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Eight Bills position battles that will dictate roster decisions

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In the spirit of the topic of the day - roster projections - I thought it might be a useful little exercise to break down some of the more ferocious battles going on at the moment for Buffalo Bills roster spots.  Obviously, with the initial roster cut-downs taking place a week from today, the intensity in some of these battles should be cranked up to another level.

This is only my opinion, but I believe that there are eight battles taking place right now in the eyes of the coaching staff that could have large ramifications on how the final roster ultimately takes shape.  My views on those eight battles appear after the jump.

Ryan Denney vs. Chris Ellis vs. Copeland Bryan
   May the best two men make the roster!
- I know that the idea of the Bills keeping six defensive ends has swept Bills nation and captured the imaginations of the masses, but I sincerely doubt that the coaching staff would be willing to sacrifice a player at another position for depth at the position that might not dress on Sundays.  The good news is that the play has been solid enough to this point in the pre-season that the likelihood of the team keeping five ends is high.  Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay and Aaron Maybin aren't going anywhere.  That means that two of the three players listed above could stay.  The smart money says Denney and Ellis will stay, but don't sleep on Bryan - the coaches really like him.  If Ellis and Bryan continue to impress the way they have in the past two pre-season games, the coaches could get gutsy and take the youth route at a position that needs it.

   Projected winners: Denney, Ellis

Derek Fine vs. Jonathan Stupar
   May the best man make the roster!
- It might surprise you to see Fine's name in any sort of competition not involving the starting tight end role after the hype this off-season.  Derek Schouman is a near-lock to start, and rookie Shawn Nelson will see playing time in specific offensive packages to make use of his athleticism and length.  Meanwhile, Jonathan Stupar is the team's leading receiver in the pre-season with 15 grabs for 155 yards and a touchdown.  Fine has been solid enough, but nowhere near as impressive as Stupar.  Is it possible that Stupar could supplant the 2008 fourth-round pick on the roster? Again, the smart money says no, but you shouldn't scoff at the notion.  Stupar has been that impressive.

   Projected winner: Fine

Ashton Youboty vs. Ellis Lankster
   May the best man... well, this one's tricky!
- Unlike the first two battles outlined above, this one isn't so black-and-white.  The simplest way to put it is this: Ellis Lankster is a lock to make this team.  He will not be cut.  Case closed.  Where the wrinkle comes in is if the coaches feel that he can adequately be bumped ahead of Youboty on the depth chart.  With the top four corners pretty much set in stone at this point, Youboty and Lankster are duking it out for the fifth corner role.  If Lankster is perceived as ahead of Youboty on cut-down day, Youboty could be released or traded.  The coaches aren't thrilled with his injury history, which, despite his solid play when healthy, makes him a liability on the roster.  Smart money says both will make the team, but if the Bills want numbers at another position, Youboty could get the axe.  It all depends on how close Youboty and Lankster compare in the coaches' eyes.

   Projected order of finish: Youboty, then Lankster.  Six corners seems likely at this point.

Pat Thomas vs. Marcus Buggs
   May the best man make the roster!
- Paul Posluszny needs a backup, and unfortunately, it's not going to be John DiGiorgio, who'll spend a second straight season on IR.  Thomas and Buggs spent much of training camp flip-flopping Mike roles with the second and third defensive units.  Though Thomas has been considered the slight leader in this race all along thanks to his NFL experience, he's currently dealing with an ankle injury.  That ankle injury was once considered minor - yet it's kept him out of two weeks' worth of practices and pre-season games.  Perhaps that ankle injury isn't as minor as once thought.  Meanwhile, Buggs hasn't been spectacular, but he's a good athlete and can help on special teams.  Please stay healthy, Poz.

   Projected winner: Buggs

Alvin Bowen vs. Jon Corto vs. Ashlee Palmer
   May the best man make the roster!
- Just like at middle linebacker, Kawika Mitchell and Keith Ellison need backups.  The good news is that rookie fifth-round pick Nic Harris has cemented himself as Ellison's chief understudy.  That leaves one spot open - working under the very likely assumption that the Bills will open the season with six linebackers on the active roster, as they did in 2008 - for one of these three young outside linebackers.  Palmer is a ghost participant here - he was very impressive early in camp, but an ankle injury has caused him to miss two pre-season games, and could keep him out for the foreseeable future.  He seems destined for the practice squad.  Meanwhile, Bowen and Corto are essentially the same player - undersized, speedy athletes that will see most of their time on special teams.  I'll tell you this: the coaches like Bowen, but they love Corto.

   Projected winner: Corto

Ko Simpson vs. George Wilson
   May the best man make the roster!
- At a bare minimum, the Bills will keep four safeties.  Donte Whitner, Bryan Scott and Jairus Byrd are locks to make the roster.  Simpson and Wilson are currently duking it out for the final spot.  Neither has been particularly impressive in coverage, but Wilson has looked a bit better in run support.  The deciding factor here may be the fact that Wilson was a special teams captain in 2008, while Simpson... was not.  Meanwhile, John Wendling will have to wait to see what happens at other critical positions before finding out if he'll make the team as a pretend safety and a full-time special teams ace.

   Projected winner: Wilson

Xavier Omon vs. Corey McIntyre
   May the best man moonlight on the roster for a month!
- I know, right? This battle is keeping you up at nights, so epic is the role to be won and the contestants for the job.  Long story short, the Bills will need an emergency third running back to start the season while Marshawn Lynch serves his three-game suspension.  Both Omon and McIntyre have seen extensive special teams action, and both have gotten their fair share of touches at running back.  McIntyre has been serviceable, but Omon has made plays.  Still, this competition is not over.

   Projected winner: Omon

Jonathan Scott vs. Brandon Rodd
   May the best man hope that 9 offensive linemen are needed!
- It's not a lock that the Bills will keep nine offensive linemen, and as it sits right now, the top eight is very much set in stone.  Then again, the line has been incredibly inconsistent this pre-season, and a few players have had issues with minor back injuries.  It's possible the coaches might want to keep a ninth lineman around simply to have the player on the practice field and still familiar with the system in the event more depth is needed.  If that's the case, one of these players would stick.

   Projected winner: Scott, if and only if a ninth lineman is needed