Last week, we put out a call for more Buffalo Bills questions for our weekly Buffalo Rumblings Mailbag post, and boy, did y'all deliver. We received over 50 emails with questions, and while you are certainly welcome to keep adding newer queries to the pile (firstname.lastname@example.org), we have quite the reserve built up for the time being. Y'all are the best.
Because of the overload of questions, let's answer five of them - plus a bonus question - this week. Thanks to Ron, Fred, Sergeant Major Thor, Zach, Chip, and yes, even Luke (you'll get that when you read the final question) for this week's topics!
With all this talk about interchangeable safeties, isn’t the secondary becoming just putting your best 4-5 on the field?
For context, Ron went on to posit that the Bills' top five defensive backs - Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey and Aaron Williams - should be the starters, with Da'Norris Searcy, Duke Williams and Ron Brooks filling in. Which, purely theoretically, has its merits.
But it's not that simple. Williams was able to successfully convert from corner to safety because he is well above average at defending the run for a defensive back. I have serious doubts that either Gilmore or Graham could make a similarly smooth transition; they've always been better fits at corner, while Williams has always been a better fit at safety. And make no mistake about it, there are significant differences between the positions, that deal mostly with alignment and the variety of personnel they're dealing with.
Interchangeable safeties simply refers to having two safeties with diverse skill sets and the versatility to wear several different hats. They are the future of the position, just as three-down, fast-flow linebackers are the future. Neither is especially easy to find at the moment.
Manny Lawson and Alan Branch were both missing in action during OTAs. They are two players whose role is subject to change next season. What conclusions can we draw from this situation? Are they sending a message to the team?
Keep in mind that neither was present for voluntary workouts last year, either - and that was right after the Bills signed them, and during a period of time when they could have been learning a much more intricate and complicated defense than the one the team is learning now. The Bills made significant investments in these players, and both are needed. Lawson and Branch are professionals. They'll be here for mandatory minicamp next week, and by the time the season rolls around we'll have forgotten that they ever missed voluntary workouts.
If Fred Jackson continues to be the best running back and a team leader, do the Bills just move on from him in 2015, or do they let him continue his journey?
Speaking personally, I would be severely disappointed if the Bills ever decided to cut bait with Jackson while he's still productive, regardless of his age. When a franchise is in the midst of a 14-year playoff drought, players like Jackson - fan favorites, rags-to-riches stories with loyalty, production and marketability to spare - are rare. I get that the NFL is a cutthroat business, and that if Thurman Thomas couldn't play his entire career with the Bills, no player will ever be simply handed that chance. But if there's any Bills player from the last decade that has earned the right to spend his entire career with one team, and leave on his own terms, it is undoubtedly Fred Jackson.
That said, the Bills have been wise this offseason to plan for the future at that position, because as awesome as Jackson is and has been, when running backs start to decline, it usually happens very quickly.
Is it wrong that I’m worried we’ve all forgotten about Nate Hackett? A year removed from Chan Gailey, I feel like I appreciate his talents on offense better now than I did then. How good is Hackett?
It's not wrong to worry about Nathaniel Hackett - skepticism is perfectly reasonable - but it's most definitely wrong to assume that Bills fans have forgotten about him. Mention his name once online, and no matter how innocuously he's brought up, you're going to spend the rest of the day debating his merits as a pro play-caller. It's insanely frustrating.
And yes, it's nice to acknowledge that, you know what, Chan Gailey did a whale of a job coaxing stretches of high-level production out of what essentially amounted to spare parts. He had the running backs, but the quarterbacks and wide receivers have completely changed since Doug Marrone came into town, and the offensive line has (probably) replaced two starters as well. Hackett has much more talent to work with than Gailey ever did. How that offense comes together will answer the last part of this question.
Can the Bills really afford to carry two kickers on the 53-man roster? They appear to have pretty good overall depth, and there could be some tough cuts even with one kicker.
I'm more interested in attempting to answer that question come late August, when we have a much clearer idea whether or not any of these depth players we're talking up now have done anything to warrant being kept over a useful, yet little-used player.
The Bills shouldn't be deciding to keep both Dan Carpenter and Dustin Hopkins unless Hopkins proves in the preseason that he can consistently blow kicks through the end zone. Only then does he have value - and it's small value, given he may only play a handful of snaps per game. That value must then be weighed against the value of other players at the back end of the roster. If that's a special teams only player, then Hopkins may eliminate half of that player's role, anyway. If it's a project (Seantrel Henderson, for example), then they should be weighing the value lost over the potential long-term value of a player at a position where they might have three good young players.
If Chris Hairston stays healthy and Cyrus Kouandjio has a solid training camp, would they seriously consider moving Cordy Glenn (some reps in OTAs) to guard?
Cordy Glenn is an established, above-average starter in the NFL at left tackle. He is still only 24 years old, and therefore offers even more promise at left tackle than what he has already shown. Buffalo will not be moving Glenn from left tackle for any reason. Part of me believes that the Bills' coaching staff continues to flip him inside for one practice a year just to keep the dream alive for those that still buy the 2012 NFL Draft day rhetoric that Glenn can't play left tackle. He clearly can.