Orchard Park, NY (WGR 550) -- When a season winds down and a team in the National Football League sees their playoff hopes all but evaporate, many times there will be an effort to get some of the younger players additional playing time during the regular season. The Buffalo Bills started that process on Sunday in Tampa Bay, and it appears as though it will continue.
On the third offensive series of the game along with the final series, fans may have noticed a change along the offensive line. Right guard Kraig Urbik stood on the sideline while rookie J.J. 'Unga took his first snaps as a professional player.
'Unga was one of a handful of younger players on the roster, normally relegated to the bottom of the depth chart due to their inexperience, to get more time on the field than they had seen at any point of the season. As for the guard, head coach Doug Marrone was so impressed that he would like to see even more of the 26-year old.
"I thought he did very well and I think we’re going to increase his playing time," he said on Monday.
The struggles at left guard, whether it has been Colin Brown or Doug Legursky getting the start, have been well-documented this season. Despite the troubles, it's Urbik and not Legursky who is losing time on the field to the young 'Unga.
That trend will continue as well, with Marrone saying he feels the undrafted rookie out of Midwestern State is better suited on the right side of the line.
'Unga, along with tight end Chris Gragg, fullback Evan Rodriguez and linebacker Ty Powell all saw jumps of playing time on their respective sides of the ball. For both Gragg and Rodriguez, it would be fair to assume that the Bills might be trying to see how they might fit into the offense. In both cases, they had a veteran player on the final year of their contract ahead of them.
Marrone was very complimentary of the play of Powell, who is a rush linebacker that was selected in the seventh round by Seattle in 2013.
"Ty Powell did a very good job yesterday, so that is exciting. We need to grow with that," he said. "We’ve got to figure out a way to get him some more playing time because he’s a good football player and keep progressing him as well as the other players."
With three games left, the Bills are trying to find the best combination to put victories on the board and are looking as though they'll be getting the youth of their roster a bit more involved.
"I want to make sure that I know exactly where everyone is at as we keep moving forward with this team," the coach said. "When we say trend, what I’m trying to figure out each week is who gives us the best chance to win and let’s go see those players and let’s make sure we know exactly who we have."
Joe B's Take:
It's a smart and savvy move by this coaching staff to see what they have in some of their younger players. They won't get a better opportunity to see how they play within the confines of the regular season than in the regular season itself, so putting them in that type of pressure-packed situation will only help the team for the long-term. With players like Scott Chandler, Frank Summers, Jamaal Westerman, Arthur Moats and more on the final year of their contract with the team, getting the younger players with some potential on the field in place of them is far more advantageous than any possible short-term gain they would get out of using players that might only be on the roster for three more weeks. At best, the Bills can see if one of these younger players can fill a potential need in the off-season. At worst, it can reaffirm to the organization that they need to get better at that position in the case that their younger players don't play well. With only a glimmer of hope for the postseason remaining, Doug Whaley and Doug Marrone deserve credit for approaching the final quarter of the season this way.