Tonight, the Buffalo Bills will take the field for their third and final training camp practice of the week prior to Friday's home preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. With 13 camp practices and the preseason opener in the books, today's a good day to re-assess the team's many prominent starting jobs and package-specific roles up for grabs, and where the Bills stand at each spot.
Kevin Kolb is back practicing in full and will play Friday against the Vikings, but for now, EJ Manuel remains in front in the starting quarterback race - mostly due to Kolb's week away from the team. Manuel did not run away with the job when Kolb was away from the team (nor did he do much to prove he's not ready for the challenge), but a strong close to the week from Kolb could make this battle far more interesting heading into the all-important third preseason game.
Assuming that Stevie Johnson is healthy at the start of the season, he and Robert Woods will be the top two receivers on the depth chart. Knowing that the Bills will use a ton of three-receiver sets, however, the battle for that No. 3 spot should be one to watch. Marquise Goodwin, who dazzled in the preseason opener and has had a very strong camp, has a fantastic opportunity to stake his claim to that job this week with T.J. Graham (groin) not expected to play on Friday. Goodwin has been a playmaker all summer, and it's clear that the coaches are very high on his potential.
Colin Brown and Doug Legursky have been duking it out at this position all summer, and for now, Brown still has a slight lead. He has eight practices and a preseason game working with the first-team offense, while Legursky is still sitting at four practices. If, as it appears will happen, Brown takes first-team left guard reps in practice tonight and on Friday, his lead will be considered far more commanding at that point than it currently is.
Situational Pass Rusher
We know that Mario Williams is the alpha pass rusher for the Bills, but what will happen on obvious passing downs, when Williams might spend his time working as a defensive lineman? Manny Lawson appears to have locked up a starting job, but will he stay on the field as an edge rusher in those situations? Or will guys like Jerry Hughes and perhaps even Jamie Blatnick steal some of those reps? We may not know the exact nature of Mike Pettine's plans here until the games count, but the level of performance for all of these players involved will certainly play into those decisions.
Buffalo has a depth problem at cornerback; beyond the top three of Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, there are a bunch of question marks. Dime defensive backs will play a lot for Pettine, but will that necessarily be a corner like Nickell Robey, Justin Rogers or the current hot hand, Crezdon Butler? Or will it be a versatile safety like Duke Williams? What about a guy like Bryan Scott? This question would be easier to answer if one of those aforementioned cornerbacks closes the preseason out on a high note.
The punter battle has already been won (congratulations, Shawn Powell), but the kicker job is still up for grabs. Sixth-round rookie Dustin Hopkins has displayed a stronger leg than Rian Lindell throughout training camp, and he kicked throughout the first half of the win over Indianapolis, relegating the veteran Lindell to mop-up duty in the second half. Hopkins seems like a shoo-in at this point, particularly if recent trends continue, but it's too early to close the door on Lindell just yet.
Who do you like in each of these areas, Bills fans? And are there any other battles that you'd like to mention?