The Buffalo Bills will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday evening in their fourth pre-season game of the year. That contest will be the last time that the Bills' current 80-man roster plays together in a live setting; next week, NFL teams are required to begin trimming their rosters down to the 53-man limit. Rosters must be trimmed to 75 on Tuesday of next week, and all the way down to 53 next Saturday.
Needless to say, several players have a lot to prove over the next week or so - even those who aren't necessarily on the roster bubble. We've got seven such names for y'all to ponder.
DE Aaron Maybin. Yeah, we know - he's obviously not going anywhere. But Maybin will be making his pre-season debut on Saturday - yes, it's official, barring a practice injury over the next couple of days - and how he looks will factor into final roster decisions. If he looks like a first-round pick should - talented and ready to make an impact - the Bills might be willing to shed a veteran at his position. If Maybin looks ill-prepared to make an impact as a rookie, the mindset changes in finalizing the roster.
(On a side note, I shudder to think what this blog, other Bills discussion locales, and my e-mail inbox would look like if Maybin struggles on Saturday. Please don't suck, kid.)
DE Copeland Bryan. His fate is tied in part to Maybin's, as outlined above, but Bryan has done his fair share of proving to this point in the pre-season. In each of the past two games, he has recorded a sack and a forced fumble. If he keeps up his impressive play, he'll make Buffalo's decisions at defensive end much more difficult, regardless of how Maybin performs. Then again, despite his impressive play, Bryan is still decidedly sixth on the depth chart, even if he's taking practice reps ahead of 2008 third-round pick Chris Ellis.
CB Ashton Youboty. After sitting out the Hall of Fame Game with a groin injury, Youboty has turned in solid (if unspectacular) performances over the past two weeks. The performances have not been enough to quell speculation that Youboty might be on his way out of Buffalo, however. With nickel corner Drayton Florence still shelved with a knee sprain, Youboty's roster spot seems assured if Florence's health is still iffy in the days leading up to the final cut-down. That injury, however, does not guarantee him playing time.
TE Derek Fine. Let's face it - all the skepticism in the world in regards to the quality of second- and third-team opposition doesn't take away from the fact that TE Jonathan Stupar is the team's leading receiver this pre-season (15 receptions, 155 yards, TD). Fine, meanwhile, has been merely passable, flashing his occasionally excellent run blocking and his abilities as a short-area receiver. If Buffalo's coaches decide to take the best players, an argument could be made that Stupar edges out Fine.
Fine will likely miss the Steelers game with a hamstring injury - so the door is now wide open for Stupar, as the third tight end this weekend, to steal a roster spot. A lackluster pre-season finale could end Fine's Bills career before it really gets started. We're not saying it's likely. We're just saying it's possible.
LB Pat Thomas. The veteran linebacker returned to practice this week after missing two-plus weeks of games and practices with an ankle injury. Buffalo's depth at linebacker is highly unsettled, and nobody outside of rookie Nic Harris is a lock to make the roster. Thomas has an advantage because of his NFL experience, but his roster spot will need to be earned as the pre-season wraps up.
SS John Wendling. How many defensive backs can the Bills keep? 6 corners and 4 safeties? How about 5 corners and 5 safeties? 6 corners and 5 safeties seems like a stretch, but it might be the only way a guy like Wendling can crack the roster, despite his being in Bobby April's good graces as a core special teams player. A few big hits and/or plays defensively could help Wendling's case.
WR Justin Jenkins. No single player is in a more unique position on the team. Will the team find a trade partner and adequate compensation for Roscoe Parrish? How soon will James Hardy be able to take the field? Exactly how concerned should we be about Terrell Owens' toe injury? If any one of these players isn't available, Jenkins probably makes the roster. Then again, if all three of them can take the field, Jenkins is a goner. His fate is tied almost totally to what happens with other players, despite the fact that he's a dependable special teams player and a reliable pre-season receiver. If he makes some plays in the final two pre-season games, the Bills might pick up the pace with some players (Parrish) and decide to wait on others (Hardy) - Jenkins has some cards left in his hand to play.
Any other players you'd add to the list, Rumblers?