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State of the Roster: Bills Tight Ends

Gaines was a pleasant surprise in '07 (

Yawn. Buffalo's searches for a new front office man, a new offensive coordinator and a new line coach are progressing at a snail's pace. Rather than bore y'all with speculation and conjecture, I figured we'd continue the series we started this week that has sparked some hot debate: our roster breakdowns. QB WR

This is the third breakdown we'll undertake; as I've mentioned in the previous breakdowns, we'll have 13 such postings over the coming weeks as we methodically break down the current Bills roster for strengths and weaknesses, and build up a needs list heading into free agency and the draft. Simple, right? Probably not - but we'll give it the college try.

On to the breakdown of Buffalo's tight ends (and halfbacks, if you're counting):

Robert Royal
Marv Levy's first free agent signing as a GM, Royal has started the past two seasons and has two additional years remaining on the 4-year, $10 million contract he inked. For an inept offense, Royal has been an underrated red zone target for Buffalo, scoring six touchdowns despite not being a huge part of Buffalo's passing attack. It's no secret, however, that Royal's forte is blocking - he's technically sound in this department, and the Bills know it. That's why they move him around, including splitting him out wide to isolate defensive backs on toss sweeps and lining him up in the backfield as a lead blocker. Royal has carved a distinctive niche for himself, and is an excellent role player. He's just not going to bail Trent Edwards out week in and week out.

Will Improve in '08 if - new additions do not affect his role :: he's operating from the #2 slot, where he could be lethal :: the new offensive coordinator values tight ends as much as Edwards does

Michael Gaines
An afterthought heading into the '07 regular season, Gaines was signed after Kevin Everett was lost with his spinal injury. Gaines came into Buffalo, however, and made an immediate impact - he tied Royal with 25 receptions, scored twice, and while he made some key drops, was effective as a dump-off target for Edwards. Gaines was utilized in many of the same ways Royal was - they moved him around, and he made most of his catches on little flare patterns out of the backfield - so his role next year, if he's on the team, screams "Royal's backup". There's some young depth that could push him off the roster, however.

Will Improve in '08 if - he's the third TE :: he's utilized more often near the goal line :: he can eliminate some of the big drops that plagued him in 2007

Ryan Neufeld
The veteran was dinged up and/or inactive for much of 2007; he saw very little time offensively for Buffalo, making just two receptions this season. He's also an unrestricted free agent. He's getting up there in age, and unless Bobby April really wants to keep him for special teams purposes, his tenure as a Bill is likely over.

Will Improve in '08 if - he can stay healthy

Derek Schouman
Started the year on Buffalo's practice squad, but was elevated after injuries to Everett, Neufeld and Matt Murphy. In three games as the team's starting H-Back, he made three receptions - not overwhelming until you consider the fact that he was actually a factor in those games. Has a shot at making the roster next season, even if an expensive talent is brought in.

Will Improve in '08 if - he can stay healthy :: he can continue to develop his special teams abilities :: he's used out of the backfield more often as a dump-off option

Matt Murphy
As close to an afterthought as you can come. Has nice hands, solid blocking skills and he's a good teammate, but he wasn't able to crack the lineup before succumbing to injury, and doesn't have much of a future with the club.

Tim Massaquoi
A true afterthought. Won't be a Bill in 2008.

Kevin Everett
Never, ever an afterthought. That's why he's won a 2007 Ed Block Courage Award. Congrats, Kevin!

Off-Season Outlook
Much like the team's wideout position, Buffalo has some nice role players at the tight end position. Royal and Gaines (and potentially Schouman) have distinctive niches in the offense, and specialized skills that most definitely need to be utilized - especially Royal's blocking. But once again, there is no talent that transcends skill areas; no one guy who can "do it all", or even "do most of it". The Bills need to find that man this off-season, because if the 50 receptions between Royal and Gaines spell anything, it's that Edwards likes dumping it off to the tight end. Give him an athletic presence there, and the offense could take off.

Possible additions: rookie pass-catching threat; veteran receiving threat with semi-developed blocking skill
Possible subtractions: Neufeld, Massaquoi, Murphy