BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
The Buffalo Bills head into their preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts with more at stake than most would expect for an early August scrimmage.
With a new coaching staff and organizational philosophy intact, there are many players who are looking to prove that they belong on the new-look Bills. The first game will be an opportunity for some players brought in by the new regime to warm themselves to the Buffalo faithful, while many returning players will need to prove that they can change with the times and fit into the new schemes.
With the starters set to only play a few possessions, Bills fans will need to turn their eyes to the reserves in order to find the most intriguing story lines. For the following players, the pressure on Sunday might be the most palpable.
Doug Legursky and Colin Brown
There are a few potential starters who will be feeling the pressure on Sunday. Legursky and Brown, who are competing at the left guard spot, will certainly be among them.
After losing Andy Levitre to free agency, the Bills didn’t bring in any new competition for his left guard spot. So far, that strategy has not paid off. Head coach Doug Marrone made it clear early in training camp that the competition for the left guard spot has been frustratingly mediocre for him.
“I think that we’ve got to look to maybe throw someone else in the mix,” Marrone said on July 31, according to the Buffalo News. I don’t know if I see the separation that I like to see right now.”
The Bills had Cordy Glenn, their regular starter at left tackle, line up at left guard for Wednesday’s practice according to WIVB-TV. That was a clear signal that the Bills are looking for all combinations that might work. If neither Legursky nor Brown can prove themselves capable on Sunday, the Bills may have to look into new options at the position.
Manuel’s pressure is simple: he’s a first-round pick and rookie quarterback on a team that hasn’t had a true franchise signal-caller since Jim Kelly was in town. Even though it’s the first preseason game, people are going to be evaluating Manuel’s performance and judging whether the Bills reached on him like many pundits thought in April. If he can appear calm, show flashes of his raw ability and avoid any major mental lapses, it would go a long way to calming some of the fanbase’s anxiety.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone confirmed Friday that Manuel will start at quarterback for the Bills on Sunday.
The last potential starter facing serious pressure on Sunday, Williams will be making his NFL debut at safety after playing cornerback during his first two seasons with the Bills. Williams is listed as the starting strong safety on the team’s initial preseason depth chart ahead of Da’Norris Searcy, who many thought would replace George Wilson following Wilson’s release this offseason.
After a subpar beginning to Williams’ NFL career as a corner, he has reportedly taken to the safety position quickly and made real strides in the offseason according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com.
“He’s ahead of schedule of where we thought he would be,” Mike Pettine told BuffaloBills.com in July regarding Williams’ development. ”He’s flashed just the things that we saw in him as far as being a safety. He’s had some interceptions and obviously his range his ability to get sideline to sideline is obviously something we’re going to take advantage of.”
Williams now needs to show the public the progress that the coaching staff has discussed in order to assure people that he actually has a future in the NFL.
Ron Brooks and Nickell Robey
With Leodis McKelvin dealing with a groin injury and Justin Rogers out with a hamstring strain, Ron Brooks and Nickell Robey have been taking turns with the first team across from Stephon Gilmore, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. While McKelvin is the favorite for the No. 2 job and Rogers is in competition for the Bills slot cornerback position, both Brooks and Robey can use solid showings on Sunday to put pressure on the guys above them.
Since Brooks was out with injury for most of his rookie season last year, and Robey is an undrafted free agent, it is especially important for each to perform well in the preseason. Neither will have anything handed to them. Although Brooks had a solid offseason last year and Robey may be performing his way into consideration for the 53-man roster, this will be a major showcase for both men. With the Bills carrying many capable cornerbacks into the offseason, neither player can afford to lose momentum.
One of these veteran wide receivers is not going to make the 2013 Buffalo Bills. With Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, T.J. Graham, Marquise Goodwin, and (likely) Da’Rick Rogers looking like solid bets to crack the final roster, that would leave only one receiver spot open.
The Bills have a couple of young wide receivers like Brandon Kaufman who have a chance to earn that spot, but I believe the final spot will come down to the upside of Marcus Easley or the veteran presence of Brad Smith. However, neither one of them has lived up the expectations surrounding them since they joined the Bills.
Marrone confirmed Friday that Smith will not play in Sunday’s game, which gives Easley an opportunity to separate himself from Smith. If Easley cannot do so, his roster spot will remain in jeopardy.
Jamie Blatnick, Keith Pough and Marcus Dowtin
Mike Pettine loves to bring pressure off the edge of his defense. That has played a big part in the Bills’ effort to re-shape their roster, which has included bringing in guys like Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson. Those two pass-rushers/outside linebackers should be locked onto the roster, while Kiko Alonso and Nigel Bradham have safe roster spots at inside linebacker.
That leaves Blatnick, Pough and Dowtin fighting for what might amount to one or two spots. Each has shown flashes in practice, but the guy who proves most adept at picking up Pettine’s scheme and getting consistent pressure on the quarterback might stand the best chance of breaking camp with the Bills.