Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott recently came out and stated that preseason games carry quite a bit of weight when it comes to evaluating player performance during the NFL offseason. If that is the case, the coach must have been happy with the performances of several of his players during the team’s first 2018 preseason game on Thursday against the Carolina Panthers. Here’s how each of the five position battles shook out:
Nathan Peterman (9-of-10, 119 yards, 1 TD) and AJ McCarron (7-of-10, 116 yards) both put up similar numbers and, if anything, likely managed to prolong their competition for one more week. Peterman worked well within the early offensive script and relied heavily on Kelvin Benjamin’s playmaking ability. McCarron showed off some veteran poise in being able to step up in the pocket, go through his reads and deliver strikes to the open receiver. This fight isn’t over.
No one was certain which wide receivers would be able to separate themselves from their peers on Thursday and none of the competitors were particularly prolific. Ray-Ray McCloud proved the the best of the bunch by catching 3 passes for 50 yards and a TD from Josh Allen. Brandon Reilly found himself wide open for a 59-yard completion but was quiet for most of the day. Rod Streater and Kaelin Clay also contributed. The losers among the wideouts were rookies Robert Foster and Austin Proehl, who both struggled with drops, and veteran Malachi Dupre who was not targeted at all.
As expected, Ryan Groy got the start and nothing about his performance was disappointing. His ability to anchor against the bigger defensive tackles was noticeable, as was his quickness in getting out in front of screen plays. Russell Bodine came out during the second quarter and, despite an early hiccup in pass protection that got AJ McCarron sacked, he too was solid. Unless the team decides that Bodine should start the second preseason game, it’s looking safe to declare Groy the winner of this competition.
Philip Gaines had a quiet debut for the Bills, only finishing with one tackle and was not targeted in coverage. His main competition, Taron Johnson had a tough night. The rookie fourth round pick had decent positioning on a Panthers touchdown pass to Mose Frazier, but failed to get his head around. Then, in the fourth quarter, he missed an open field tackle of DJ Moore that led to a first-and-goal for the Panthers. Johnson really needs to bounce back next week if he wants to unseat Gaines.
Both Nick O’Leary and Logan Thomas saw a decent amount of snaps during the game but were rarely targeted by either of the first two starting quarterbacks. Khari Lee and Jason Croom were the beneficiaries of a couple Josh Allen throws, for 27 yards and 22 yards respectively. Lee’s catch was impressive as he was able to highpoint the ball and out-jump the defender. Keith Towbridge, on the other hand, did not stand out.