The Buffalo Bills still have a week's worth of mandatory mini-camp and another month of relaxation time before 2012 training camp begins. When they do hit the field at St. John Fisher on July 26, the team will have heavy competition for a large number of roster spots.
Reader "Paul" submitted the following question to me this week via email: "In your opinion, how many roster spots will be up for grabs when all of these so-called 'battles' begin at training camp?"
At first, my instinct was to cop out of answering that question altogether, and let the competitions provide the answer. But then, this may not be a difficult question to answer, even though the method of getting there is a bit subjective. But Paul asked for my opinion, so here's my answer: 13. I believe the Bills will have 13 roster spots up for grabs this summer.
To get that answer, I pored over the team's roster for a good long while looking for "locks" - players that I believe have better-than-very-good chances of being on the opening day roster, assuming full health. That "assuming full health" is key, because clearly, if any of these so-called "locks" of mine were to get hurt, their chances of making the team would dwindle depending on the severity of the injury.
In the end, I found 40 players that I consider very strong bets to make the 53-man roster this September. Listed by position, those players are:
- QB (2): Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brad Smith
- RB (2): Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller
- WR (4): Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones, T.J. Graham
- TE (1): Scott Chandler
- OT (4): Cordy Glenn, Erik Pears, Chris Hairston, Zebrie Sanders
- OG (3): Andy Levitre, Kraig Urbik, Chad Rinehart
- C (1): Eric Wood
- DE (4): Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay, Shawne Merriman
- DT (3): Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Spencer Johnson
- OLB (5): Nick Barnett, Kirk Morrison, Bryan Scott, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder
- ILB (1): Kelvin Sheppard
- CB (5): Stephon Gilmore, Terrence McGee, Aaron Williams, Justin Rogers, Ron Brooks
- S (3): Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Da'Norris Searcy
- SP (2): Rian Lindell, Garrison Sanborn
Again, clearly there is some subjectivity built into creating a list like this, but I'm guessing that if each of you were to do this exercise, the number of "locks" would hover at or near my final count of 40. (Feel free to prove me wrong on that hypothesis; I'm guessing, for those of you that have a drastically different number, the majority of you will skew much higher than 40.)
That's how I got to 13 roster positions open to competition - and that's just my opinion. The vast majority of those 13 spots will be dedicated to competitions within specific positions (such as backup quarterback or to fulfill numbers prerequisites at spots like wide receiver and the two lines) - in fact, I'd say that one or maybe two spots at the very back end of the roster will be open to players from multiple position groupings, i.e. they'll be specialist roles.
I'd be interested to know, from those of you willing to go through this exercise the way I did, how many "locks" we all come up with, and whether or not there's a consensus on some players belonging in this conversation. I consider this topic a good foundation discussion to have before getting into impending training camp battles, however, as it provides a baseline definition for the reserve part of the roster that the coaches will be looking to fill in. Thanks for the great question, Paul!
Finally: there are, of course, battles to be waged within these 40 players listed for prominent roles. We'll get to those in time, but for now, Paul's focus (and mine) was on roster spots, and not necessarily player roles.