BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills set their initial 53-man roster on Tuesday when they filled their final roster spot with the signing of kicker Dan Carpenter. While the Buffalo Bills could make more changes, even before their season-opening game versus the New England Patriots on Sunday, the Bills have built the framework of what their roster will look like for the 2013 NFL season.
Also on Tuesday, the Bills released an unofficial depth chart in their weekly media release, which gives at least a framework on how the lineups will be structured for Sunday’s game.
Quarterback: EJ Manuel OR Jeff Tuel
The Bills list Manuel and Tuel as co-starters on their depth chart, but this is entirely contingent on Manuel’s health. If Manuel has fully recovered from his minor knee procedure and is ready to play Sunday, the first-round pick will get the start over the undrafted rookie.
Running Back: 1. C.J. Spiller 2. Fred Jackson 3. Tashard Choice
Spiller will be the lead back, and considering that Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett told WGR 550′s The Howard Simon Show in early August that Spiller will carry the ball until he “throws up” (although that statement has since been rebuffed by head coach Doug Marrone, according to Syracuse.com), expect Spiller to see a heavy share of the workload. Jackson is also certain to get some carries spelling Spiller, while Choice’s repetitions will likely be limited.
Fullback: Frank Summers
Summers is the only fullback on the roster, so he should see work in a situational role on offense and on special teams.
Wide Receiver: 1. Stevie Johnson 2. T.J. Graham 3. Robert Woods 4. Marquise Goodwin 5. Marcus Easley 6. Chris Hogan
Johnson is the Bills’ clear-cut No. 1 wideout, and it appears that the Bills will start Graham and his one year of experience ahead of rookies Woods and Goodwin. That said, Woods could see just as many snaps as Graham, and all three receivers can play both outside and in the slot in three-receiver sets. Goodwin should also have a good shot to see the field, while Easley and Hogan should see most of their work on special teams.
Tight End: 1. Scott Chandler 2. Lee Smith 3. Chris Gragg
Chandler did not play at all this preseason coming off of a torn ACL, but he remains listed as the team’s starter. Smith should play primarily in short-yardage and goal-line situations as a blocking specialist. Gragg is an intriguing athlete who will likely be used more as a flex receiving threat than an in-line tight end, but his repetitions could be limited early on in his rookie season.
Left Tackle: 1. Cordy Glenn 2. Thomas Welch
Right Tackle: 1. Erik Pears 2. Thomas Welch
With Chris Hairston out for the season, the Bills had to move Pears into their starting lineup and turn to Welch, who struggled considerably this preseason, to be their swing tackle.
Left Guard: 1. Colin Brown 2. Doug Legursky (injured) 3. Sam Young
Right Guard: 1. Kraig Urbik 2. Sam Young
With Legursky out with a knee injury, Brown won the starting left guard job by default, while Young becomes the team’s primary backup guard.
Center: Eric Wood
The Bills have no good option for a backup center should Wood, who recently signed a four-year extension with the Bills, suffer an injury. Legursky would be the likely contingency plan if healthy, but until Legursky is back, the Bills would most likely be forced to kick Brown inside to center and insert Young at left guard.
Left Defensive End: Alex Carrington
Right Defensive End: Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes
All three of these players had somewhat different roles on the defense this preseason in the Bills’ hybrid defense. Carrington can play inside or as a 5-technique end in odd fronts, while Williams is a more traditional 4-3 defensive end and Hughes can kick back to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. In the base 4-3 alignment on which the depth chart is based, however, the team views Carrington and Williams as its edge-rushers with Hughes rotating in.
Defensive Tackle: 1. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus 2. Alan Branch and Jay Ross 3. Corbin Bryant
Williams and Dareus are listed as the team’s two starting defensive tackles — they are somewhat interchangeable players, though Dareus is more likely to play the nose tackle role with Williams playing more in 3-technique roles. Branch and Ross are listed as the two second-team defensive tackles, though the primary rotation behind the starters is most likely led by kicking Carrington inside, followed by Branch.
Strongside Linebacker: 1. Manny Lawson 2. Marcus Dowtin
Lawson and Dowtin are good fits for the strongside linebacker role, as they are effective edge rushers in alignments based on the 3-4 defense, but can also kick inside and play the more traditional SAM linebacker role in the 4-3 defense. Lawson should play frequently in all defensive alignments, while Dowtin provides good depth on defense and special teams.
Middle Linebacker: 1. Kiko Alonso 2. Arthur Moats
Alonso projects to be an immediate three-down player as a rookie, but Moats should also see his fair share of playing time as a rotational player on both defense and special teams.
Weakside Linebacker: 1. Nigel Bradham 2. Jamaal Westerman
Bradham and Westerman are listed at the same position on the roster, but they are two very different players. Bradham will be the WILL linebacker in 4-3 alignments, but also play next to Alonso as an inside linebacker in 3-4 alignments. Westerman is more of a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker who projects best as an edge-rushing linebacker in a 3-4, a role in which he can provide depth behind Lawson, Hughes and Dowtin.
Cornerback: 1. Stephon Gilmore (Injured) 2. Leodis McKelvin 3. Ron Brooks 4. Justin Rogers 5. Nickell Robey 6. Brandon Burton
The Bills’ cornerback depth chart was thrown into disarray by Stephon Gilmore’s fractured wrist, forcing other players to step up while their No. 1 cornerback is out of action. As a result, McKelvin and Brooks should move into starting roles on Sunday. Brooks will likely kick inside to the slot in three-cornerback packages, with Rogers taking Brooks’ spot on the outside. Robey should see playing time in dime/four-cornerback packages.
Free Safety: 1. Jairus Byrd 2. Da’Norris Searcy 3. Duke Williams
If Byrd misses the Bills’ season opener or longer with plantar fasciitis, it appears that Searcy will take his spot in the lineup at free safety. Duke Williams, a rookie, had a promising preseason, but it appears he will see most of his early playing time on special teams.
Strong Safety: 1. Aaron Williams 2. Jim Leonhard 3. Jonathan Meeks
Leonhard, who was signed by the team on Monday, could see immediate playing time as Aaron Williams’ backup, especially if the team decides to kick Aaron Williams out to his old position of cornerback in any packages. Meeks could spend most of his time early in the season as a designated inactive, but otherwise should see most of his playing time on special teams.
Kicker: 1. Dustin Hopkins 2. Dan Carpenter
Hopkins is listed as the top kicker, but the Bills would not have signed Carpenter if they were not concerned about Hopkins’ ability to play Sunday. Hopkins reportedly suffered a groin injury Monday, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. When Hopkins is healthy and ready to kick once again, Carpenter will likely be released.
Punter: Shawn Powell
Long Snapper: Garrison Sanborn
Kickoff Returner: 1. Marquise Goodwin 2. T.J. Graham 3. Leodis McKelvin
Goodwin’s Olympic track speed gives him huge potential as a kickoff returner, and he could immediately become one of the league’s best returners as a rookie.
Punt Returner: 1. Leodis McKelvin 2. Robert Woods 3. Jim Leonhard
McKelvin is one of the NFL’s best punt returners, although it is risky for the Bills to use him in this role given that he is now the No. 1 cornerback with Gilmore injured. Woods looked good as a punt returner (outside of one muffed punt) this preseason, and Leonhard is an experienced returner who gives them depth in this capacity.