Takeaways from Buffalo Bills’ Preseason Opener vs. Indianapolis Colts

Chris Hogan received considerable work with the first-team offense Sunday. (Photo: Brian Spurlock — USA Today Sports)

Surprising Wide Receivers Step Up

With Stevie Johnson out of the lineup due to injury, it came as no surprise that T.J. Graham and Robert Woods were the team’s starting receivers.

Woods had a decent performance. He looked like a wideout ready to be an NFL starter as he ran smooth routes and showed good hands and quickness, finishing the day with four catches for 32 yards. He may find himself out of the punt returner competition, however, after muffing a punt inside the 10-yard line on his only return opportunity of the day.

What came as more of a surprise on Sunday was who the Bills chose to line up as the team’s No. 3 slot receiver. That role with the first-team offense went to Chris Hogan, who went undrafted in 2011 and has not played in an NFL regular-season game since. His role with the first-team offense, however, suggests that he stands as the No. 4 receiver on the Bills’ current depth chart, giving him a legitimate chance of cracking the final roster.

Hogan didn’t do anything spectacular on Sunday, catching two passes for 11 yards, but the fact that he consistently played as the slot receiver in Johnson’s place on Sunday was significant in itself.

Adding Hogan to the mix only makes the receiver battle more competitive for everyone else behind Johnson, Woods and Graham. There are a plethora of talented receivers competing for what will either be two or three spots, including Hogan.

Marquise Goodwin showed how much of an asset he could be as a kickoff returner with his 107-yard return touchdown Sunday. (Photo: Brian Spurlock — USA Today Sports)

One of those spots will almost certainly go to rookie third-round pick Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin did not see the field much if at all on offense today, but he showed his value as a kickoff returner.

The fastest player at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, Goodwin has exceptional speed that he can use to his advantage, especially as a kickoff returner. Combining that speed with the vision to find running lanes and the quick feet to maneuver between them, Goodwin had 160 combined yards on two kickoff returns Sunday. He first returned a kickoff 53 yards out of the end zone to near midfield, then brought his second kickoff return 107 yards from end zone to end zone (see the link for video of the return touchdown from BuffaloBills.com).

Tuel did a great job of establishing rhythm with his receivers in the second half of the game, especially in the third quarter with Marcus Easley.

BBD staff writer Eric Samulski listed Easley as one of his “Players with Most to Prove” for this game, and Easley certainly answered the bell. Over the course of two third-quarter drives, Easley caught all seven passes that came his way for 94 yards. He showed great hands, ran strong routes and looked fast on those drives, which included a 29-yard diving catch and an 18-yard catch in a very tight space between the left sideline and tight coverage.

Easley has been with the Bills for three seasons and has no NFL catches, but if he still has a shot of making the roster, he made a strong case with his second-half performance today. What will be crucial for Easley now is whether his performance can earn him some first-team snaps versus the Vikings to make an even stronger case.

Undrafted rookies Da’Rick Rogers and Brandon Kaufman both made touchdown catches on short post routes to the end zone, while Kaufman also added a leaping 29-yard catch up the right sideline through tight coverage from Colts cornerback Dax Swanson. In the fourth quarter, DeMarco Sampson also had a very good showing, making a number of challenging grabs as Tuel’s go-to target and finishing with 49 yards on four receptions.

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Tags: C.J. Spiller, Chris Hogan, Crezdon Butler, EJ Manuel, Game Reviews, Indianapolis Colts, Jamie Blatnick, Jeff Tuel, Jerry Hughes, Jumal Rolle, Kiko Alonso, Manny Lawson, Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin, Preseason, Preseason Takeaways, Ron Brooks, Thomas Welch

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