It's been a rough week here at Buffalo Rumblings and SB Nation. A network outage caused problems for us for the bulk of the last three days; as a result, our posting rate slowed to a crawl, our daily discussions proceeded at a much slower pace than usual, and our pages were exceedingly difficult to load at times. In the very near future, the blog will undergo a maintenance window - during which it will be inaccessible - to hopefully fix the issue permanently. This will be conducted with minimal disruption in mind; hopefully you won't notice. Either way, we thank you for your patience during this long week; we've been just as impatient as you have, I'm sure.
I had planned on several big positional breakdowns this week and a post on the team's dime and pressure packages under the new defensive coaching staff, but with the blog inaccessible so often this week, I didn't have the opportunity to pre-write posts like I normally would have. While I get those posts sorted this weekend for early-week consumption, I thought I'd throw together a post based on some of the emails y'all have been sending me this week. Here's a mailbag post to tide you over until tomorrow, when we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming.
I'm a big fan of talking about the unheralded, buzz worthy guys at the back end of the roster. What three players on the roster do you think could surprise and play a lot in 2013? - Trevor
Good question, Trevor. I'm a fan of this type of conversation, as well. Three guys that I've got my eye on:
- Crezdon Butler: The Bills admitted last year when Butler was signed that the front office had been after him for weeks and liked him coming out of Clemson in 2010. A fifth-round pick in Pittsburgh - where Doug Whaley comes from, lest you forget - Butler is a 4.4 speed corner with good size (6'0", 191) and jumping ability. The cornerback position is wide open, and I think if anyone pushes Leodis McKelvin for a starting role on the outside, it'll be Butler.
- Marcus Dowtin: Things are wide open at linebacker, too, and Dowtin is a similar athlete to Nigel Bradham (though he's listed 14 pounds lighter) that's already played in Mike Pettine's system. That familiarity will give him a leg up on both Bradham and Kiko Alonso, and he can play multiple positions, as well. It's not unreasonable to think that one of Alonso and Bradham may not be ready to start right away, and Dowtin could contend for a great deal of playing time.
- Da'Norris Searcy: It may be a bit of a copout to list a part-time starter from last year's team here, but Searcy is something of a forgotten man at this point what with the safety talk centering on Aaron Williams and rookie Duke Williams. Searcy is a better run support safety than both and has better instincts than Aaron Williams; I still think he's an opening-day starter on this football team, with the two Williams athletes competing for nickel back duties.
The left guard position looks horrible with Andy Levitre gone. How do you see the left guard spot shaking out in training camp, and will there be a right tackle competition, as well? - Aaron
"Horrible" might be a stretch at left guard, but it's not difficult to understand why there's angst there; the position is very unsettled. As many as six players could wind up making a bid for the position, which indicates two things: there are more options than some people are willing to admit, but none of them are proven.
Sam Young might be the early favorite to replace Levitre. He's outmatched at tackle because of his limited athletic ability, but that will be masked some on the inside in pass protection, and he's so massive that he can cause problems at the second level regardless of how nimble he isn't. Chris Scott has taken some first-team reps in early spring practices, as well, and Colin Brown is clearly on the team's radar. Don't forget about David Snow, Keith Williams and even Doug Marrone pupil Zack Chibane, though they're looking like longer shots at this point.
As for right tackle: yes, I expect that Chris Hairston and Erik Pears will be competing for a starting role. I fully believe that Hairston will emerge the victor. He's younger with more upside, less expensive and a far better run blocker than Pears is. If Hairston does win that job and Zebrie Sanders shows significant development in camp, it's not out of the question that Pears - who is scheduled to make $2.1 million this year - could get cut.
This year's group of rookies looks like it could be epic, even the undrafted rookies look great! Aside from the obvious name (Da'Rick Rogers), which undrafted free agent has the best chance at making the team? - Beth
It's a good thing you phrased the question that way, Beth, because you hit the nail on the head: no undrafted rookie has nearly as strong a shot at making the final 53 than Rogers, who is arguably the most physically gifted receiver on this very young roster.
Beyond him, however, the answer is easy to me: Keith Pough, a linebacker out of Howard. A highlight machine at the small school level, Pough has good size and enough athleticism to get by at the NFL level. The Bills want him to get bigger, but they think he can play multiple linebacker positions for the team, which will aid him tremendously in his bid to make the cut. No position is tougher to get a read on than linebacker - there are unproven players and specialist-types like Arthur Moats and Bryan Scott - but Pough is a hand-picked signing of the new regime. I'm almost expecting him to make the team at this point, as well.
Other undrafted free agent names to keep an eye on: running back Kendall Gaskins; guard Chibane; and defensive linemen Izaan Cross and Aaron Tipoti. The Bills could use a big, bruising change of pace back, and Gaskins fits that profile. Chibane played for Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett at Syracuse, which will help his cause. Cross and Tipoti are competing with some Bills retreads for one or perhaps two defensive line spots at the back end of the roster, with bigger names ahead of them (Torell Troup, Jarron Gilbert) no lock at all to make the team.