Slowly but surely, the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad is taking shape.
Yesterday, the team announced four signings to this year’s squad: cornerback Doran Grant, wide receiver Matt Hazel, guard Gabe Ikard, and linebacker Max Valles. They join the earlier additions of receiver Dezmin Lewis and kicker Jordan Gay.
Four of those players have spent time with the Bills before, but the two that haven’t both come in with some regular season experience. Grant was a fourth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015, and appeared in three games last season. Hazel was a sixth-round selection by the Miami Dolphins in 2014, and appeared in five games last season. He made his only career start in week 15 against the San Diego Chargers (sharing the field with three tight ends). Neither player recorded any stats last season.
Of the players who have been with the team before, Lewis is the biggest name to stick around. He made a strong impression throughout the offseason, but began to fade once the preseason started up. He was one of three receivers the Bills cut during the drop to 53 players. Valles was also released in the cutdown, as he was unable to stand out as a pass rusher during the preseason and found himself looking up at eight names on the depth chart.
Ikard spent time on the Bills’ main roster last season, and appeared in three games. He was released to make room for Mike Gillislee late last season, and ended the season with the Cleveland Browns, appearing in one game. He spent this past offseason with the Detroit Lions and played in their 31-0 victory over the Bills last week.
He even took a now-unnecessary picture as a memento:
The addition of Gay is one that has most fans confused. The kickoff specialist was released between the rounds of cuts to make room for linebacker Ramon Humber after performing poorly when given the chance to kick field goals and extra points. It’s believed that the new rule moving touchbacks to the 25-yard line makes a kickoff specialist somewhat superfluous, although it’s possible that the rule could revert to the previous setup during the season. Buffalo Bills insider Chris Brown speculated that the move could have been made to allow Gay to remain with the team to keep him up to speed on the special teams gameplan. While I concede that there’s more to special teams coverage than “run down the field and tackle the guy with the ball,” I don’t imagine that it’s very hard to bring your kicker into the fold, especially when his main asset is his ability to render the coverage pointless by forcing a touchback.
The Bills have four spots that remain open on the practice squad. The rules and regulations around the squad can be found here; when you’re reading them, keep in mind that none of the players currently on the squad have two accrued seasons, which opens up the talent pool for the remaining four spots. We should hear who those players are at some point very soon.