As ugly as the Buffalo Bills' 7-6 pre-season opening loss to the Washington Redskins was in general, some key players currently entrenched in high-profile position battles made some plays on Thursday night. Nothing is decided in any spot, of course, but it's worth keeping track of what's happening at each battle.
Let's rip the band-aid off right away: both Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young struggled to move the offense in their battle for the backup quarterback job. Thigpen had one nice throw to rookie T.J. Graham, but also badly underthrew him on an interception in finishing 3-of-8 for 38 yards and the pick. Young was Buffalo's leading rusher on the night, with a 21-yard scramble pacing his five-carry, 37-yard effort, but he completed just 5-of-12 passes for 50 yards.
Shoddy quarterback play across the board - including from starter Ryan Fitzpatrick - makes it very difficult to evaluate the ongoing battle at receiver. For example: Donald Jones and Derek Hagan, thought to be the chief competitors for a stating job, combined for six yards on one catch (Jones made the catch).
Marcus Easley was okay in his return to live football from a heart ailment, recording a catch for 12 yards and a run for nine more. If there was a stand-out at receiver, it was the rookie Graham, who got playing time with the second unit and consistently got separation, even if the quarterbacks couldn't get him the ball. Graham hauled in three passes for 37 yards, but could have had much more.
The left tackle battle will need further evaluation, as well - and not just because Hairston is being forced to split his time between left and right tackle while Erik Pears can't play. Glenn was flagged for a false start, Hairston gave up a sack with the first unit, and both young players have significant room for improvement. Glenn remains the favorite here, but nothing is set in stone.
Buffalo loses a lot of push when they rotate their starting defensive tackle out to rest; even so, I thought both Spencer Johnson and Dwan Edwards played well. I'll use Friday evening's re-broadcast to take a closer look at Alex Carrington, Kellen Heard and others, but in my mind, the two veterans are clearly the guys to beat at the moment.
In the battle for the starting strong-side linebacker job, I liked what I saw from both Arthur Moats and Kirk Morrison as each ran with the first unit. Moats was the more active player, registering three tackles, while Morrison was steady as well. Unlike the battle for the backup quarterback job, this is a battle that Bills fans don't have to watch with one eye shut.
Finally, the battle for the third running back job between Tashard Choice and Johnny White has flown largely under the radar, and I thought White ran better than Choice last night. White finished with 25 yards on five carries, including a pretty 17-yard jaunt in the third quarter. Choice had a couple of nice plays too, but had only 16 yards on nine carries and was repeatedly stuffed at the goal line in the second quarter. White's prowess on special teams gives him an inherent advantage in the battle, and right now, he's got a leg up as a runner in pre-season action, as well.