Training camp is just around the corner for the Buffalo Bills and this marks a camp that should provide a whole different look at the upcoming season.
Until this offseason, the past few years have been quite lean for Bills fans. Offseason signings were a bit more prudent and balanced rather than the type that were geared towards making strides in the win column. With so many names already inked into the starting lineup for 2012 (see: Williams, Mario), camp should serve as a tool to dig up quality depth players for the Bills. With depth being one of the main culprits for last year’s collapse; having the ability to dig up quality back-ups could go a long way for Buffalo’s success.
Training camp is a tool used to find sleepers and back-ups. No matter how strong or weak a team is expected to be, your starters are usually set by the time camp is set to open. What is different for the Bills this year is their starters are truly starters.
There is potential for a few starting spots to be taken away from the incumbent starter but, for the most part, the real battles will be for second-team roles.
Cornerback and wide receiver are the two positions with the most competition and the most room for movement. Figuring out who falls where with the linebacking corps will be an interesting competition to follow along with, along with left tackle.
The rest of the positions are going to see more competition for the second unit, with the ultimate goal of finding some diamonds in the rough for the upcoming season.
Thanks to the acquisition of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Bills have the ability to keep an extremely talented group of players on the first and second team. Even the third men through on the defensive line are going to be capable of being contributors for the Bills, this is not a bad problem to have.
The interior offensive line and offensive backfield fall under the same umbrella as the defensive line. There are set starters and talented back-ups who will be vying for playing time. I expect that the players the Bills have brought in to compete to provide the Bills with plenty of options as training camp moves along.
At some point the Bills need to move past Donald Jones as a starting wide receiver. There is something to be said about draft steals like Stevie Johnson and David Nelson (undrafted). However, there is a little too much weight being placed on the potential value of low-level talent such as Jones.
Yes, he is a very good blocker but he isn’t very good at catching footballs. Typically, you want your receivers to be able to catch the ball. With Marcus Easley entering camp at the closest to 100% as he has been since being drafted and David Clowney hoping to garner attention, Jones will have competition outside. Brad Smith is a lock to make the roster, but whether you want to list him as a wide-out or a QB is six in one hand, half-dozen in the other. Either way he will occupy a spot on the 53-man roster. If it is as one of your three quarterbacks or as one of six (or maybe seven) receivers simply changes where you pencil him in.
For me, Easley is probably the only viable option instead of Jones at this point. Although, Clowney and Easley will be battling Kamar Aiken, Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin and Naaman Roosevelt for the two final spots on Buffalo’s roster.
Roster locks: Johnson, Nelson, Jones, Graham, Smith*
Bubble players (in order): Easley, Roosevelt, Aiken, Clowney, Martin, Hagan, Session *Brad Smith may fall on the depth chart as a quarterback instead of a receiver
If I was Buddy Nix, I would have kept Drayton Florence and cut Ledois McKelvin. That is just me. Both are make or break players who can look like an All-Pro one play and a goat on the next. However, the selection of Stephon Gilmore in the first round all but ensured that McKelvin’s days were numbered.
I understand why the Bills kept McKelvin. Terrence McGee’s knees make Jake Taylor look spry and Florence wasn’t getting younger, either. The Bills must be hoping that McKelvin will continue to develop and round into a steady corner to play opposite Gilmore in the near future.
Aaron Williams is the x-factor for me. He is less of a gambler than McKelvin and appears to be trending towards a higher plateau than McKelvin. Depending on McGee’s health and showing at camp, I could see Williams and Gilmore end up as the starting pair if Chan Gailey feels like rolling the dice a bit.
It is probably a long shot to have a rookie and second-year player as your starters, but Gilmore and Williams will be in the top four. That is as close to a sure thing as I care to predict. There will certainly be some combination of Gilmore, McGee, McKelvin and Williams in the top four this year with the chance that Ron Brooks and Justin Rodgers could affect that outcome a bit.
I think that the Bills have a set of six corners ready to go for this season. The extra players they have brought in may just be placeholders at this point. While I currently have him penciled in as a top-four corner, I wouldn’t be surprised if McKelvin even ends up as a cut this summer.
Roster locks: McGee, Gilmore, Williams, Rodgers, McKelvin, Brooks
Bubble players: Isaiah Green,Cris Hill, Delano Howell, Prince Miller,Nick Sukay
The reason I want to keep an eye on the Bills linebacking situation is because I have next to no confidence in the lineup they hope to move forward with.
I think Nick Barnett is a scary good talent and he was one of the best signings Buddy Nix has made for the Bills. The signing of Kirk Morrison was also a wise move for them to make last season. However, having three inside linebackers fill the three positions in a 4-3 scheme.
Nigel Bradham was a dynamic player for Florida State and I could see him making some waves this year. However, I would anticipate his impact will likely come later in the season. The same goes for Tank Carder.
What I’m interested to see is if Barnett, Morrison and Sheppard are capable of shouldering the load despite 2/3 of the unit being better suited for playing inside. If the defensive line is as dominant as they’re expected to be, this won’t be an issue.
The second unit of linebackers should have a real nice level of competition at camp. Scott McKlillop was tremendous in college, the same goes for Bradham and Carder. Returning players like Arthur Moats and Chris White are going to struggle to make the team, especially if one of the linebacker spots is to be reserved for Byran Scott.
Roster locks: Barnett, Sheppard, Morrison, Bradham, Carder, Scott*
Bubble players: McKillop, Moats, White
*Scott is a hybrid safety/linebacker who may not count towards the linebacking corps