– Matt Haring
The wait is finally over. Buffalo Bills football returns this Friday as the Bills will take the practice field at St. John Fisher College for their first training camp session of the 2015-2016 year. Expectations have been sky high throughout the bulk of this lively offseason due to numerous integral pieces being added to the team. Rex Ryan brings significant recognition and notoriety to the coaching staff, representing the big name coach Buffalo has been seeking for years. On the field, the offense added several proficient pieces in Charles Clay, Lesean McCoy and Percy Harvin; all of which figure to be significant inclusions to an offense desperately grasping for answers. The growth of the offense the main thing I’ll be keeping an eye throughout the coming weeks at training camp.
The Quarterback Battle:
I know, I know. It’s not pretty, but it is undoubtedly the most important unknown that needs to be discovered over the next few weeks. After being benched 4 weeks into last season, EJ Manuel returns with a clean slate and new toys to play with on offense. Can his athletic skill set translate to offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme better than Nathaniel Hackett’s? Probably. But will it be good enough to fend off Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor? That, we shall see. Cassel comes to Buffalo via the trade route and was widely thought to be the favorite to start at the position due to his veteran disposition and brief history of success. However, an abysmal spring has tempered these expectations and he finds himself squarely in the mix of a three-headed battle. The third, and biggest unknown, is Tyrod Taylor. Signed away from the Ravens where he served as a backup to Joe Flacco, Tyrod looks to build off of a solid spring and try to win himself a starting job. He possesses the ideal physical traits to fit in Roman’s west coast scheme, which will make him particularly interesting to keep an eye on.
The Offensive Line:
In order for the Bills to breakthrough in 2015-2016, the offensive line simply has to be drastically better than last year’s squad. In an offense which will most likely pride itself on running the ball, getting a good push at the line of scrimmage will be make-or-break. 4 spots along the line appear to be locked up, and there shouldn’t be much of a push from a backup taking their job. Cordy Glenn appears to be locked and loaded at the left tackle spot that he has held down for the previous 3 years. Rookie John Miller has impressed the coaching staff with his football IQ, seemingly knowing X’s and O’s on all of his plays during spring mini camps and OTA’s. The left guard spot appears to be his to lose.
Center Eric Wood returns as the starter after a rough 2014 season, though he has proven to be a good commodity along the line in the past. We’ll chalk last year’s performance up as a product of an overall bad offensive line, and expect he’ll return to form. Richie Incognito signed a 1 year contract with the team this offseason in a “prove it” type deal, and he’ll have all the opportunities in the world to do that. By all indications, Incognito will be starting alongside Wood at the right guard position. The only real battle along the line comes at right tackle, where incumbent Seantrel Henderson will need to fend off a charging Cyrus Kouandjio. Kouandjio received all of the work with the first team in the spring, and appears to be the favorite heading into camp. Though, with just four NFL snaps under his belt and a year of being mostly inactive, Seantrel has more experience at the position.
Who sticks at WR?
The wide receiver position is brimming with talent, and there will not be room for everyone. First, the locks to make the roster are Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin. These three figure to be the main weapons in the passing game, but after them, a crowded second tier begins to form. Chris Hogan performed extremely well last year recording 41 catches, 426 yards and 4 touchdowns. He has proven to be an exceptional route runner and slot receiver, so his fate may be pointing towards making the team. Marcus Easley is an elite NFL special team’s player who just signed a 4 year contract in the offseason. A reluctance to take strictly special teamers is the only thing that should hinder Easley’s spot on the roster, for now. If the Bills keep 5 WR’s, Watkins, Woods, Harvin, Hogan and Easley might be the 5. But with Easley’s lack of contribution on offense, Roman and Ryan may look to keep a sixth option at the position.
Marquise Goodwin, Justin Brown, and Dezmin Lewis would be the prime candidates to take that sixth spot. Goodwin is a talented, speedy player but an inability to stay healthy has deterred him from being a consistent NFL player, and this may be his last chance to prove his worth. Dezmin Lewis, drafted in the 7th round out of Central Arkansas, has been widely touted as a steal for the Bills in the 7th round, and has the size that the Bills lack at the position. His likely destination may be the practice squad, but if he shows well enough in camp he can earn himself a valuable role in an offense lacking size on the outside. Lastly, Justin Brown, a 6’ 3” WR from Oklahoma, offers the same type of skill set as Lewis, and will look to separate himself from the competition in the redzone. Brown played well for the Steelers in camp last year, and earned a roster spot to start the year before being released.