When the Buffalo Bills conclude their NFL preseason schedule hosting the Detroit Lions at 7 p.m. Thursday night, head coach Sean McDermott and Buffalo’s front office personnel will be evaluating players to see who will earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
While many of the positional battles have been determined, there are several positions where playing time is up for grabs. The last game of the preseason slate usually features guys fighting for their jobs at the bottom of the depth chart, but for the Bills, McDermott is hoping to use his team’s final tune-up game to identify his starter at right guard.
McDermott deemed the right guard spot “an open competition,” during Tuesday’s media availability. Both Vlad Ducasse and John Miller will split repetitions at right guard in the preseason finale, though Miller has established himself as the better option, which is both a reflection of his own steady performances during training camp, and a reflection of how poorly Ducasse has performed.
In the tale of the tape, Miller is both smaller (6-foot-2) and lighter (303 pounds) compared to Ducasse (6-foot-5, 329 pounds). Miller, in his third year out of the University of Louisville, is trying to master both a new offensive scheme and a new blocking scheme, while Ducasse is familiar with offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s philosophy after both spent the 2016 season with the Baltimore Ravens.
Richie Incognito, a stabilizing presence on the line at left guard, told Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News that, in his estimation, both players have stated their case for the starting job.
"Vlad's obviously got a leg up on John, just knowing the system and being comfortable with it and knowing all of what Coach Castillo's techniques are," Incognito said. "John's the young, hungry guy who's started since he's been here (arriving as a third-round pick from Louisville in 2015). So he's fighting for his life right now, and those two guys are still battling it out.”
Expect the lineman who performs the best vs. the Lions to be the favorite to start at right guard when Buffalo welcomes the New York Jets to New Era Field Sept. 10 in the season opener.
Most roster projections have the Bills keeping six wide receivers, with Jordan Matthews, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, and Brandon Tate locks to make the roster (although Tate is included because of his strengths in the return game). Rod Streater was having himself a heck of a preseason until he injured his toe, but if the injury doesn’t threaten his season, he should have earned a spot on the roster. Will Walt Powell can be stashed on the suspended list to start the season if they want to keep him around. Undrafted free agent Brandon Reilly has really impressed the Bills’ brass, including a nifty touchdown catch in Week two vs. Philadelphia, and a four-catch, 55-yard effort vs. Baltimore. Dez Lewis and Jeremy Butler have yet to prove themselves in the passing game. One receiver candidate is already gone as Rashad “Rocket” Ross was cut earlier in the week.
This positional battle focuses more on who will start versus who will make the squad. Rookie first-round draft pick Tre’Davious White has worked through some difficulties to earn the No. 1 cornerback designation. While newcomer E.J. Gaines came up with an interception against the Eagles, Shareece Wright, had a solid outing vs. the Ravens (two solo tackles, a leaping, acrobatic deflection of a pass thrown his way) and seems to be who the coaches like at the position. That could change.
Kevon Seymour was making strides and earning praise in the beginning of the preseason, but a shoulder injury cost him a chance to further stake his claim to the starter’s job. The rest of the depth chart appears to be in flux behind Leonard Johnson. It seems difficult to imaging McDermott keeping more than five cornerbacks, meaning Greg Mabin, who recorded a 27-yard interception and provided solid cover skills in the loss to Baltimore, and Bradley Sylve might be on the outside looking in.