It happens every year - NFL head coaches must cut roughly 25 players in a matter of a few weeks, paring their rosters down to 53 guys that they'll go to war with. Invariably, every year, there are a handful of players that coaches love to death - and who have performed when called upon - that might not fit onto the roster.
Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron will make precisely those types of decisions over the next few weeks. Here are five players that are going to be tough to cut. Jauron (as well as every other NFL coach) still has over three full weeks to make this decision, as rosters don't have to be pared down to 53 until September 5.
WR Justin Jenkins. This is Jenkins' third season in Buffalo. He began the 2007 season on the practice squad, but was signed to the 53-man roster that October after injuries riddled the Bills' receiving corps. Since that point, he has stuck with the Bills (for the better part of two seasons) as a key cog in Bobby April's special teams coverage units. Now, however, Terrell Owens is here. Jenkins is decidedly seventh in the pecking order at his position. Still, he turns in plays at practice and performs on special teams. He helps the team on Sundays. He stands a strong chance of being the victim of the numbers game, but if he goes, it certainly won't be an easy goodbye from Buffalo's coaching staff.
TE Jonathan Stupar. Tight end is traditionally a weak position in Buffalo. Stupar, a second-year player out of Virginia, spent part of the 2008 season on the practice squad and finished the year on the active roster. This year, he's fourth in the pecking order behind two players he resembles greatly - Derek Schouman and Derek Fine - and rookie Shawn Nelson, who is clearly the most talented player of the group. Yet Stupar has had a surprisingly productive training camp; he also led the team in receiving yardage (4 receptions, 36 yards) in the Hall of Fame Game. Oh, yeah - he, too, can play special teams. Fourth tight ends are tough to keep around, but Stupar might be an exception.
DE Chris Ellis. If I'm speaking frankly, I, myself, have been underwhelmed by the admittedly little I have seen of Ellis this pre-season. There's got to be a good reason, however, that Ellis has been sneaking in first-team reps at right end (other than the possibility that guys like Aaron Schobel and Ryan Denney are getting fewer reps thanks to their status as grizzled veterans). A third-round pick in 2008, Ellis is far better suited physically for the rigors of the game than he was in his rookie season. But when Aaron Maybin signs his deal and reports to camp - and if you believe John Clayton, that could happen within the next 24-48 hours - Ellis might have a hard time cracking the top 53 as a fifth defensive end.
DT Derrick Jones. This is, without a doubt, the most surprising name on the list - but Jones certainly deserves mention. The 6'4", 315-pound defensive tackle spent part of 2008 training camp with Buffalo, but was released prior to the season. Jones has essentially bounced from practice squad to practice squad in his very short career. He did not start camp with the Bills this season; instead, the team signed him on August 6 as an extra body while several of their tackles recovered from injuries. Jones has seized the opportunity; he registered two tackles and a sack in the Hall of Fame Game, and has been a standout in the practice setting. He's done the best that any camp body can hope to do - raised eyebrows. Is there a chance he could make the team? We'll see, but he's certainly not cracking the top four in the tackle rotation any time soon.
LB Jon Corto. There's little question that Corto played out of position last year in Buffalo; as feisty as Corto is, you're going to be overwhelmed playing linebacker at 205 pounds. Corto has made some waves this pre-season, however; he showed up to camp with 15 extra pounds of muscle while preserving all of the speed and quickness that made him a borderline NFL safety prospect. He stuck on the Bills' roster when he probably shouldn't have in 2008 as a core member of April's special teams units. At linebacker, of the nine 'backers on the roster, Corto has easily taken the most third-team reps as he continues to learn the nuances of his position. But while there hasn't been a discernible difference between many of Buffalo's other young backup linebackers, Corto stands alone as the best special teams player of the group. That could provide him with an opportunity to slide up the depth chart when cut-down dates draw nearer.