Just before the Buffalo Bills hit the practice field on Monday evening, the team released its first official depth chart of the 2014 season. The listing did not contain much in the way of surprises, but why not take a deeper look at it anyway?
The position that did the most to catch my attention was linebacker, where many different players have taken first-team reps and a little clarity was needed. The still below is a more visual representation of how the Bills have charted their linebackers early in training camp.
The starting trio is not surprising, even though Nigel Bradham has ceded first-team reps on the weak side in more than one practice. Keith Rivers and Brandon Spikes, at this point, are entrenched as starters in the base defense. It's the backup listings that are especially intriguing.
Randell Johnson, who only returned to practice a couple of days ago after spending a good chunk of the offseason recovering from a knee injury, is listed ahead of third-team, undrafted rookie Jimmy Gaines, who is one of the players that has seen first-team work. Even more intriguingly, Ty Powell - an outside linebacker under Mike Pettine and core specialist candidate that the team has spoken highly of all spring - is flopped in as the third-team middle linebacker.
It's days like this that I wish pro football teams built their depth charts around the nickel defense, because they're playing it more than half the time anyway, and that structure might give us a clearer picture of how the team is currently viewing its coverage-down options at the position in the absence of Kiko Alonso.
Some other depth chart items worth discussing briefly:
- Role players (i.e. Lee Smith and Anthony Dixon) are listed ahead of more talented players (Tony Moeaki and Bryce Brown, respectively) in part because the team likely has specific roles in mind for them. Or, perhaps, it's merely an issue of longevity.
- Cyril Richardson makes it onto the second-team listing at left guard, even though he spent much of the early portions of camp with the third team.
- The team flips its safeties around somewhat unexpectedly, with Duke Williams listed behind Da'Norris Searcy (to emphasize the apparent competition ongoing there), and Jonathan Meeks slotting in behind Aaron Williams - even though the Williamses are a more natural one-two pairing, as are Searcy and Meeks. This is actually refreshing, as the Bills have removed the free and strong designations from their depth chart, indicating that they truly are looking for interchangeability on the back end.
- Marquise Goodwin is listed as the primary kick returner, with T.J. Graham, Sammy Watkins, and C.J. Spiller in line behind him. Leodis McKelvin is still the top punt returner, backed up by Nickell Robey and Robert Woods. The aforementioned Smith, a blocking specialist at tight end, has apparently diversified his portfolio by earning the backup long-snapper rights, as well.
Here is the full depth chart (minus the listed specialists, for the sake of listing every player only once) in all its glory.
|WR||R. Woods||M. Williams||C. Hogan||M. Easley||C. Summers||T. Gurley|
|LT||C. Glenn||S. Henderson||E. Coughman|
|LG||C. Williams||C. Richardson||A. McClain|
|C||E. Wood||D. Legursky||M. MacPherson||J. Wheeler|
|RG||K. Urbik||C. Hairston||J. 'Unga|
|RT||E. Pears||C. Kouandjio|
|TE||S. Chandler||L. Smith||T. Moeaki||C. Gragg||D. Jones|
|WR||S. Watkins||M. Goodwin||T. Graham||K. Elliott||C. Holley||N. Roosevelt|
|QB||E. Manuel||T. Lewis||J. Tuel||D. Dixon|
|FB||F. Summers||E. Rodriguez|
|RB||C. Spiller||F. Jackson||A. Dixon||B. Brown||R. Wingo|
|RE||J. Hughes||M. Lawson||J. Smith||B. Johnson|
|UT||K. Williams||C. Bryant||D. Jacobs||L. Cohen|
|NT||M. Dareus||A. Branch||S. Charles|
|LE||M. Williams||J. Wynn||I. Igbinosun|
|WLB||N. Bradham||S. Sylvester||X. Boyd|
|MLB||B. Spikes||P. Brown||T. Powell|
|SLB||K. Rivers||R. Johnson||J. Gaines|
|CB||S. Gilmore||N. Robey||R. Brooks||M. Butler||K. McIlwain|
|S||A. Williams||J. Meeks||K. Ladler||D. Broomfield|
|S||D. Searcy||D. Williams||J. Harley||D. Brim|
|CB||L. McKelvin||C. Graham||R. Cockrell||M. Carter||B. Felder|
|K||D. Carpenter||D. Hopkins|
|P||B. Moorman||J. Dombrowski|