INDIANAPOLIS (WGR 550) -- After a wait of over seven months, fans of the Buffalo Bills will finally get to see their favorite team in action with all the changes they've made in the off-season. On Sunday afternoon, the Bills take on the Indianapolis Colts on the road in their first preseason contest.
There will be plenty of firsts on Sunday, ranging from Doug Marrone's first game as head coach to the individual players that make up the roster.
It will be a day where third-team players get their biggest chance to make a solid impression on the coaching staff with the first cut down day only being right around the corner. Some players can show the ability to turn on the light in an actual game setting where others might fade from their spectacular performances throughout practices.
All in all, there will be plenty of things to keep an eye on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis.
1) EJ's debut
- The highly anticipated debut of first-round quarterback EJ Manuel is finally here. Because of the injury to Kevin Kolb and the death of his grandmother, Manuel will get the initial start of the team's preseason schedule. Kolb was expected to be on the trip and would likely dress, but will only take snaps if the Bills get into a dire situation. Although it's likely to be a very vanilla look from the Colts on defense, seeing Manuel react to players and situations he hasn't seen on a daily basis will be an important step in his professional progression. He may not get the entire game to operate, but fans will still get the opportunity to see how the rookie handles a brand new setting.
2) Wide receivers jockeying for position
- One of the most interesting positions to watch throughout training camp and now the preseason is the ongoing battle between the wide receivers. The absence of Stevie Johnson due to injury only adds intrigue to the actual preseason game in terms of the new faces on the team. It's likely that you'll see T.J. Graham and Robert Woods get the start, because that's how things have shaken out during practices since Johnson went down with the hamstring injury. Past that, players like Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan, Brandon Kaufman, Da'Rick Rogers, Marcus Easley and DeMarco Sampson will be attempting to make enough plays in a game setting to push them towards potentially making the roster. With five spots on the roster likely accounted for, that sixth spot may come down to players like Hogan, Easley, Rogers and Kaufman. Sunday is a big chance for all of them to make their mark.
3) The return of Jerry Hughes
- It's a bigger story in Indianapolis than it is in Buffalo, but let's put some perspective on it. Think back to when Aaron Maybin made his first visit to Ralph Wilson Stadium as a member of the New York Jets. Most fans were sick to their stomach because of how much the Jets had gotten out of Maybin to that point in the season, and none of the fans wanted to see the former first-round pick get a sack against the Bills. Many Colts fans consider Jerry Hughes to be an Aaron Maybin type of bust. A former first-round pick that never quite made his mark, and now fans in Indianapolis are reading about how good Hughes has been in spring and during training camp. Although he won't admit it, the outside linebacker must be fairly charged up for the upcoming game despite it only being a preseason contest.
4) Big opportunity for Brooks, Robey
- With both Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers out of the contest due to injury, the onus is on second-year cornerback Ron Brooks and undrafted rookie Nickell Robey to pick up the slack. Both Brooks and Robey have gotten time both on the outside and at nickel with the first team at some point during training camp. While it has yet to be determined who will get the start opposite Stephon Gilmore, it's likely both will see their fair share of time due to the prevalence of three-receiver sets in the NFL. If one or both can show up in a big way Sunday, they could potentially put some heat on McKelvin for that starting role.
5) OL Depth
- Over the past few years, the offensive line hasn't really been a problem for the Buffalo Bills. With some players walking out the door and other players failing to live up to expectations, the Bills have some questions along the offensive line. The battle at left guard gets all the attention with Colin Brown and Doug Legursky each attempting to win that job. However, the overall depth and who will inevitably be kept on the active roster will start to come in to focus as well. Backup left tackle Thomas Welch, backup right tackle Sam Young, backup center David Snow and others all must prove that they're better suited to play a versatile role for the Bills if they were to make it to the 53-man roster. To this point, it seems Welch is the most dependable of the backups but he still must prove himself against outside competition.