ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Derek Hagan #80 of the Buffalo Bills cannot make the catch during their NFL game as Will Allen #25 of the Miami Dolphins defends at Ralph Wilson Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Back on July 5, we talked about the fact that the Buffalo Bills led the NFL in three- and four-receiver sets in 2011, leading into another conversation earlier this week regarding the battle for the sixth receiver spot heading into training camp.
Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, however, pointed out in his most recent "Fan Friday" column that through two years, the precedent has been for the Bills to keep just five receivers on its active roster, even while running a receiver-heavy offense.
"I foresee the coaching staff keeping just five with a couple on the practice squad," Brown wrote yesterday. He'd later continue, "In each of the past two years, Chan Gailey and his staff have kept just five receivers. The main reason last year being that Brad Smith as the third quarterback can also serve as a wideout. This affords them some wiggle room at the position."
Brown concludes that the team keeping six receivers on the roster is a "remote possibility," but that given what has transpired over the last two years, five is a more likely number.
It's worth briefly pointing out that when the Bills made their final roster cuts last September, the team kept six receivers (one of those being Roscoe Parrish, who is no longer with the organization). They did so while only keeping eight offensive linemen - a fact they then altered prior to their first game of the season when, upon claiming tackle Sam Young on waivers, they released veteran receiver Ruvell Martin. (Martin would return a week later when the Bills placed Marcus Easley on Injured Reserve, keeping the team at five receivers.)
Last season, the Bills kept five receivers on the active roster early in the season (Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, Parrish and Martin), and they then stashed Naaman Roosevelt and Kamar Aiken on the practice squad. Smith served as the sixth receiver in Weeks 1 and 2, and when Parrish was lost for the year against Oakland, he was promptly replaced on the active roster by Roosevelt.
Aiken would later join the active roster, along with street free agent Derek Hagan, when Jones landed on IR and Johnson was hindered by injury. It's therefore worth pointing out that when the Bills ended the 2011 season, they had six receivers on the active roster without including Smith, the jack-of-all-trades: Johnson, Nelson, Roosevelt, Hagan, Martin and Aiken.
Still, Brown's point holds in that the Bills have only really kept six receivers when their roster has been in flux, or when they've been particularly banged up at receiver. Assuming that they go into the regular season relatively healthy this year - as they have done in each of the past two seasons - it most definitely stands to reason that they'll follow precedent and keep just five receivers. Given the fact that the team has added just three receivers this off-season - third-round pick T.J. Graham and camp body types David Clowney and Derek Session - lends credence to this idea.
Whether or not the idea is wise, given the nature of the offense (and given how banged up they've been at the position near the end of each of Gailey's first two years on the job), is another matter entirely.