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Bills position battles in full swing at training camp

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Three practices into 2015 Buffalo Bills training camp, we have a bit of clarity on several major position battles across the roster. Here's the latest at eight key spots.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The first three practices of 2015 Buffalo Bills training camp are in the books, and while we are still in the very early stages of many ongoing positional battles, those three practices have provided a bit of clarity on where those battles stand as camp progresses. Let's review those battles on the morning of the fourth practice, as a means of catching up from a busy weekend of Bills news.

Starting jobs

  • Quarterback: Through three practices, on the whole, it's sounding like Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor have been "maybe Kyle Orton will come out of retirement?" bad. There may be some early separation based on experience, however: Cassel has seen first-team work every day, while the two younger players have not. It may end up being a by-default situation, but for now, it's looking like Manuel and/or Taylor will need to improve significantly to jump past Cassel.
  • Right tackle: Rex Ryan has spoken very highly of both candidates for this job, Cyrus Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson. That's particularly noteworthy for Henderson, who had a rough spring in falling behind Kouandjio, who was a non-factor as a rookie while Henderson started 16 games. Kouandjio has taken the majority of first-team reps to this point, but Ryan praised Henderson's ability to create movement in the run game, as well. This seems like the most wide-open battle on the roster right now.
  • Safety: There was some rhetoric that Corey Graham and Duke Williams would be battling for a starting job this summer, but thus far, Graham has a definitive lead in that race, working exclusively with the first-team defense. In reality, we're likely to see Graham and Williams on the field at the same time during regular season action, but in terms of the larger playing-time role, it looks like it's Graham's job to lose - and he probably won't do that.

Depth jobs

  • Running back: Joe Buscaglia of WKBW weighed in on this position yesterday, noting that Fred Jackson is always second in line for reps behind the starter, but also that he isn't seeing more reps than Bryce Brown, rookie Karlos Williams, and Anthony Dixon, who are all in the mix, as well. Some nice things have been written about Brown in the passing game thus far, and everyone notices Williams' athleticism, as well. This will be a highly interesting battle for the remainder of the summer.
  • Tight end: In the battle for playing time behind the starter, things appear to be wide open. WGR 550's Sal Capaccio has been monitoring this position closely, and has noted that all four of Matthew Mulligan, Chris Gragg, MarQueis Gray, and rookie Nick O'Leary have worked with the first-team offense - usually in groups of two, which is the most interesting part of this discussion. There is a lot of playing time up for grabs here, and it'd be surprising (at least to the author) if the Bills didn't keep four players at this position.
  • Offensive line: Three starting jobs are set in stone, and a fourth is very close to being at that level. We know the right tackle battle is ongoing, but there are depth slots to discuss, too. Kraig Urbik is firmly entrenched as a reserve thanks to his ability to play center, and Ryan went out of his way on Sunday to praise the work of second-year guard Cyril Richardson, as well. The loser of the right tackle battle will probably be the swing tackle. That's three spots that seem fairly settled, but a fourth might be up for grabs, as well.
  • Defensive line: Not much has been written about the players vying for playing time behind the Bills' Pro Bowl defensive tackles, mostly because the Bills have been working in a '46' alignment as their base defense. In that look, per Capaccio, there are only two defensive tackles on the field. A pass rusher will put his hand in the dirt and line up inside the tackle, and Manny Lawson plays behind him as the strong-side linebacker. In effect, then, that pass rusher sliding inside is the guy that is preventing players like Alex Carrington, Jarius Wynn, Stefan Charles, Corbin Bryant, and Andre Fluellen from perhaps seizing more than just a depth role.
  • Cornerback: Leodis McKelvin has been sidelined by a bad ankle, and it doesn't sound like he's going to be back on the field any time soon. Ronald Darby has taken first-team reps in his place, and thus far has earned universal praise for his play. The other reserve cornerback that Ryan has mentioned in a positive manner thus far in camp? Mario Butler. The Bills have more invested in second-year pro Ross Cockrell as a potential sixth corner, but it's sounding like Butler may be making a hard push for that job (if the Bills do, in fact, keep a sixth corner).

The Bills have a camp practice scheduled for this evening from 6-8 p.m. There's a strong chance of thunderstorms in the area today, however, so keep an eye on that.