As the preseason continues on and we finally get to see some players in action, the 2012 Bills come into focus a little more. After weeks of practice, and four arguably meaningless games, we fans get a better sense of the strength and weaknesses of our beloved team. With that in mind, after each preseason game I’m going to take a shot at predicting the 53 man roster using the game action and the weeks worth of practices to inform my decision. 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.
Editor’s Note: The article below is by Eric Samulski. Eric will be our Bills Writer all season long bringing you weekly previews and game reviews as the Bills try and reverse a more than decade long slide and make their way into the playoff. You can follow Eric this year at @SamskiNYC
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Vince Young
When I did my first prediction, I considered the quarterback position to be a pretty solid lock. Everybody knows Fitz is the Bills number one quarterback, and I figured that there was 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, but the coaching staff has continually mentioned how unsure he is with the offense. Thigpen hasn’t been lighting it up, but he’s played well enough to make it a real competition. However, I still think Young’s upside will win out in the end.
As for those who think the Bills will carry both Thigpen and Young and cut Brad Smith, I just don’t see it. NFL teams rarely use their 3rd QB, so having one who also plays another position is especially valuable. Furthermore, Smith was signed with the intention of being a specialty player and a Wildcat QB. He was unsuccessful last year because there was no training camp, but I think the Bills want to give him at least a full offseason with the team to show how he can help out. It’s highly unlikely he’s let go.
Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Tashard Choice, Corey McIntyre
I haven’t changed my tune much at this position because I’ve seen nothing to make me believe this isn’t how it breaks down. We know Spiller and Jackson are locked into some sort of 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 few 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, and has gotten reps ahead of White, I think it’s safe to assume that Gailey’s staff prefers Choice.
Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Dorin Dickerson
This is still 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 former left tackle prospect because of his 6’6” 270-pound frame and the solid job he does at the line of scrimmage. He was with the Bills last season, so he knows the offense 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 made Gailey start installing an H-Back into his offense. While we haven’t heard much from Dickerson lately in camp, he produced early on and Wanny coached him at Pitt and knows what he can do. I think the match-up problems he creates will be too delightful for Gailey to pass up.
Steve Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, TJ Graham, Derek Hagan, Brad Smith
This is the position that has changed the most since my last prediction. Instead of seven wide receivers, I have the Bills keeping only six. Additionally, if they kept seven, I’m beginning to think that last guy would be Roosevelt and not Marcus Easley.
First, a comment on why I have them only keeping six wide receivers. The Bills are absolutely going to get Spiller and Jackson on the field at the same time this season. That means Spiller will be lined up out wide a lot. If the Bills keep Dickerson, which I think they will, he gives them another receiving target that won’t be listed as a true WR. That means even with six wide receivers, the Bills would have eight players who could line up out wide. That’s more than enough, even for Chan Gailey. Which means, Easley and Roosevelt will need to leave no doubt that they deserve a spot before they get kept over somebody else. They’re not doing that right now.
Of the six players on this list, four 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, and Graham on the roster. That leaves two spots open. I already explained earlier why I think Smith is a likely candidate to take one of the last few slots. His versatility is crucial in Chan’s offense.
I stil believe Hagan steals the last spot. He played well for Buffalo at the end of the season last year and has been great so far this preseason, showing true deep speed and running solid routes. It might come down to a battle between him and Easley, because of his upside, but the 2010 fourth-rounder still seems behind the eight-ball and might not be able to make up the ground in time.
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 Nix doesn’t usually cut draft picks. 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.
Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus, Mark Anderson, Shawn Merriman, Chris Kelsay, Dwan Edwards, Kyle Moore, 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 stated in the first report that I thought that Dwan Edwards would be on his way out with the change to a 4-3 scheme. However, the Bills had him consistently running with the starters when Kyle Williams sat out during mini-camp. During training camp he’s been with the two’s for almost every snap, except when he bumps up to the one’s, so it doesn’t appear as though his job is in jeopardy.
Spencer Johnson makes the team because of 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.
Kyle Moore is the newest edition to the final roster. He’s 6’6” 265 pounds and shows a real knack for getting after the quarterback. Gailey has spoken a lot about him needing to round out his game, but the silver lining is that his name is now in the conversation and his one skill, accumulating sacks, is one of the most important skills in the league. With Troup still not proving he can be healthy, I think Moore could be kept as the 5th DE.
Nick Barnett, Kirk Morrison, Kelvin Sheppard, Arthur Moats, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder, Bryan Scott
I mentioned last time that I thought Bradham would take Morrison’s job halfway through the season. It appears as though Moats may have taken that job in training camp. A college DE, Moats has played everywhere in his stint with the Bills, but OLB might just be the best fit. In any case, I still believe that, whoever starts, Moats, Morrison and Bradham are all locks to make the team. Bradham possesses 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 last season, and Scott McKillop has gotten a lot of reps this training camp, but they don’t offer Carder’s versatility on both special teams and in base defenses.
Meanwhile, Bryan Scott has taken to the hybrid S/LB role used to shadow tight ends, and by all account is having a great offseason. His job is not in danger. Same goes for Barnett and Sheppard, who are good bets to be locked in starting spots.
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 were that last years surprise, Rodgers, has taken command of the nickel job, but Ron Brooks has come on strong of late, and even McKelvin has been taking reps inside. Gailey thinks that McKelvin can use his natural athleticism better in the slot and Brooks has made plays in each practice, so it could be a race to the final day for that job.
That means Terrence McGee could be the odd man out. He still hasn’t been able ot get meaningful reps on the field, but his injury is healing and he seems more likely to see time soon. I have a hard time believing he won’t make the final cut because he’s a valued veteran, has taken a paycut to remain in Buffalo, and can be a real mentor to the younger corners. I do think his days of real on field value are behind him though.
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. I know people are talking about Joshua Nesbitt as a project player, but I just don’t think he offers enough value to make the final roster.
Ryan Lindell, John Potter, Brian Moorman, Garrison Sanborn
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 and Sanborn is their long snapper. It’s really that simple. Regardless of whom they bring in, Moorman 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.