BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
The Buffalo Bills put their best foot forward Sunday, opening the 2013 NFL preseason with a 44-20 victory over the Indianapolis Colts and setting a franchise record for preseason points. Rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel each played one half, throwing for 315 combined yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Overall, it was an impressive performance for Buffalo and head coach Doug Marrone, but there is still a lot of change on the horizon.
Although many players impressed in their first game action, some were less than stellar. For every player who tried to lay claim to a starting job or a spot on the 53-man roster, there were an equal amount that saw their chances worsen after the first game action.
With that in mind, here are a few players who will come into the second preseason game against Minnesota with even more pressure on their shoulders.
Smith sat out Sunday’s game and watched as multiple players competing with him for the final wide receiver spots on the roster had solid games. As mentioned last week, with the top four receiver spots seemingly locked in (Johnson, Woods, Graham, and Goodwin), Smith is in a tight battle for one, maybe two, roster spots.
One of his competitors is highly touted undrafted free agent Da’Rick Rogers, who had one target on Sunday and caught a seven-yard touchdown on a beautifully run slant pattern. Another rookie, red zone threat Brandon Kaufman, totaled 34 yards and recorded a touchdown of his own. However, both of their days paled in comparison to former “sleeper pick” Marcus Easley, who led the Bills with 94 receiving yards and got open against the Colts reserves at will.
Since Smith is the oldest and highest paid of the group, he is going to really need to prove his worth in coming weeks to stop the Bills from getting rid of him.
When the offseason began, it seemed like Searcy was a lock to start at safety opposite Jairus Byrd. Now he seems to be facing an uphill battle. He was not listed as a starting safety on the team’s first depth chart. Against the Colts, Searcy came out and got beaten a few times by Colts tight end Coby Fleener, missed a tackle and watched as Aaron Williams made a couple big hits and seemed to adjust to the safety position with ease.
If currently-unsigned Byrd comes back prior to the end of camp like most expect, Searcy could lose snaps to Williams on the first-team defense if he doesn’t start making plays.
Despite numerous opportunities, Choice has not really done much in his NFL career. Now that former head coach Chan Gailey is gone and took his Georgia Tech connection with him, Choice no longer has an old friend within the organization. The running back needs to win a roster spot on the field.
Zach Brown is having a solid training camp according to WGR’s Joe Buscaglia, and Kendall Gaskins put up numbers similar to Choice during the first game. Choice is facing legitimate competition for his roster spot if he does not step up his game.
With Chris Hairston still on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Erik Pears started at right tackle versus the Colts. He proceeded to play mediocre football and get flagged for a couple penalties.
Starting Pears is nothing new for the Bills. He started seven games at right tackle when Hairston injured his right foot last year, and was a 16-game starter in 2011.
That said, Hairston’s injury isn’t expected to keep him out that much longer, while Pears has a relatively unfriendly cap number if he winds up being the Bills’ backup right tackle. Sam Young played solidly with the second-team offense on Sunday, and could prove to be a viable, and far more affordable, backup tackle in place of Pears.
Jay Ross, Jarron Gilbert and Torell Troup
When the Bills signed Alan Branch, locking down a roster spot in the interior of the defensive line became a lot less likely for Ross, Gilbert and Troup. All three are younger players who have had their upside talked to death since they came into the NFL, but none of them have actually produced much on the field.
Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are locked into starting spots, Branch and Alex Carrington are taking snaps at multiple places across the line, and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is bringing more three-man fronts to the defensive line. Ross, Gilbert and Troup are competing for roster spots, and each needs to start making plays to land one of the final spots on the interior of the defensive line. On Sunday, the Colts backup running backs had lanes to run through up the gut, which signals that the backup defensive tackles were not doing much to clog up the gaps.
Last Week’s Repeats:
Cornerback Ron Brooks finds himself on this list two weeks in a row after a rough start in place of Leodis McKelvin. He got flagged for taunting early in the first quarter on a play he wasn’t even involved in, then got burned on a 45-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton at the end of the quarter. Overall, he displayed fairly mediocre coverage.
With McKelvin and Justin Rogers coming back from injury, Brooks is looking at the trying to secure the nickel cornerback job. Even that is no longer a lock, however, given the improved play of both Nickell Robey and Crezdon Butler. Brooks is still very likely to make the team, but if he wants to see significant action, he needs to start producing.
Colin Brown was given the start at left guard Sunday, but did nothing to lock down the job. He got pushed back into the pocket a couple of times and badly missed a block on a screen pass to Fred Jackson that was blown up in the backfield. Overall, he just did a fairly average job of securing his blocks at the line of scrimmage.
If the Bills are going to run the ball as much as they claim, they are going to need to make sure that their line consistently wins the battle up front. Although Brown has continued to run with the first-team offense this week, he is not creating the distance between Legursky that he needs to secure the starting job.