense. He made a solid twenty-yard grab, bulled his way for a two-point conversion, showed some progress in run blocking and oh, yeah, he had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The numbers game might get him, but I'm betting the Bills would love to sneak him on to their practice squad.
- Sticking with the offense, another player that knew tonight was a big evening was tight end Dorin Dickerson. He's firmly on the bubble, and he even used that terminology when I spoke with him after the contest. Dickerson made three nice grabs, turning one of which upfield. Another thing I liked, was that he was always eager to exploit his present matchup. He always felt like he had the edge. Now you have to actually make the plays, but to have that mentality on a play-to-play basis is a little part of the battle. If he makes it, he'll be one of the last to be added to the 53-man roster.
- Ruvell Martin is thought to be one of the major special teams contributors, especially on punt coverage in the gunner role. As the game went along though, Martin didn't get a chance to show off his abilities in that capacity. On the very first punt, it was T.J. Graham and Justin Rogers attempting to chase down the punt returner. Is that a sign of things to come? Might Martin be on the outside looking in if his only advantage was being taken away from him in the preseason game? He's another firmly on the bubble.
- A couple of players had great evenings from the defensive end position. Both Kyle Moore and Jarron Gilbert needed a big evening to put their best foot forward in making the team, and both excelled in my opinion. Moore is likely safe on cut-down day, but things are much less certain for Gilbert. I believe he's separated himself from the pack of defensive linemen enough to be considered the ninth-best player on the roster, but the bigger question is whether or not they choose to keep that many. If you noticed, late in the game Gilbert was being used as a defensive tackle. I think that was done to show he still has the ability to be versatile enough to do both if need be. That could go miles in his attempt to make the roster.
- Alex Carrington burst through the line of scrimmage to take down the quarterback in the second half, but I believe that play may have been too little, too late for the former third-round pick. He's a big body that ideally should be very good at the point of attack. Carrington was so eager on one play though that he was let free on a run play, and stumbled his way through the backfield as the runner took his gap and rushed for an eight-yard gain. Unless they want to cut Dwan Edwards for salary purposes, I don't believe Carrington has played well enough to make the team.
- One of the questions heading in to the evening was who would emerge as the strongest middle linebacker candidate between Kirk Morrison and Scott McKillop. The advantage goes to Morrison every step of the way. He was good in run support and performed well on special teams. McKillop was invisible much of the evening.
- If the Bills keep four safeties, that man will be undrafted free agent rookie Delano Howell. He's shown a very good ability of getting a good hit on players as they enter his area, but is he as far along in the coverage side of things for them to keep him on? He will be part of a group of about 7 or 8 players that will be considered for the final 3 or 4 spots.
- Lastly, what a relief for the coaching staff of the Bills in terms of injuries to starters. Sure, Brad Smith went down with a groin injury, but he doesn't necessarily start on the offensive side of the ball. When Andy Levtire had to run off the field with the Bills working on his left arm, I'm sure there was a lot of nervous energy from some of the coaches. Levitre, as luck would have it for the Bills, ended up to be fine. With Eric Wood coming off a major knee injury, Erik Pears potentially returning from a groin injury that has plagued him all summer and a rookie starting at left tackle, the last thing the Bills needed was their stalwart left guard to be sidelined with an injury. They've dodged bullets left and right to their starters for the most part this preseason, and are heading in to the regular season with no significant injuries to their core players. Through a summer worth of work and four preseason games with live contact, you can't ask for much more on that end if you're the Bills.
MVP: WR Marcus Easley - It could be too little, too late. Seeing a sign of life from him though is a big thing moving forward.
LVP: Scott McKillop - On an incredibly important evening for his career, McKillop disappeared. He's on the outside looking in.
Up Next: Cut-down day. The Bills must cut 22 players by 9 pm on Friday. Then Sunday, September 9, the Bills travel to the Meadowlands to take on the New York Jets.