In the weeks leading up to the start of Buffalo Bills training camp, Buffalo Rumblings will be taking a look at the ten most intriguing positional battles set to take place at St. John Fisher this summer. Stay tuned for future iterations of this series.
Within the context of the offense that Chan Gailey runs - or at least what we've observed of it over the past two years - there isn't an awful lot of roster space to be spared for tight ends and fullbacks. They can certainly be useful on the field - Scott Chandler proved that last season - but that doesn't mean that Gailey requires them in quantity.
Between the two positions (or viewing them both as a hybrid role, which we'll get into after the jump), there may not be room for more than four players - and as far as our first highlighted battle goes, I'm looking at a trio of players fighting for at least one, but probably two roster spots.
For our purposes, let's view these two positions as one functional unit within Gailey's offense. Chandler is obviously going to make the team, and because second-year pro Lee Smith is such a strong blocker, he's a virtual lock to make the team, as well, in a very specialized role. (Watch some of the Bills' earlier-season games a year ago: Smith was on the field quite a bit.)
From there, I believe that there are three strong contenders for two roster spots: Corey McIntyre, Dorin Dickerson and Kevin Brock.
Dickerson is clearly the most interesting name of that bunch, and the catalyst for my lumping these two positions into one functional camp battle. The Bills told Dickerson they wanted an H-Back (read: fullback/tight end hybrid) to play in Gailey's system, and Dickerson is the only player athletically qualified to hold down that role. Even though he's the newest player of the bunch, it's not unfair to make an argument that Dickerson might have the best shot among this trio of making the team.
McIntyre (the true fullback) and Brock (the true tight end) are serious contenders to make the team in my view, as well. McIntyre is a fan favorite, and although he doesn't serve much of a purpose offensively as a one-dimensional lead blocker (he touched the ball one time last year), he's a well-respected veteran that is a core member of the team's coverage units on special teams. Brock, meanwhile, is a little-known commodity that flashed in brief appearances at the end of the 2011 season, and who has already been talked up a bit by his new position coach, Pete Metzelaars.
In the end, if you pool the Bills' tight ends and fullbacks together, you get a list of "specialist" type players, and no truly complete packages. Chandler is the receiving tight end. Smith is the blocking tight end. McIntyre is the blocking fullback. Dickerson is the H-Back. Brock is unique in that he may be the most "traditional" of the entire group, which in my opinion gives him an advantage, even in Gailey's non-traditional offense.
Again, Chandler is a lock, and Smith is pretty close. If Dickerson picks up Gailey's offense quickly and proves himself useful within it, he's likely to stick around - and if he plays well on special teams, that "likely" becomes certainty. McIntyre and Brock would be left to battle it out for one spot, with the fullback's special teams abilities giving him an early leg up over Brock's youth and (marginal) upside.
It's also worth noting that how this battle shakes out between McIntyre, Brock and Dickerson could directly affect another battle that won't be highlighted in this series: that between Tashard Choice and Johnny White to be the team's third running back. Neither player is likely to play a lot if both of the team's top two runners are healthy, and White is the superior special teams player between he and Choice. If McIntyre - the best special teams player in this battle - doesn't make the team, it increases White's chances of edging out Choice, and the opposite is true if McIntyre does make it. How each of the other two players are perceived as special teams guys will obviously play a role, as well.