Buffalo Bills training camp is over, but with the team playing two more preseason games and cutting down the roster twice within the next 10 days, the preseason is only just beginning. As the Bills head back to Orchard Park after a three-week stay at St. John Fisher College, let's revisit some of the team's major positional battle entering camp, and where they stand today.
Note that every battle is not present on this list; sure, it may be interesting to some (including us) to talk about who the third running back is going to be, but how often are we going to see a third running back on the field come Week 1? This list focuses on starting jobs and major roles - players that you'll notice with little effort on Sundays - and is not all-encompassing.
Battles already over
Kicker: The Bills released veteran Rian Lindell earlier this week (he has since signed with Tampa Bay), meaning that rookie sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins will handle the team's kicking duties for the foreseeable future. This move had been expected ever since the Bills drafted Hopkins in late April.
Punter: A steadier hand holding for kicks and a stronger overall leg allowed Shawn Powell to fairly quickly defeat Brian Stahovich for the punting job, but he must continue to work on consistency, as he's prone to awful-looking kicks on a far too frequent basis.
Battles that were over before they started
Right Tackle: Most expected that Chris Hairston would overtake Erik Pears for the right tackle job in training camp, given Pears' $2.1 million base salary in 2013. Instead, Pears is a lock for the final roster and a shoo-in for the right tackle job, while Hairston remains on Active/PUP with a back issue that doesn't seem to be progressing quickly.
Battles that appear over
Left Guard: Early in camp, Doug Marrone was splitting left guard reps between Colin Brown and Doug Legursky. That is no longer the case; Brown has made two straight starts at the position in preseason action, and it's been a couple of weeks now since Legursky has seen time with the first-team offense. Both of these players seem like locks for the final roster, but it's also fairly apparent that Brown has had the lead in the left guard race for a while, and time is growing short for Legursky to close the gap.
Pass Rusher: The Bills released Mark Anderson just prior to training camp, throwing into doubt which player would be the team's go-to pass rusher in obvious passing situations. Jerry Hughes was the presumed favorite all along, but Jamie Blatnick had earned a little buzz from media that took in spring workouts and Hughes' resume wasn't particularly stellar. Blatnick made good on that buzz, as he will almost certainly make this team, but there may not have been a single better performer in camp than Hughes. He worked extensively with the first-team defense this summer, routinely making big plays in the backfield, and the idea of a career resurgence after three bad years in Indianapolis seems more than possible.
Strong Safety: We knew that Jairus Byrd would be back with the team and back in the starting lineup at some point this summer, but we could only guess as to whether Aaron Williams or Da'Norris Searcy would be joining him with the ones when it happened. That is no longer the case - while Searcy has struggled mightily in coverage this summer, Williams has made a smooth transition from corner to safety, and appears locked in as a starter regardless of Byrd's availability.
Battles that remain nebulous
Quarterback: For about 18 hours after the Bills' preseason win over Minnesota, it looked like EJ Manuel had taken a commanding lead on Kevin Kolb in the race to be the team's starting quarterback. Then, in an instant, word broke that he needed a minor knee procedure that would keep him from playing the remainder of the preseason, and could affect his Week 1 availability. Just like that, Kolb was back in the limelight. Whether or not Manuel is available to play against New England still seems like the most significant factor in this race - and there does not seem to be much doubt any more that as soon as the team can get Manuel ready and into the lineup, they will - but for now, what the quarterback position will look like in Week 1 remains a mystery.
Wide Receiver: Stevie Johnson was always going to start, and presumed running mate Robert Woods has done nothing to lose his projected starting job, either. The real question at this point is which of the team's two Olympic-caliber speed receivers - T.J. Graham and rookie Marquise Goodwin - will emerge as the third receiver of choice. That third receiver will play a lot in this offense, and while Goodwin had himself a spectacular camp, Graham was merely steady until a hamstring injury kept him out of action for a while. Both are back in the lineup, so we should get a better look at the playing time breakdown come Saturday, when the Bills take on the Washington Redskins.