In part two of this series I decided to take a look at the Bills offensively and special teams in the aftermath of most of the free agent signings. (Note, subject to change if the Bills change personnel in their 90 off-season roster) In any case, I took a brief look at returning and new faces on the field for the Bills in these categories. From the end of last year, we said goodbye to QB Brian (or bust) Brohm, RB Quinton Ganther, and TE Jonathan Stupar. And yet while none of these players were starters, there will definitely be intense competition in certain areas, others are already none from starters to backup. Without further ado, here's a quick glance at the roster. (italics indicate free agent pick ups, underlined drafted personnel)
QB: Fitzpatrick, Thigpen, Smith, Brown, Nesbitt
RB: Jackson, Spiller, White, Taua, Moody
FB: McIntyre, Caulcrick
LT: Bell, Wang, Watkins
LG: Levitre, Brown, Howard
C: Wood, Hangartner, Switzer
RG: Urbik, Rinehart, Thompson
RT: Pears, Wrotto, Hairston
TE: Chandler, Nelson, Martin, Caussin, Pianalto
WR: Evans, Parrish, Easley, Roosevelt, Hubbard
WR: Johnson, Nelson, Jones, Huggins, Aiken
ST: Lindell, Moorman, Sanborn, Hazley, Forrest, Aiken
Ryan Fitzpatrick emerges as the undisputed starter of 2011 after a solid season in which he passed for 3,000 yards in 13 games while showing poise in the pocket, some running ability and a capable leader. While it remains unclear if Fitz is a long term starter, CHIX shows faith Fitz after forgoing chances in the draft to pick up a potential long term QB. Gailey and Nix however did decide to bring in more depth at this position firstly with the signing of Tyler Thigpen who did well in Kansas under Chan Gailey passing and rushing but whose performance dropped off in Miami (needs to be more consistent in his passing). Behind Thigpen is Brad Smith who Chan likens as a hybrid QB playmaker who seems set to see playing time despite being listed as a third QB. With these signings, Levi Brown, a former seventh rounder last year will find it difficult to make the cuts as will rookie Josh Nesbitt (who could double as a halfback or safety).
The Bills are ready to run having sorted out their early difficulties in 2010. Fred Jackson once more emerged as the undisputed starter as an all purpose back from running, catching balls and blocking (and even returning kicks if needed). C.J. Spiller meanwhile has more to prove his value as a first round pick the previous year but has the potential to become a playmaker this year. Buddy Nix also drafted Johnny White this year in the fifth round to provide depth as White displayed good speed and ability in his pro day and a good senior year. Fighting for a roster/PS (practice squad) spot are rookies Vai Taua and Emmanuel Moody. Taua is the forerunner here having rushed for over 1,000 yards in three seasons at Nevada and having some catching ability while Moody is more of a power-runner.
The fact that Chix opted not to bring in another fullback on the roster indicates not only his satisfaction for starter Corey McIntyre, but also for backup Jehuu Caulcrick. Admittedly, Chan does not rely on the fullback (nor tight end) position for a lot of plays, but still the position is a necessity for certain plays and McIntyre at least blocks fairly well.
A position of seemingly constant criticism, CHIX believes they have their long term starter in Demetrius Bell. Before half of you start rioting, Bell has played fairly strong this past season, improving well from 2009. By no means is he elite (fingers crossed there), but he can hold his own ground. Bell is in his last contractual year though. His immediate backup is Ed Wang a fifth round product of last year’s draft who only saw limited time at guard last year. Jason Watkins, a practice squad member from last year will also compete, but has a long way to go.
Andy Levitre meanwhile has a secure spot as a starter on the left side and is one of the best linemen the Bills have. Behind him are a few guys that will be fighting for a roster spot this year. Colin Brown, a late season acquisition has good size but went untested last year. Cordaro Howard meanwhile has a slightly smaller build, but saw playing time on the outside and inside last year. Lastly making an appearance is undrafted rookie Isaiah Thompson who like Jasper switches offensively and defensively, but needs better conditioning.
Despite questions earlier this year as to who would be starting, Eric Wood was given the nod of approval from Chan Gailey to start at center this year over veteran Geoff Hangartner. Wood was an All-American in this position in college and played well at the end of the season following Hang’s injury. Hang meanwhile performed well this past season, improving marginally from the year before and I see him as a viable backup option here and at a guard position as well. Undrafted rookie Michael Switzer meanwhile was brought in as well to help fill the roster for now, but I do not see him going anywhere.
With Wood sliding over to center, a vacuum is left at the right guard spot. Hang and Wrotto (a right tackle whose more natural position is on the inside) will compete for time in this spot as well. However, the main competition at camp this year will be between third rounders Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart. Urbik was given the first line nod by Chan at camp this week but saw limited action before getting injured part way through 2010. Rinehart meanwhile only stepped in at the end of the season after Urbik’s injury, but learned the system quickly and played strongly in the last few games.
Despite having acquired Erik Pears midseason and drafting Chris Hairston in the fourth round, CHIX still felt it necessary to pursue two talented right tackles (but failed both times). Erik Pears as such remains the supposed starting right tackle, having a good build for the position. Battling him for the starting job (as well as a roster spot) is Mansfield Wrotto whom played much of the 2010 season at RT. Wrotto has a smaller build and was not great by any means, but played better than his predecessor. Meanwhile Hairston is expected sometime to succeed either of these players in the near future and despite needing additional training will be serving some sort of backup role this year.
The fact that CHIX opted not to bring in any experienced free agents or draft a tight end this year shows faith in a group that was largely unimpressive in 2010. There will definitely be a competition in camp to determine the starter but in my opinion the current season opening starter will be Scott Chandler, a midseason acquisition from Dallas last year. Chandler has the biggest frame of this group, a good blocker and good hands. Next on the list is Shawn Nelson, another fourth rounder with good speed but has been battling injuries throughout his stay in Buffalo. Behind Nelson is David Martin who has more experience than all the prospects combined, but while he provides depth, was unimpressive last year mostly working as a sixth blocker. Practice Squad acquisition Mike Caussin will try to show his potential this year in camp as will undrafted rookie Zach Pianalto.
Both Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson return as the starters for a depth filled position. While Evans struggled last year, he still draws a double coverage and for now remains a deep threat. Lee will also find more help this season as defenses will focus more attention on Stevie after he posted a 1,000+ yard receiving season in 2010. Chan Gailey seems to like Roscoe Parrish in the slot position in which he caught 400 yards in just 8 games. After Roscoe however there will be tough competition this training camp though. QB/WR hybrid Brad Smith is probably fourth on the list now given his playmaking ability and won’t be paid the big bucks to man a third QB position all the time. Looking beyond Smith is David Nelson who emerged late in the year as a solid pass catcher with height to grab most of the balls thrown his way.
The Bills will likely also keep last year’s fourth rounder Marcus Easley in the mix given his big frame, speed and potential although both Namaan Roosevelt and Donald Jones will be in the mix after good performances in 2010. Jones brings speed and special teams depth to the roster while Roosevelt proved himself in the latter quarter of 2010 with good hands. Also on the list is Felton Huggins, who like Easley spent 2010 on the Injured Reserve. Paul Hubbard is also on the list, but struggling to find playing time and facing criminal charges hurt his chances of staying at the end of camp. Lastly, the Bills brought in undrafted rookie Kamar Aiken to work out this year as well.
Last year special teamers, Kicker Rian Lindell, Punter Brian Moorman, and Long Snapper Garrison Sanborn all returned for the 2011 season. Despite having a poorer showing in 2010 than in previous years, both Moorman and Lindell seem poised to return to their jobs as does Sanborn. With the offseason roster expanded to 90, Buddy Nix brought in an additional kicker, punter and long snapper (K Chris Hazley, P Reid Forrest, and LS Danny Aiken) for if nothing else, to give these guys some friendly competition.
CHIX largely spent most of time rebuilding the defensive corps this offseason. However that did not stop him from adding depth at quarterback, running back and tackle. Established starters and backups are now set at quarterback, halfback and special teams. Wide receivers, left tackle, left guard and center seem to have definitive starters but not necessarily at the backup positions. Lastly, expect competition for starting jobs at right guard, right tackle and tight end.