Every Buffalo Bills fan, it seems, will be paying attention to some specific player or positional group when the Bills open their pre-season schedule against the Chicago Bears on Saturday. I, myself, have seven different players or groups that I'll be paying attention to during (and after) the game, and I'll take you through those one by one leading up to the return of Bills football.
First up on the list: wide receiver, where the team has unparalleled depth across the rest of its roster. Specifically, I'm interested in a battle between two receivers in particular: veteran Buster Davis, and the unproven Marcus Easley.
To my eye, the Bills have five mortal locks for the opening day roster at receiver: Lee Evans, Stevie Johnson, Roscoe Parrish, David Nelson and Donald Jones. It's tough to expect them to keep more than six on the roster, and all indications are that the sixth spot will come down to a fight between Davis, Easley and Naaman Roosevelt.
I've made no secret about the fact that, for now, I believe that Roosevelt is clearly the front-runner of the group. The reason for that belief is simple: he's easily the most proven and accountable receiver of this trio. Davis has struggled with injuries in each of his first four seasons, and Easley has earned a rather sterling reputation despite barely practicing. Easley's never even appeared in a pre-season game in the NFL.
With that said, even if Roosevelt's lead is clear for the moment, it's also obvious to me that Buffalo's coaching staff doesn't see as much upside in the UB product as they do in the highly talented duo of Davis and Easley. That's not to say that the Bills don't like Roosevelt; they absolutely do. If, however, Davis or Easley (or, dare we dream, both) can prove themselves productive and accountable this pre-season, they'll likely take the route of keeping talent, even at the expense of a fan favorite-type like Roosevelt.
Davis and Easley are not especially similar player types. Davis is a smaller player with excellent speed, but has enough size to be a true nightmare matchup out of the slot. Easley is more of an outside receiver, where his size and deep speed make him more of an asset. This is made sort of irrelevant, however, by the fact that the five receivers ahead of them on the depth chart (six if you count Roosevelt) are so diverse and multi-faceted in their collective skill sets.
It would be unwise, of course, to make a judgment in this race based on one game. Buffalo is bound to be very sloppy with just two weeks' worth of practice time under their belts. It's possible that one of these two players could sneak reps in with the first or second units, mostly due to the unavailability of Parrish, but the rep counts likely won't be meaningful enough to matter. These players will likely be catching passes from Levi Brown, so tread cautiously in making snap judgments. Still, pre-season games are highly important in roster evaluations, and when it comes to Easley and Davis, both players need to produce to stick.