Buffalo Bills training camp breaks today, with the team wrapping up a month-long stay at St. John Fisher to head back to Orchard Park for the duration of the preseason.
A month is a long time, especially in a NFL where jobs can be won and lost on a coach's whim, and the Bills are no exception to that rule. Plenty has changed for the team, and from the perspective of fan expectations, since the Bills first hit the practice field on July 20. With that in mind, let's take a look at the players who have seen the greatest gains, or losses, over the past month in Pittsford.
OT Seantrel Henderson: It's fair to say that nobody saw Henderson's ascent coming. The barely-drafted, highly-talented tackle seized a golden opportunity with the first-team offense early in camp, afforded to him by the Cordy Glenn illness, and was so impressive that the Bills kicked their right tackle inside so that Henderson can stay in the starting lineup. He's highly likely to begin the season as a starting tackle.
OT Erik Pears: This was the second straight year in which Bills fans, and to a certain extent the team, tried to replace Pears in the starting lineup. They succeeded, unexpectedly, with Henderson, but Pears looks like he's going to have the last laugh, as he closes training camp as the first-team right guard. Buffalo has been sufficiently displeased with the play at that spot that Pears' presence might actually be a saving grace for the team, assuming he assimilates quickly.
WR Chris Hogan: Buffalo had acquired enough talent at receiver that many assumed that Hogan, a former undrafted free agent, would have a hard time making the team. Instead, Hogan was so consistent throughout camp that he worked his way into an extended look with the first-team offense, while showing improved play on special teams in preseason games. It's now looking like he's a mortal lock to be on the roster once again, and may even be in line for a role as a receiver.
LB Nigel Bradham: Following the season-ending injury to Kiko Alonso, rookie Preston Brown was the recipient of most of the ink as the "next man up" dialogue began. Brown remains a fixture with the second-team defense as camp breaks, however, while Bradham - even while dealing with a one-game suspension - has a firm grasp on not only a starting job, but perhaps even a fairly large sub-package role, as well.
DT Landon Cohen: Cohen wasn't even with the Bills when they started camp on July 20. He was signed a day later, and has been one of the major story lines of camp ever since. He's committed a few penalties here and there, but his extremely disruptive play with the second-team defense has easily trumped those miscues. Cohen is not a lock to make the team, but it's hard for a street free agent signing to make a better case for inclusion than Cohen has.
OT Cyrus Kouandjio: Henderson might be the biggest story of training camp, but there's an inverse story to follow with Kouandjio, the second-round pick who not only failed to assume the starting right tackle job (as many expected him to), but has struggled mightily in pass protection against second- and third-team defensive linemen throughout the summer. Right now, Kouandjio looks like he'll be the inactive lineman on game days that the team will try to continue to develop in the practice setting. He's nowhere near ready enough to see the field.
OG Kraig Urbik: The other pre-camp projected starter that has been displaced from the top unit is Urbik, the right guard that the Bills have been looking to replace since late in the 2013 regular season. While Pears has emerged as the favorite to start there, Urbik has been relegated to the second team, where the team has given him a shot to play some center. It's that versatility, if it bears out, that stands as Urbik's best chance at making the team in 2014.
DT Alan Branch: Buffalo has received strong play from their reserve defensive tackles, even beyond the aforementioned Cohen. Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant have also been consistently disruptive in the practice setting and on game days, and that trio of unheralded reserves has pushed the veteran Branch to the back end of the depth chart. Branch missed OTAs, showed up to camp out of shape, and is now very much in danger of being released despite having signed a lucrative three-year contract extension late last year.
QB Thad Lewis: Prior to training camp, the only notion that Jeff Tuel might overtake Lewis as the backup quarterback in 2014 came from scattered and purely speculative writings. It didn't take long for the Bills to open that competition up, and while neither quarterback has exactly impressed, Lewis has been particularly bad, completing 17-of-33 passes (51.5 percent completions) for 168 yards with two interceptions. Tuel has a slight lead in the race - and the regime seems to prefer him - so if the Bills go looking for a different veteran to groom as the backup, Lewis might be on the chopping block.
TE Tony Moeaki: Once considered a rising tight end in the league, Bills fans held out hope throughout the spring that Moeaki would stay healthy and push to supplant Scott Chandler as the starting tight end - or, at least, to add a different flavor to the group. Instead, Moeaki has dealt with hamstring issues throughout the summer, missing a large number of practices and logging just 11 snaps on offense in preseason play. He remains limited as camp closes, and the Bills are going to have a hard time justifying a roster spot for him if he can't get healthy soon.
Who else stood out to you on either end of the spectrum, Bills fans?