To say that the Buffalo Bills have struggled on the injury front over the past couple of years is an understatement. You'll be hard-pressed to name every player that has ended their season on IR, so numerous have the catastrophic injuries been.
This season, the Bills enter their final pre-season game of the year with a healthy roster. No players have missed significant time due to injuries, and those players still dealing with injuries are expected back onto the field sooner rather than later.
With the Bills set to cut at least 20 players to get down to the league-mandated maximum of 53 this Saturday, however, a few nagging injuries could affect how the Bills make decisions on the back end of their roster, where numbers and special teams play are at a premium. As it stands today, five such situations could have a ripple effect on the rest of the roster.
RB Fred Jackson (wrist). Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first three games of the season, so Jackson will assume first-team rushing duties in his stead. Jackson has a wrist injury that is expected to linger at least for the early portion of the regular season.
Many Bills fans, constantly looking for ways to keep this player or that player on the roster, have suggested that the Bills could keep two running backs early in the season in an effort to keep another worthy player over "third" RB Xavier Omon. That isn't likely to happen, however, if the coaching staff believes that Jackson could re-aggravate his wrist injury. Three running backs was a strong bet before Jackson's injury; depending on how the staff feels about it heading into the weekend, that bet could turn into a virtual certainty.
TE Derek Fine (hamstring). Fine missed last weekend's pre-season game in Pittsburgh, and has missed several practices to date as well. Tuesday's signing of TE Tyson DeVree could be an indication that Fine's injury is more serious than originally believed. With the pre-season emergence of Jonathan Stupar in mind, Fine could be in trouble as far as a roster spot goes. There's a chance the team could keep four tight ends - they've certainly got four worthy candidates at the position. That seems unlikely at this point, but between Fine and Stupar, there's a battle brewing. Fine's injury could be his downfall.
OT Demetrius Bell (back). Dick Jauron this week labeled Bell as questionable for tomorrow night's pre-season finale, but Bell missed yet another day of practice on Wednesday. Back injuries are difficult for any human being, but when a football player relies on his back to anchor in pass protection... well, you see the problem. It is expected that Bell will be fine for the regular season, but in the case of injuries, you never can tell. Eight offensive linemen are virtual locks to make the roster, but if the staff isn't comfortable with Bell's back heading into New England, keeping a ninth isn't out of the question.
LB Pat Thomas (ankle). As the only reserve linebacker on the roster with significant NFL experience as a linebacker, many considered Thomas a lock to make the roster as training camp opened. Thomas has now missed three consecutive pre-season games, however, and his understudies have performed well. This is just my opinion, but I can't see the Bills relying on a dinged Thomas, nor his inexperienced understudies, as their depth at this position. Considering their depth and numbers at DE and CB, they'll probably only carry six linebackers into the season - but don't be shocked if the Bills swap a young end or corner for some veteran linebacker depth, either.
CB Drayton Florence (knee). All along, the expectation has been that Florence would be ready for the regular season after spraining his knee in the Bills' pre-season victory over Chicago. Knee injuries can be tricky, though. This particular injury will not have much of an effect on the number of corners the Bills keep - they have six roster-worthy cornerbacks. Ashton Youboty, however, is a young, semi-experienced cornerback with some trade value, and as previously mentioned, the team might consider moving him to another team if they can get a veteran linebacker in return. That won't happen if they're not comfortable with Florence's knee; if Florence has had any sort of regression, Youboty will be valuable depth.