Training camp is finally here, Buffalo Bills fans! With that comes a chance to debate the best battles in camp, and a big part of that discussion is focusing in on who has the best chance to gain or lose his job. A new coaching staff can be a dream for some players, but a nightmare for others.
Here are three Bills who have a lot to gain in the team’s time at St. John Fisher:
FB Mike Tolbert
Like Chaz’s mom in Wedding Crashers, we’re not really sure what he’s doing here. Is he a backup fullback? Is he a special teams fill-in? Is he a short-yardage back? Is he an H-Back/move piece? Is he a transition guy to help establish head coach Sean McDermott’s culture? Tolbert could answer a lot of questions by having a solid camp and preseason. There is certainly a role to be had behind LeSean McCoy as a short-yardage/goal line back, but Tolbert will have to compete with second-year man Jonathan Williams for the role. Also looking to make the final backfield are Cedric O’Neal, Joe Banyard, and Jordan Johnson.
A diminishing role in Carolina over the last few years has sullied his once-strong reputation as a goal line bruiser; however, he has earned high praise as a pass blocker, grading second among all running backs last season in pass block efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus. While he hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown since 2015, and hasn’t scored more than one rushing touchdown in a season since 2013, a strong camp would give him the opportunity to return to a more prevalent role with his new team.
Seeing that Buffalo’s own team-sponsored breakdown of the running back position on July 8 didn’t include Tolbert in the mix, a significant role may be a long-shot. It’s almost as likely that he could be cut as it is that he’ll play often on offense.
LB Ramon Humber
The nine-year veteran enters his age-30 season in an unfamiliar position—he may actually have the inside edge at a starting position. The career special teamer has only started 19 of the 108 games in which he’s played. Six of those starts came in 2014 for the New Orleans Saints on an atrocious defense coordinated by Rob Ryan. Last season with the Bills, Humber played on a greater percentage of special teams snaps (72.41%) than anyone else on the roster. He only appeared on 60 defensive snaps, the majority of which came in the week 16 loss against the Miami Dolphins, which was also his only start of the season.
If Humber were to win the starting outside linebacker job in Sean McDermott’s 4-3 scheme, it would be the second consecutive year that the Bills started a linebacker who was a career special teamer prior to that season. Fellow linebacker Lorenzo Alexander had a breakout season in 2016, notching 12.5 sacks, 64 tackles, and an interception while earning his second Pro Bowl nod.
Humber may be forced back to the role of special teams/backup player if the coaching staff deems a middle linebacker to be a better fit outside than he is. Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland will battle for the starting role in the middle, and it’s possible that one of those players (or veteran free agent acquisition Gerald Hodges) wins a starting spot, as well. For now, reports indicate that Humber has a chance, and a good camp would allow him to earn a chance to start for the first time in his career.
P Austin Rehkow
The undrafted rookie free agent signing and former Idaho Vandal has a chance to unseat incumbent punter Colton Schmidt with a strong training camp. As poorly as Schmidt punted the ball last season (he was last in average yards per punt at 42.4, and second-to-last in net average at 38.1 yards per punt), the bar isn’t set very high for Rehkow. The versatile young punter also handled field goals and kickoffs for Idaho, and he even handled field goal duties during Bills minicamp. While it’s highly unlikely (read: darn near a certainty) that he won’t be handling field goals for the Buffalo Bills, his versatility is at least intriguing. With a strong showing during camp and in the preseason, he could be Buffalo’s punter when the team welcomes the New York Jets to Orchard Park on September 10.
What other players may have a lot to gain at camp?