The Buffalo Bills have just finished their final 2013 training camp practice at St. John Fisher College, and will pack up and head back to Orchard Park tonight and through Thursday. Since reporting to the campus in late July, the Bills have held 17 public practices, countless meetings and participated in two preseason games.
In that time frame, which players have made the most of their opportunities, and which have seen opportunities pass them by? We're glad you asked, because we've got five names (plus two honorable mentions) in each category. Who do you believe the winners and losers from 2013 Bills training camp were? Here's our list:
OLB Jerry Hughes: Before camp started, Hughes was simply the washed-out pass rusher from Indianapolis that the Bills had acquired in a trade involving Kelvin Sheppard. Today, he's locked down a significant role as a situational pass rusher in Mike Pettine's defense following a great showing in camp and preseason action, where he already has two sacks and a forced fumble. He will be the primary backup to Mario Williams this season, and you'll see him a lot on passing downs.
DL Alex Carrington: No player has been the recipient of more ardent praise from his coaches this summer than Carrington, who has developed into more than the playmaking defensive line reserve that he was in 2012. In 2013, Carrington will be a starting defensive end in base defenses, and could ultimately factor into the equation as a pass-rushing tackle on passing downs, as well. This former Arkansas State product has finally come into his own as a pro.
WR Marquise Goodwin: The man nicknamed "Flash" was more than a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown this summer; he was the team's best big-play threat in the camp setting, turning in lengthy touchdowns and showing off his dazzling speed and explosiveness on a seemingly daily basis. It's not yet clear how big his role will be on offense as a rookie, but he's done more than enough to earn a long look - and he'll have a chance to become one of the league's most dynamic return men immediately.
OLB Jamie Blatnick: Hughes wasn't close to the only impressive Bills linebacker this summer, as Blatnick may have been a close second. Keeping in mind that the Bills signed him after a pre-draft tryout in mid-April, the former street free agent has been a persistent threat as a pass rusher in camp, and has also shown well as a first-team special teams player in preseason games. His roster spot is all but locked up at this point, and he could seriously contend for a playing time role on defense.
QB Jeff Tuel: For most of the spring months, there were indications that the Bills hoped to be able to keep just two quarterbacks on the active roster, where there would have been no room for this undrafted free agent out of Washington State. Even before E.J. Manuel underwent knee surgery, putting his Week 1 availability in doubt, Tuel had played well enough to make a serious bid for the roster - and though he's cooled off considerably of late after a very hot start, he's looking like a strong bet to make the 53-man roster today.
Honorable mentions: Chris Hogan was a virtual afterthought at receiver after several big-name acquisitions in April, but the man they call "7-11" has been one of the most consistently excellent receivers in camp, and has made a very strong case for inclusion on the final roster. Likewise, Jay Ross was not a player that many factored into the defensive line equation back in May and June, but he's performed very well this summer - even earning some first-team reps early on - and appears to be the fourth or fifth lineman in the rotation at this point.
OT Chris Hairston: Remember when Hairston was supposed to usurp Erik Pears as the Bills' full-time starting right tackle? That dream quickly died when a back injury forced Hairston onto Active/PUP to start training camp. He's been there ever since, doing nothing more than walking laps around practice fields, hopping on the stationary bike and receiving treatment this summer. Pears is locked in as a starter, and no one is sure when Hairston will be ready to return to the team and fill the same swing tackle role he's held since his rookie season in 2011.
S Da'Norris Searcy: Searcy was on this list even before Jairus Byrd signed his one-year franchise tender and returned to the team - a move that will almost certainly bump Searcy out of the starting lineup in the very near future. The third-year safety has struggled mightily in coverage in preseason action, with converted cornerback Aaron Williams passing him on the depth chart with relative ease. Rookie fourth-round pick Duke Williams is also a favorite of the coaching staff, so Byrd's return may only be the start of Searcy's slide.
WR Brad Smith: The veteran wideout dramatically improved his chances of making the team when he re-structured his contract - cutting his base salary from $2.7 million to $1.5 million - but he's also missed time due to injury and been less impressive than other young receivers, such as Hogan and Marcus Easley. Smith still has a chance to stick with the team thanks to his special teams prowess, but he's had a quiet summer nonetheless.
QB Kevin Kolb: He was essentially in a no-win situation to begin with, but then Kolb slipped on a rubber mat and had an unfortunate death in the family, which kept him out of work for a week and put him squarely behind Manuel in the race for the starting quarterback job. Even after Manuel had knee surgery, putting his Week 1 status in doubt, the team hasn't named a starter. Kolb may start against New England, but it seems clear at this point that Manuel is on the fast track to the starting lineup.
WR Da'Rick Rogers: The ultra-popular undrafted free agent out of Tennessee Tech did not rate among the handful of young receivers that impressed at Bills camp this year. Though he flashed the ability that prompted former GM Buddy Nix to admit that the Bills thought he was early-round talent, Rogers was inconsistent, did not produce at the same clip as other young receivers on the depth chart, and appeared to land in the coaching staff's proverbial dog house in the second week of preseason, when he was the last receiver onto the field against Minnesota. Rogers has a chance to make the 53-man roster, but if he does, it will be based almost entirely on upside, and not on what he accomplished at Fisher.
Honorable mentions: Zebrie Sanders is a player that many fans hoped would develop into a solid reserve tackle (and potentially even be able to swing inside to guard), but he's played just nine preseason snaps at left tackle and doesn't appear to be in the team's final roster plans. Justin Rogers began camp running with the first-team defense, but a hamstring injury forced him off the field for two weeks, and with players like Nickell Robey and Crezdon Butler showing promise, there's a real chance that Rogers doesn't make the final cut.