BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
As we head into the tail end of the preseason, the battles for the final roster spots on the Buffalo Bills’ 53-man roster are starting to heat up. The return of free safety Jairus Byrd, continued improvement of tight end Scott Chandler and Chris Hairston’s lingering injury have altered the face of the roster a bit, but there are still decisions that need to be made.
Many of the best hints at what those decisions will be found in the lineups for Game 3 of the preseason against the Washington Redskins. Commonly thought of as a dress rehearsal, the third preseason game is usually a good indicator of which players have the coaches’ faith. That makes it an especially important game for players like the ones below who need to restore some of that lost trust.
Searcy has been a disappointment since the first preseason game saw him get burned by Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener on multiple occasions. Since then, he’s been consistently outplayed by Aaron Williams and has gone from being a possible starter at strong safety to potentially not even making the team. Searcy was drafted by the old regime, so it’s conceivable that he wouldn’t make the team over Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks, who were both drafted this year.
Searcy is a physical player, but has shown limited coverage ability thus far in his NFL career. As it stands right now, Searcy is likely the fifth safety on the Bills roster. However, a recent report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen (via The Huddle Report’s Drew Boylhart’s Twitter) suggest that the Bills are open to trading Byrd, who continues to be unhappy. If that is the case, and the Bills don’t receive a safety in return, Searcy may be work his way back up the depth chart.
McKelvin has been out the Bills’ first two preseason games due to injury, and the cornerbacks taking his spot in the starting lineup have really struggled opposite Stephon Gilmore. Ron Brooks appears more fit for the slot, and Justin Rogers might not even be a fit for the NFL anymore. McKelvin needs to get back on the field and show the talent that led the Bills to resign him to a four-year, $17 million contract.
Crezdon Butler has been a surprise and probably secured a spot on the Bills’ regular season roster, but he has also been unable to latch on with any team thus far in his NFL career after being a fifth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2010 NFL draft, so entrusting him with a starting spot would be concerning.
The Bills need McKelvin to come out and prove that he can put his immense talent to use and win the left cornerback job. Without McKelvin as a suitable No. 2 cornerback, the Bills passing defense could be facing real pressure this season.
I wrote extensively earlier this week about why Rogers should make the Bills’ regular-season roster, and I truly believe he has the talent to be a great NFL wide receiver, but he needs to start showing it. His touchdown catch in the first preseason game came on a beautifully-run slant route, but he has been silent since then, with just two receptions for 12 yards this preseason.
After Doug Marrone called him out for lack of consistency Monday, Rogers will likely need to make plays with the second-team offense on Saturday to really wedge his foot in the door between him and the free agent market.
Everybody has talked about how great rookie quarterback EJ Manuel has been this preseason. However, he is still raw and there will be some bumps and bruises along the way when he takes the reins for the Bills. Especially coming off of a minor knee procedure, the Bills need to be patient with their first-round pick.
In order for that patience to happen, Kolb needs to prove that he can still be a capable starting quarterback in the interim. He didn’t do much in his preseason start last week against the Minnesota Vikings, but it was his first action of the season so we can forgive him for some sloppy play. With some of the rust likely gone, Kolb needs to put up a good performance in order to prove that he can still be the solid stopgap that many thought he was, and that the Bills might still need.
Hardly a blip on the radar since making the NFL, Sanders was a popular sleeper pick in the 2012 NFL draft. Once projected as a first-rounder, the fifth-round draft pick flashed major talent in college as a versatile offensive lineman while he has above average athleticism.
Hip injuries kept him off the field for almost all of last season, effectively ruining his chance to make an impact. He has been healthy this preseason, but ineffective. Even with Hairston on the shelf, Sanders has run almost exclusively with the third-team offensive line in preseason action and seems to have been passed by Sam Young as the backup right tackle, a job that was supposed to be Sanders’ to lose. He has versatility and potential the Bills could use, but it’s time to put up or get cut.
After Rogers’ breakout campaign as a rookie cornerback in 2011, the Richmond product’s play went downhill last season.His coverage has suffered and he has been passed by both Ron Brooks and Nickell Robey on the depth chart. Rogers has also been outplayed by Crezdon Butler this preseason. That plants Rogers firmly as the sixth cornerback in a battle for a roster spot with T.J. Heath, who has size that Rogers doesn’t.
Rogers still has some special teams value, which could help him sneak into a roster spot, but he is going to need to show improved coverage in order to make that an easy decision.