Every NFL preseason game has winners and losers beyond the teams involved in the final score. The Buffalo Bills, 44-20 victors over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, clearly had more winners than losers in their 2013 preseason debut. In the spirit of fairness, however, let's identify five of each as the Bills head into their third week of training camp.
Winner: QB Jeff Tuel
This idea that Tuel might leapfrog Kevin Kolb on the depth chart, making the veteran expendable? Yeah, no. Stop that. But there's no denying that Tuel is on fire right now. As an undrafted quarterback, you can't script a better NFL debut (19-23, 212 yards, two scores), no matter the level of competition. There have been strong indications this off-season that the Bills would prefer to keep two quarterbacks on the active roster, but if they want to keep Tuel around, they may have to stash him on the back end of the 53-man roster.
Loser: WR Brad Smith
Smith vastly improved his chances of staying with the team when he re-structured his contract just prior to training camp. Still, he's not guaranteed a roster space by any means, and with several of the team's younger receivers showing very well in Indianapolis, you can bet that Smith is one of the veterans feeling pressure as practices resume this week.
Winner: FB Frank Summers
Who knew the Bills were going to use a fullback on offense so frequently? When the first-team offense took the field on Sunday, there was Summers, lined up ahead of C.J. Spiller in the backfield as a lead blocker. He performed fairly well in that role. Then, he went out and had key blocks on both lengthy Marquise Goodwin kick returns as proverbial lead blocker on those runs, as well. That's all good news for a role player trying to make the team any way he can.
Loser: OT Thomas Welch
Welch has consistently lined up as the second-team left tackle throughout training camp (ahead of 2012 fifth-round pick Zebrie Sanders), but he had a forgettable performance in Indy. First, he gave up a pressure that led to a sack, fumble and lengthy return touchdown on Tuel. He followed that up with two holding penalties, and was also the only Bill to get injured, leaving the game late with what appeared to be a jaw issue. In competing for three or four reserve jobs on the line, Welch gave up some of the ground he gained during practices.
Winner: WR Marcus Easley
Though never exactly a forgotten man, the fan favorite Easley has been marginalized a bit this off-season thanks to a handful of intriguing rookie imports at the wide receiver position. While many of those players had strong debuts on Sunday, it was Easley that was far and away the team's best receiver in Indy. Looking as if he'd been catching passes from Tuel his whole career, Easley quickly racked up seven receptions for 94 yards on the afternoon. Don't count him out of the receiver race just yet.
Loser: DT Alan Branch
One of Buffalo's more notable free agent additions this off-season, Branch seems to be stuck somewhere between the second and third units in Buffalo's defensive line rotation. He does not appear to be as explosive off the snap nor as athletic as many of the players competing alongside him, and may be on the verge of falling behind players like Torell Troup and Corbin Bryant. It would not be shocking at this point if Branch doesn't make the team.
Winner: OLB Manny Lawson
Buffalo's linebackers were generally strong across the board, and that's especially true at rush linebacker; Mario Williams had a sack, while Jerry Hughes and Jamie Blatnick made some nice plays, as well. It was Lawson, however, who stood out the most. He set the edge against the run very well, provided some explosiveness off the edge, disrupted some plays in the backfield and, best of all, looked competent in coverage. After a slow start to camp, Lawson appears to be getting comfortable in Mike Pettine's defense.
Loser: S Da'Norris Searcy
If you had somehow forgotten about Jairus Byrd, Searcy's play in the defensive backfield likely brought No. 31 back into your conscious mind. Though he did have a fumble recovery, Searcy looked slow to react in coverage and also whiffed badly on an open-field tackle on tight end Coby Fleener (on the same play he recovered the fumble). Unless Searcy learns to anticipate better and close faster on throws, some of his athletic limitations may become painfully obvious - and when Byrd returns, it may be Searcy that's riding the pine.
Winner: S Aaron Williams
On the opposite side of the safety coin is Williams, who looked very comfortable in his first NFL game as a true safety. Unlike Searcy, Williams showed an ability to squat, change direction and close on receivers in his area of the field, and he delivered a couple of nice hits as a result. He's only going to become more comfortable as his positional transition continues, and when he finds his groove, his ball skills will come back into play.
Loser: K Rian Lindell
It's not often that an established 13-year veteran in the NFL plays second fiddle to a sixth-round draft pick. That's exactly what happened to Lindell on Sunday, as he had to wait until the second half to kick while Dustin Hopkins hit two short field goals and showed off his strong leg (and, yes, had a kickoff go out of bounds) in the first half. If it wasn't obvious to you before that Hopkins is the overwhelming favorite to win the kicking job, it should be now.