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Five things to watch: Bills at Lions

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The preseason finale won’t feature star power, but it will have plenty of intrigue.

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The average fan couldn’t care less about the final preseason game. It’s generally full of players they’ve never heard of playing mediocre football, many doing so in the NFL for the last time.

That said, there are still plenty of decisions to be made by coaching staffs, as each team uses it as the final barometer when deciding who to release in the cutdown from 75 to 53 (the deadline for which is Saturday). Here’s what the Bills’ coaches might be watching for.

WR race in its final stretch

The biggest question that the preseason finale is likely to answer revolves around the depth spots at wide receiver. At this point, four of the roster spots are locked up, assuming Marquise Goodwin is a full go for the regular season.

I touched on this in much more detail earlier today, but as a recap: there are four receivers (Walt Powell, Jarrett Boykin, Dezmin Lewis, and Kain Colter) competing for either one or two roster spots. Powell is the front-runner for one of those spots, but a strong performance out of one of the other three could give Rex Ryan reason to consider keeping six receivers on the roster.

Can Baby Gronk earn a roster spot?

Another topic I looked at recently was the possibility of Glenn Gronkowski making the 53-man roster. Tonight is the night that will really decide whether he has a chance or not.

The amount of playing time he receives will be telling, but not as much as how Greg Roman decides to use him. I doubt there’s room on the roster for two fullbacks, so Gronkowski’s best hope is to establish himself as an H-back type that can come close to replacing Chris Gragg. If Roman gives him that opportunity, he might have a shot. If he plays strictly from the fullback position, his presence on the 53 becomes a lot less likely.

How will Cardale Jones fare?

It’s a lot less pertinent than some other factors in the game, since Jones is almost guaranteed to be inactive for 16 games this season, but it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles the offense for (probably) an entire game.

He might be limited by his injured shoulder that caused the team to sign Austin Trainor earlier in the week, but Trainor’s release on Tuesday sends a strong signal that Jones should be ready to go for the full four quarters.

Jones was absolutely stellar on the game-ending drive against the Colts to open the preseason, but that drive was surrounded by inconsistency and missed targets. If he can rein in the deep ball a bit, he should have a great game and give the receivers a chance to showcase themselves for the roster spot I mentioned earlier.

Do the new guys see the field?

In the last two days, the Bills have brought in three new faces: linebackers Lerentee McCray and Ramon Humber, and offensive lineman Patrick Lewis.

While it’s a lot to ask for anyone to jump into a game after being with the team for only a day, I’m curious as to whether they were brought in as competition for the back end of the roster at those positions, or as surefire replacements. If they do see the field, it might bode well for guys like Bryson Albright and Fernando Velasco, since it at least implies some sort of competition. If not, the writing is probably on the wall for them.

22 more cuts to come

The roster currently stands at 75 players, a number that needs to drop to 53 by Saturday. That means that 22 players are (more than likely) going to take their final snaps with the Bills tonight.

It wouldn’t be surprising if ten of those players end up on the practice squad. Many of the players who are released should be eligible to join (this is a good look at the rules regarding the practice squad), but for the other 12 the road probably comes to an end after tonight.

Of course, they could end up signing elsewhere, on other teams’ practice squads or even on an active roster. If the Bills let a safety walk, for instance, that player might be good enough to make the back end of a roster that is short on safety talent. That also holds true in reverse: if a team is rich at a position that the Bills need to fill (tight end, for instance), they might release someone that Doug Whaley could add right away.