On Thursday night the Buffalo Bills will officially kick off their preseason season as they welcome the Washington Redskins to town and hopefully give rookie QB Robert Griffin III a very rude welcome to the NFL. This game will be the debut of the Bills own star player as DE Mario Williams is expected to start and should play about 15-18 snaps according to head coach Chan Gailey. Meanwhile Griffin and the Redskins starting units will be in there for 12-20 snaps according to Mike Shannahan.
Those 15-20 snaps should equate to 1 or 2 drives for each team before the starters pull of the pads and dawn the all too familiar sideline baseball cap. That is when the real game begins and where the heart of our game preview will be. There will be so little time that the starters will be on the field it’s hard to get a gauge on much of anything from them.
Per the Depth Chart above it looks like it will be Tyler Thigpen who immediately takes the field v. the Skins after Fitzpatrick is done. We expect to see plenty of opportunities for Thigpen to toss the ball around and WR’s like Marcus Easley, Derek Hagan, and TJ Graham should be among his main targets. After Thigpen you will see Vince Young get the ball. We aren’t sure yet but nobody really expect both Thigpen and Young to make the team so this game and the last game are going to be their best bets to showcase their abilities. Young will have lesser quality WR’s to throw to but should be playing against a defense that he should carve up like a Thanksgiving Turkey.
RB C.J. Spiller is the “back-up” to Fred Jackson but we don’t expect to see too much of him on Thursday night. He may play throughout the first half, but I wouldn’t expect him to get more than 10 touches. Spiller figures to be a key component in the Bills 2012 plans so there is no reason to expose him to so much risk early on in the preseason. The guy to watch is Johnny White, the Bills took a bit of flier on him last year and now he needs to show us something. With third string RB Tashard Choice so familiar with Coach Gailey’s system White has to make bigger plays happen in order to get noticed.
This will be a big game for all three of the WR’s mentioned above (Easley, Graham, & Hagan) as they fight to find roster spots behind the starting unit of Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, and David Nelson. The Bills could carry 6 WR’s but its key to remember that Brad Smith who is listed as a QB will play more WR’s, so is there room for 7 WR’s? Beyond that don’t forget about Naaman Roosevelt, or Kamar Aiken both of whom have enough skill to get open and make big catches down the field. The Bills have plenty of bodies at WR and on Thursday it’s time to start thinning the herd some to determine who can play for this team and who can’t.
The biggest battles to watch on the offensive side of the ball will be on the offensive line. Both Cordy Glenn and Chris Hairston should see lots of reps at LT and RT, while many of the interior guys are fighting to solidify roster spots. With Erik Pears unlikely to play we may not see as much head to head action with Glenn v. Hairston at the LT spot. When Eric Wood went down last season we saw just how badly exposed we were at the pivot position so we need to see Colin Brown step up and seize the position or potentially lose his spot to rookie Mark Asper.
With the Redskins starting defensive line all but set this game will be opportunity for backup DE’s and NT’s to make a case for getting playing time or even making the roster. DE Jarvis Jenkins is going to be one to watch, he was a dominant DL in the ACC at Clemson and entering into Year 2 the Redskins are hoping for big things. Backup NT’s Chris Neild and Chris Baker will be fighting each other for a roster spot all camp long. Neild is a bit undersized but may be the hardest working DL on the team while Baker is powerful and full of potential. One of these guys will look to emerge from this game as the leader for the spot.
Thankfully for our offensive line we won’t see much of the OLB combo of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Their backups aren’t nearly as fierce a pass rush threat, though watch for rookie OLB Brian McNally from New Hampshire. He was a 43 DL at New Hampshire and terrorized countless college QB’s. Against 2nd and 3rd string OT’s like James Carmon and Sam Young he could become a consistent threat to our QB’s. On the inside the LB to watch will be Keenan Robinson, the athletic rookie from Texas. Robinson knows how to fill holes but hasn’t spent much time in a 34. The Bills could try and run at him and test his assignment and scheme knowledge.
In the defensive backfield the Redskins will be nearly as young as we are, playing multiple players with limited to no experience. I would expect some of our more veterans WR’s to take advantage of that and be able to work themselves open. The one guy I do think could cause problems is third team FS Tanard Jackson, the former Syracuse standout is on his last chance with Washington but he has dynamic playmaking skills and could be an issue for our backup QB’s.
While seeing the new look Bills defensive line which I’m nicknaming “A WMD” (Anderson Williams Mario Dareus) will be fun for a limited amount of time it will be far more important to see how this new 43 scheme is working. The Bills will rely on a pretty consistent rotation of DE’s and DT’s in order to keep their starters fresh and aside from Chris Kelsay very little is proven or trusted among the backups. The battle for the backup DT spots expects to be fierce as former 2nd Round pick Torrell Troup looks to prove that he’s healthy and ready to dominate.
With lots of youth in the LB group, Thursday night will be the time to really dig in and see how they do. We expect to see a lot of third year player Arthur Moats who is now in the playing in the strong-side role and per many reports is really pushing Morrison for the starting spot. He will start Thursday night for the Bills but shouldn’t be limited by Gailey’s play restriction. It’s the three third team LB’s that I really want to see in Chris White-Tank Carder-Nigel Bradham. This trio should be able to neutralize the passing game of the Skins in the 3rd and 4th Quarters. They’ll likely see plenty of Kirk Cousins and could create a turnover if he makes a mistake.
When the Bills went ahead and drafted two CB’s to pair with Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers you knew what the future was. On Thursday we’ll get to see the start of that future as Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams will take the field as starters. I suspect Williams and Gilmore may get more playing time since they are young players but I could be wrong. Behind them sit our two former starters in McKelvin and McGee who honestly both need to have good games in order to rebuild some kind of faith in their abilities. For the safeties this all about the depth, we need somebody to emerge as FS backup option and look for Da’Norris Searcy to make his impact felt somehow in this game.
As much as we all want to see Robert Griffin III as much as humanely possible we already know he’s only go to play the 12-20 plays that Shannahan has mapped out for the starters. After that we should see Grossman for the remainder of the half and then two young QB’s in Kirk Cousins and Jonathan Crompton. I want to watch both QB’s play because both intrigued me coming out of college and the Redskins won’t keep both. If they cut one there could be a chance to grab them as a developmental player for the future.
The Redskins are going to use the RB by committee approach and you can expect to see one of the top three RB’s for basically the entire first half. Those three are locked into the roster so there isn’t much to learn, though all three a tough runners who don’t go down easy so they could test our 1st and 2nd team defenses ability to wrap up. Behind them the guys to see Lennon Creer and Alfred Morris, both were highly productive collegiate backs who mirror what the starters can do. If the Redskins go conservative offensively, they could try and pulverize a Bills D that is short on depth with a power rushing attack. Not exactly what you want to see in Game 1.
The WR’s are interesting because there aren’t a lot of names you know behind the starters but there is some talent to test our young DB’s with. I expect to see lots of Leonard Hankerson who figures to be a big part of this Redskins offense. He has the size, speed, and hands to cause trouble. Behind him players like Lance Lewis, Dezmon Briscoe, and Aldrick Robinson all can create mismatch problems with their speed and height. At TE you’ll see some of Fred Davis but then it will be a five some of TE’s who should all see time and all know how to catch the football. Chris Cooley is also working at FB for the Skins so we may get to see a lot of Niles Paul who has bulked up from being a WR. He’s going to be a good matchup for our coverage LB’s, because he’s athletic, we know he can run, and it could be a nice warm-up for playing the Pats athletic duo at TE.
The offensive line is a lot of patch work and the Skins are going to have to see what happens. I hope to see the Bills attack the right side of the line which I see as the weaker side. Mario Williams should be able to dominate Jammal Brown for as long as they are matched up and behind Brown there is nobody. Backup LT Tom Compton should be a good one to watch and RG Adam Gettis was the most athletic OL at this past years NFL combine. Those two would be the only two I’d really watch all that closely though.
10 Players To Watch
1. RT Zebrie Sanders-Reports have suggested he’s struggled early in camp, he currently sits 3rd on the teams depth chart behind Sam Young who none of us expected to be out Sanders. Sanders has to show us something in this game or else he will fall further behind Young who is solid but far from spectacular.
2. FS Joshua Nesbit-The former Georgia Tech QB was signed by the Bills originally last season after going undrafted. He has transitioned to being a safety and the Bills have a huge hole at FS right now. He sits 2nd on the depth chart but that’s less an indication of skill and more an indication of how scarily thin we are there.
3. LT James Carmon-The big undrafted LT out of Mississippi State is not much of a threat to make this roster but he’s as intriguing as Michael Jasper was last year because of his size and athleticism. The former DT who was a highly thought of JUCO prospect did well at Mississippi State as a LT last year and has flashed in camp.
4. LG Michael Jasper-Last year’s training camp darling the Bills are hoping to strike lightning again with Jasper. Jasper may not mirror what Jason Peters was (TE turned OT) but they fit the same profile. Big guys who can move and block. That second part is still a wait and see on Jasper and Thursday night will be a good chance to evaluate him.
5. CB Ron Brooks-The rookie CB out of LSU was so good last year that the Bills took him over a number of other higher rated CB’s. He’s likely a nickel guy in the NFL who can deliver some pop when he hits you and he has enough athleticism to run with most WR’s out of the slot. He’s been dominant in camp thus far as well.
6. QB/WR Brad Smith-I just don’t have any idea where he fits right now. We have three QB’s who all need plenty of reps, we are really deep at WR in terms of bodies, and do we really need a roster spot for a wildcat QB only? Be interesting to see how much he plays on Thursday
7. DT Jarron Gilbert-Some of you may remember Gilbert from a few drafts ago, he was the guy who could jump out of a pool (YouTube). He also had some nice ability in college and could be in a role here where he’s more comfortable. There hasn’t been much said on him in camp, but we do recall him having a really good first step and the ability to knife through the A or B gap and into the backfield.
8. K John Potter/P Shaun Powell-I included both kickers into one player because I don’t think either outright wins a roster spot but make sure you watch both. I think one of them, and maybe both, end up getting stashed on our PS because they are very good prospects.
9. FB Dorin Dickerson-Dickerson has bounced around the NFL since graduating from Pitt, he’s really an undersized TE who isn’t quite quick enough to be called a WR. The Bills seems intent to use him as a FB which could present some matchup issues for defenses trying to cover him out of the backfield. We won’t get many tips about how Gailey could use him but watch to see how much he plays
10. TE Lee Smith-Smith is currently the backup TE for the Bills and is a former OT who is kicking outside to TE. We picked him up from the Pats and he is a very good blocker who has been working hard on his routes and hands. Be interested to see how the Bills utilize him, specifically in a goal line situation. Could help to create an overload line package simply by being out there.
I find the idea of a preseason prediction to be rather pointless but what the heck, I’ll say Buffalo 20 Washington 17.
Check back on Saturday for our full review of the game!