Coming off of a less-than-thrilling 7-6 loss to the Washington Redskins in last week's pre-season opener, the Buffalo Bills are looking to play a little better in all facets of the game this evening when they take on the Minnesota Vikings. That's particularly true of the first-team offense - and I'll start my list of five things to watch for tonight with that unit.
Fewer penalties. Concern about the offense's lack of production last Thursday is, I believe, premature. Chan Gailey will get the offense ready for Week 1. Concerns about the massive amount of penalties that the team has had this summer, however, are well-founded. The first-team offense committed a false start and had a touchdown nullified by an illegal formation in limited playing time (an admittedly small part of the team's 14 penalties for 134 yards in total), and they need to clean up their execution before we worry too much about production.
Vince Young and the backup quarterback job. All summer, the feeling has been that the Bills were waiting for Young to "get" Gailey's offense enough to make a leap forward and beat out Tyler Thigpen for the backup job. Young may be on the verge of doing just that, and a strong performance with the second-team offense could all but wrap that competition up for him.
Ruvell Martin and a sixth receiver possibility. When Bills fans try to find proverbial roster room for a sixth receiver, they're almost universally doing so with Marcus Easley in mind. It's easy to forget that when cut-down came and went last fall, Martin was on the 53-man roster as a sixth-receiver (he was later cut in favor of another player, then re-signed when Roscoe Parrish landed on IR). It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Bills keep six receivers to start the season, and Martin has had a good camp to complement his already-very good special teams ability. There are other, younger challengers for the sixth receiving slot, but Martin - with another good outing - could make the strongest case for the team keeping an extra wideout.
Kyle Moore, Alex Carrington and Kellen Heard. These three young defensive linemen made last week's watch list, and round one went to Moore, the 2009 fourth-round pick out of USC who has been sporadically impressive this summer as the team's fifth end. With designs to use eight defensive linemen per week this season, it seems quite likely that the Bills will keep at least nine on the active roster, and these three are the strongest current candidates for that spot.
Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks and Prince Miller. At this point, the team's top three cornerbacks remain settled, assuming everyone (specifically Terrence McGee) is healthy heading into the regular season. The depth chart behind them, however, remains largely unsettled. McKelvin has been fairly quiet this summer, leaving the door open for a trio of young players (Brooks, Miller and Justin Rogers, who won't play tonight) to supplant him as the fourth corner on the depth chart. Brooks had a strong pre-season debut, and Miller had an impressive training camp. It's up to McKelvin to keep himself ahead of the younger guys and preserve his long-assumed roster spot.
What are you going to be looking for tonight, Bills fans?