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Buffalo Bills starting roles up for grabs heading into OTAs

Setting the stage for the position battles that are to come

As OTAs kick off this week, starting positions for the Buffalo Bills will be up for grabs. These are the position groups that have two, three, or several competitors vying for that coveted role as a full-time starter on the team. Who ends winning these competitions and why will greatly affect the trajectory of the Bills moving forward.


Let’s get this obvious one out of the way. Josh Allen is the quarterback of the future but not necessarily of the present. It’s likely that the team won’t trot him out onto the field until he’s ready and that could be after training camp, halfway through the regular season or next year. The contract Brandon Beane gave AJ McCarron indicates that the team expects him to compete for the starting role. Per early reports from OTAs, Nathan Peterman was actually the one taking first-team snaps. How this battle shakes out could determine the course of the 2018 season.

Nickelback/Slot cornerback

As sportswriters are wont to say, the sub package is the new base defense, which makes the nickel cornerback a technical starter. The Bills chose not to re-sign Leonard Johnson (who played 60% of the team’s 2017 snaps) this offseason which opens up a competition between veterans Phillip Gaines, Lafayette Pitts, and Breon Borders along with new rookies Taron Johnson, Levi Wallace, and Ryan Carter. Considering where he was drafted, Johnson may have the inside track, but Carter may surprise. He was extremely successful and productive in college.

Left defensive end

The signing of Trent Murphy, and the shape of his contract, does not bode well for one Shaq Lawson. Lawson’s sophomore season resulted in only 33 tackles and four sacks before missing most of December. If he expects to see additional time as a starter, he’ll need to prove it to his coaches this preseason. On the flip side, if Murphy expects to win this competition he mostly needs to stay healthy. I’d take up yoga.

Third wide receiver

Brian Daboll used “11 personnel” at Alabama, which is a formation that utilizes three wide receiver sets. We know that Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones will take up two of those positions, but who will be the third wideout? Free agent additions Jeremy Kerley or Kaelin Clay are probably the most likely unless one of the rookies, Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl really impress. Don’t forget about 2017 training camp standouts Brandon Reilly and Rod Streater though and 2018 UDFA Robert Foster was with Daboll in Alabama last year.

The entire offensive line besides left tackle

No one has any idea what the Bills offense line is going to look like when the team lines up against the Baltimore Ravens Week 1. At center, it’s expected that free agent signee Russell Bodine will compete against former backup Ryan Groy. If Groy doesn’t end up being the starter at center, he may then factor in to the John Miller/Vlad Ducasse/Wyatt Teller battle royale at guard. Meanwhile at right tackle, newcomer Marshall Newhouse will look to unseat surprisingly entrenched starter Jordan Mills.