Can Fine, other vet additions make a difference? (Photo Source)
Prior to the 2008 NFL Draft - in fact, prior to the free agent signing period of this past March - we took a look at the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position, breaking down then-current personnel, finding holes, and building our community needs list.
Now that free agency and the Draft have been completed, and the Bills have infused their roster with new talent, it's time to repeat our process. Where has Buffalo gotten better? Where have they gotten worse? How will additions impact which Bills veterans remain on the roster? These are questions that we'll attempt to answer over the next week or so.
We continue those discussions today with an examination of Buffalo's stable of tight ends and fullbacks. To view our previous discussions on Buffalo's TE situation (pre-off-season), bang it here.
Robert Royal: Once considered the most mediocre starter on Buffalo's offense, Royal... well... still holds that distinction, at least in my eyes. Don't get me wrong, I think Royal is a good player to have on this team - he's a good blocker, a good guy to have on the sidelines, and a solid character guy. But he's not a starting-caliber tight end in the NFL, and he'll hold that role in Buffalo again in 2008.
Royal is a nice short-area target for Trent Edwards but needs to become far more consistent both catching and securing the ball. He's not a big-play threat, either. Royal would be an ideal #2 tight end for red zone work and his blocking ability (see: Bruener, Mark), but unfortunately he'll play above that role for yet another season.
Derek Schouman: A seventh-round draft pick in 2007, Schouman was released prior to the season, added to the team's practice squad, and elevated to the regular roster after a slew of injuries at tight end. He ended up on IR himself, and faces a fierce battle for a roster spot with so many players vying for so few roster spots at tight end and fullback. Schouman may be able to play both, however; if he can, he might have a leg up on the competition.
Tim Massaquoi: Another in-season 2007 addition for the Bills, Massaquoi is a longshot to make the roster. He does have some special teams potential, however, and may be a guy who gets a call back to Buffalo in the event a guy on the roster goes down.
The Additions: Courtney Anderson, Teyo Johnson, Derek Fine
We clung to the vain hope all off-season that the Bills would search for impact at the tight end position. They courted big names like Alge Crumpler and were very high on Dustin Keller and Fred Davis on draft day, but ultimately, the Bills chose size as their consolation prize to a difference-maker. Both Anderson and Johnson stand at 6'6", giving the Bills much more red zone potential at the position than they employed a year ago. Fine (6'3") seems the likely replacement for Royal in a year or two while playing special teams early in his career. The Bills have talent at the position, but don't employ one guy who can block, catch and stretch a defense vertically. That element has been missing from Buffalo's offense for a long time.
The Subtractions: Michael Gaines, Kevin Everett, Ryan Neufeld
Gaines provided solid production as a mid-season street free agent signing, but was snapped up early in the free agent signing period as a blocking back for the Detroit Lions. Neufeld, a special teams ace as a Bill, was a UFA and the team chose not to re-sign him, while Everett's devastating injury has turned into a touching story on a national level.
Jonathan Evans: People tend to forget that in terms of Bills fullbacks, it's Evans who is the longest-tenured fullback on Buffalo's roster (he spent part of '07 on the team's practice squad). With two new guys in the fold, however - and the team keeping two fullbacks at a maximum - Evans is seemingly a longshot to make the roster.
The Additions: Darian Barnes, Mike Viti
Barnes is an NFL veteran who signed a one-year deal in January; he's known as a solid blocker and an OK special teams player, but offers little else. Viti has already gained recognition with the fan base, hailing from the Army and checking into Buffalo with his hard hat and lunch pail in tow. Barnes and Viti seem the two most likely candidates to start at fullback; the loser may not even make the roster.
The Subtractions: None.
Pre-Season Outlook: Unlike 2007, tight end and fullback are no longer one morphed-together "H-Back" position in Buffalo. Turk Schonert's new offensive scheme will bring back the traditional blocking back, and Buffalo's tight ends will focus on more traditional tight end roles.
As it stands right now, only two of the nine players mentioned here - Royal and Fine - are virtual locks to be on the opening day roster. The other seven may be fighting for as few as two positions, though three seems more likely. One thing is certain - this position is a crap shoot, and all of these players have a lot to prove, even if they do make the roster.
Change: Red zone size.
As always, your thoughts on Buffalo's tight end and fullback situation are welcome and encouraged in the comments section.