By BBD Writer: Eric Samulski
With only seventeen days until the start of training camp and two months until the potentially franchise rejuvenating 2012 Bills take the field, it’s time to start looking at the specifics of the upcoming season. Instead of just thinking about schedules and outlook, we need to start examining what the actual make-up of the team might look like. With that in mind, I’ve taken a shot at whittling the offseason roster down to what I think will be the final 53. Just to clarify, this is not necessarily the 53 man roster that I believe to be the strongest combination of parts, but rather, the 53 man roster that I believe we are most likely to see.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Vince Young
I consider the quarterback position to be a pretty solid lock. Everybody knows Fitz is the Bills number one quarterback, and there is little chance that the Bills signed Vince Young only to cut him come August. His athleticism makes him a great fit in Gailey’s system, and the coaching staff has praised his ability to pick up the offense in his little time with the team so far. With Brad Smith taking extended reps as a third string option, there is no chance that Thigpen stays on the roster.
Running Back- 4
Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Tashard Choice, Corey McIntyre
I talked about this when I did my training camp previews, but I still believe this is how the position breaks down. We know Spiller and Jackson are locked into a timeshare at runningback. McIntyre is a solid lead blocker, but also a leader on special teams; two reasons why the Bills will keep him around. With not many carries leftover after Spiller and Jackson have their fill, it’s realistic to believe the Bills would only keep one more back. Since Choice was re-signed despite Johnny White being on the roster, I think it’s safe to assume that Gailey’s staff prefers what Choice brings to the table. I’m not sure what that is other than his familiarity with the system, but maybe that’s enough.
Tight End- 3
Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Dorin Dickerson
This might be the toughest position on the Bills to predict. Chandler is locked in as the team’s starting tight end, but everything after that is completely up in the air. He provides a mismatch as a receiver, but he’s only an average blocker, so it makes sense for the Bills to keep a blocking guy to compliment him. If that’s the case, Smith is the best option. The Patriots drafted him as a left tackle prospect because of his 6’6” 270-pound frame and the solid job he does at the line of scrimmage. He’s impressed the Bills this offseason as well and would make a solid compliment to Chandler.
Dickerson is the wildcard. At 6’2” 230 pounds, he’s not quite large enough to be a tight end, but he has 4.4 speed and athleticism that has Gailey talking about installing an H-Back into his offense. I think the match-up problems he creates will be too delightful for Gailey to pass up. With the Bills almost assured of keeping seven wide receivers because of Smith’s dual eligibility, I think Dickerson takes the spot of a potential tight end and not a wide out.
Wide Receiver- 7
Steve Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, Marcus Easley, TJ Graham, Derek Hagan, Brad Smith
Of the seven players on this list, five are an absolute lock. With the exception of an injury, there is no way the Bills don’t open the season with Johnson, Jones, Nelson, Graham, and Smith on the roster. That leaves one or two spots open. Since the Bills run more four wide sets than any team in the league, and view Smith as a 3rd QB and can essentially carry him as such, I believe they will head into the season with seven receivers. That makes a strong chance they keep Easley, who was considered the steal of the 2010 draft until a knee injury and heart concern kept him out for his first two seasons. He has size/speed combo that coaches drool over and will be given every opportunity to win a spot.
I believe Hagan steals the last one. He played well for Buffalo at the end of the season last year and with Nix spouting the word “playmaker” all off-season, Hagan gets the edge because he offers more big-play upside than Clowney or Roosevelt.
Offensive Line- 9
Cordy Glenn, Kraig Urbik, Eric Wood, Andy Levitre, Chris Hairston, Erik Pears, Chad Rinehart, Mark Asper, Zebrie Sanders
There is really only one spot on this list that is even a question. Wood and Levtire are the Bills two most talented returning lineman and potential All-Pros. Glenn and Sanders were just drafted, and Glenn seems likely to open the season as the team’s left tackle. Urbik and Rinehart were both just re-signed this offseason and in a battle for the starting RG position, while similarly re-signed Pears battles last years solid rookie, Hairston for the right tackle job.
That only leaves the job of back-up center, a position that has been essential in recent years with Wood’s injury concerns. Asper and returning back-up center, Colin Brown, are almost identical on paper. They have the same height and weight, and similarly were moved from guard to center. Similar to the argument for keeping Choice on the roster, I don’t see why the Bills would have drafted somebody almost identical to Colin Brown if they liked what Brown was giving them. They were clearly looking for something more. Asper has experience in a fast-paced offense at Oregon and took to center quickly in mini-camps. If he can keep it up I think the job is his to lose.
Defensive Line- 9
Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus, Mark Anderson, Shawn Merriman, Chris Kelsay, Dwan Edwards, Torell Troup, Spencer Johnson
This looks to be the Bills deepest position on paper, which is saying a lot since it was a huge weakness last year. A starting line of Williams, Williams, Dareus and Anderson is among the leagues best. If Merriman even plays at 75% of the level he has shown himself to be capable of, he’s a tremendous rush end, and Kelsay will be tremendously valuable as a rotational lineman.
I had previous thought that Dwan Edwards would be on his way out with the change to a 4-3 scheme since his only NFL experience comes in a 3-4 system. However, the Bills had him consistently running with the starters when Kyle Williams sat out during mini-camp, which suggests that he might be here to stay.
The call on Troup is more a gut feeling. Big lineman with back issues can be a long-term problem, so he’s no lock to make the roster. However, Troup was a penetrating 4-3 defensive tackle when he was drafted out of UCF. The Bills looked at his size and saw a nose tackle project, but Troup has the quick first step to be disruptive inside in the new scheme. If he proves he can stay healthy, he has a chance to actually be an asset as a reserve.
Spencer Johnson makes the team because of salary, experience, and versatility. I’d love to see the Bills keep Alex Carrington because I think he was screwed around with the constant changing of positions and could be a very solid reserve, but I don’t see him lasting. His name just never seems to appear in the equation. Johnson, like Carrington, has played 4-3 DT, 3-4 DE and 3-4 OLB and has years of experience in the league. As a back-up, experience and versatility are arguably the two most important qualities.
Line Backer- 7
Nick Barnett, Kirk Morrison, Kelvin Sheppard, Arthur Moats, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder, Bryan Scott
As of right now, the Bills have Barnett, Morrison, and Sheppard penciled into their starting line-up, but I mentioned last week that I think Bradham will take Morrison’s job halfway through the season. He’s a lock to make the team because of his special teams prowess and position versatility, which I think is the same reason Carder makes the cut. Chris White was a star for the Bills on special teams, but he doesn’t offer Carder’s value as an actual linebacker, so he will be sacrificed.
Bryan Scott has taken to the hybrid S/LB role used to shadow tight ends, and Gailey seems to think he’s a good fit there. Which only leaves Moats. A college defensive end, Moats has been made a pass-rushing outside linebacker, a gap busting inside linebacker, and now a coverage outside linebacker. He seems to have handled the transitions pretty well, and the Bills love his ability to get after the passer, so I think he will survive the cut.
Corner Back- 6
Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rodgers, Ron Brooks
The Bills have made a concerted effort to improve their secondary over the last two years and have gotten dramatically younger. Last years second round draft pick, Williams, and this years first round pick, Gilmore, seem like locks to start on the outside. Early indications are that last years surprise, Rodgers, has taken command of the nickel job. He has solid coverage skills and has proven himself in games, which gives him the leg up and Brooks and McKelvin. The fact that he isn’t made of glass gives him a huge advantage on McGee. McGee will make the final cut because he’s a valued veteran, has taken a paycut, and can be a real mentor to the younger corners, but I think his days of real on field value are behind him.
Brooks is a corner that the Bills loved this offseason, and they think he has real upside that was hidden behind tremendous depth at LSU. Many assumed McKelvin was gone after continuing to underperform, but it seems like the Bills are poised to give him another shot. He lacks playmaking skills, but seems to always be around the ball. His skills in the return game is another aspect working in his favor.
Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Da’Norris Searcy
With the Bills also keeping Scott as a hybrid S/LB, they only need to carry three true safeties. Byrd has become one of the best in the league, Wilson has been a true steady veteran, and Searcy looked great in run support in limited duty last year. This one is pretty straightforward, and I would be shocked if there was any deviation from this by the time the season starts.
Ryan Lindell, John Potter
Most teams don’t usually carry two kickers, but the Bills drafted Potter because they believe that winning games is about field position. There is no shot that he takes Lindell’s job as the field goal kicker, but he can consistently put the ball through the opponents’ end zone on kickoffs. Not only does this back your opponents offense up, but it saves your special teams players from taking an unnecessary beating. That’s worth a roster spot.
Moorman is the Bills punter. It’s really that simple. Regardless of whom they bring in, he keeps producing and he’s been with the team forever. The only way he goes is if he retires are experiences a drastic drop in production. Neither one happened this offseason.