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Posted: Thursday, 15 August 2013 6:42PM

5 things to watch for in Bills - Vikings



(WGR 550) -- The Buffalo Bills and the rest of the National Football League draw nearer to the start of the regular season with all the teams now into their second week of preseason action. The Bills will host their first game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2013 on Friday, with a date against the Minnesota VIkings scheduled.

It's quite an important contest for one position, and really one player in particular. The individual results of the game could be telling for what's to come in the final half of August.

1) Kolb's Last Stand?
- Upholding the sanctity of the term "quarterback competition," Head Coach Doug Marrone announced on Wednesday that veteran Kevin Kolb would be starting against Minnesota on Friday night. Kolb missed a lot of time and reps in practice due to his fluke knee injury and because of a death in his family shortly thereafter, so he needed this start in the worst way. He'll be going up against the Vikings' top defenders on their roster, and will have an opportunity to gain some ground back on rookie EJ Manuel that was lost during all the time he spent away from the field. A positive performance can make the third preseason game scheduled against Washington one of the most highly anticipated exhibition games the Bills have had in some time. However, if Kolb comes out and flops against the Vikings, the quarterback competition could be a dead issue and the 2013 first-round pick could claim the role outright. So much is riding on this game for Kolb, and he must rise to the occasion to keep the competition alive.

2) Rookie duo starting at WR
- Kolb won't have the comfort of knowing he's got veteran targets at wide receiver during his time on the field. Both Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham are out because of injuries, so that means the veteran quarterback will be operating with two draft picks as his starting wideouts. While Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin have certainly made some big plays at camp, they haven't worked with Kolb all that much. Throughout spring, both rookies took reps with the second team and was primarily with EJ Manuel. Then when both Johnson and Graham suffered their injuries, Kolb had the same happen meaning both Woods and Goodwin rose up along with Manuel. It will also give fans a great look at the individual skill-sets each of the rookies bring to the table if they haven't been exposed to them at training camp just yet. They have differing styles, but both have been impressive at camp thus far.

3) Hogan vs. Rogers vs. Easley
- The most compelling decision the Bills will make (outside of quarterback) will be who makes the 53-man roster on the back-end of the wide receiver group. It's likely that Johnson, Graham, Woods and Goodwin all make the roster, and Brad Smith is less likely but still seems like a good bet. Then it comes down to two or three players for one spot, and all three have compelling cases. Chris Hogan has been a stud during spring workouts and training camp, Da'Rick Rogers shows flashes of his potential at times but is less consistent and Marcus Easley had the best game statistically of any wideout against Indianapolis. Hogan will get a great opportunity with both Johnson and Graham out. When the Bills go to three-wide sets, Hogan will enter the lineup and could serve as a solid target for Kevin Kolb. His biggest competitor is likely Rogers, and he needs to prove to the decision makers that the product that he is right now is more worthy than the potential that Rogers brings.

4) Who starts at CB?
- Without Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers, the Bills might try to vary things up at cornerback on the first team. Stephon Gilmore will start, but who will get the reps on the opposite side of the field? Against Indianapolis it was Ron Brooks, and he got torched. If he's fully healthy, there's a good chance it will be Crezdon Butler with the first team. If he isn't though, then you might see Brooks, Nickell Robey or even Don Unamba with the first team. Both Robey and Unamba got a lot of work in during Wednesday's practice at outside cornerback. Another possible entrant, T.J. Heath, is injured and sat out on Wednesday.

5) The kicking battle continues
- The first preseason game was a bit of a wash for the kicking competition. Neither Rian Lindell or Dustin Hopkins were really pushed by their field goal or extra point attempts. Hopkins lost a little ground by putting one kickoff out of bounds and taking a penalty, but otherwise he showed the big leg that comes with his game. If the Bills were to get a chance to get Hopkins or Lindell some pressure kicks with higher yardage, I think they'll jump all over it. Practice kicks are all well and good, but it's the ones in the game that could weigh the most. Early on in the game Doug Marrone told Hopkins to just "calm down," and the rookie would be well-served to follow that advice. It's his job to lose, and Friday against Minnesota could speak volumes about the future of this competition.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

All photos courtesy of AP
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