Note: As Buffalo Rumblings counts down the days until the start of the Buffalo Bills' 2008 training camp (current count: 10), we'll be breaking down some of the bigger battles we're sure to witness during summer practices as part of a comprehensive package of pre-camp topics we'll explain in more depth in the near future. For now, let's get our Training Camp Battles series under way with a discussion of the team's tight ends.
With a second-year quarterback in Trent Edwards working to establish rapport with nearly every offensive weapon in his arsenal, Buffalo's competition to find a "receiving tight end" to be Edwards' safety valve is, quite literally, wide open. While the names here don't elicit excitement in what should be a boring offensive philosophy (at least when it comes to the tight ends), the winner of this competition will nonetheless have an impact on how Buffalo's offense operates. Meet those about to go to battle:
The Favorite: Courtney Anderson (89)
A veteran of four NFL seasons, Anderson spent his first three years in Oakland, where he caught 62 passes and scored 6 touchdowns. Anderson has a unique advantage over his running mates because of his size (6'6", 270 pounds); he's a very large man that is a solid run blocker and can make plays down the field because of his height. Proof of that lies in Anderson's career yards-per-catch average of 12.3. By comparison, the team's starter, Robert Royal, has a career yards-per-catch average of 9.2 in five seasons (Anderson's only caught passes in three, as he bounced around the league and went reception-less in 2007). His unique skill set gives him an advantage over Buffalo's very similar Derek duo.
The Upstart: Derek Schouman (80)
We've discussed Schouman's excellent spring at length already this off-season; a seventh-round draft pick last season out of Boise State, "Schou" is the lightest and most fluid athlete of the players vying for this position. He's benefited from taking first-team reps during the spring thanks to an injury to Royal, but it's likely he got those reps simply because Anderson and the other Derek (Fine) weren't with the club last season. Still, reps are reps, and chemistry is chemistry. Therefore, Schouman's rise makes him the upstart candidate in this battle.
The Darkhorse: Derek Fine (86)
Quick - name the last Bills tight end drafted as high as Derek Fine (fourth round, pick 132). The answer is none other than Kevin Everett in 2005. Before Everett, the answer to that question would have been Tim Euhus; before him, Bobby Collins. Fine appears to be a clone of Royal (known for his blocking more than his receiving), but he was brought in for a reason. He'll certainly stick with the team as a special teams core player, but he's got an outside shot at making an impact offensively as well.
The Longshot: Tim Massaquoi (88)
Signed last season after several injuries to several Bills tight ends (including Everett, Schouman and Ryan Neufeld), Massaquoi is known as a solid specialist, and that's that. He's a longshot to make the final roster, let alone have an impact offensively - but his competition is so mediocre on the surface, it's hard to completely discount him, either.
Predicting the Winner
Royal is hardly anything to get excited about as a receiving threat, and it's difficult to imagine any of these four players supplanting him as the team's top tight end. There is, however, a chance that one of these players can fill the short-area role that free agent defection Michael Gaines filled last year. I'm currently giving the edge to Anderson. Buffalo's biggest problems lay in the red zone, and Anderson has the height to make more of an impact than his running mates in that area of the field. He's also a good enough blocker to play as the second tight end between the twenties in Buffalo's run-oriented offensive system; that's not a claim Schouman can make.
Ultimately, my opinion is as good as all of yours'; let's hear it, folks. Who should/will be Buffalo's backup tight end heading into the 2008 season?
Next Battle: Backup left tackle.