With only one preseason game remaining, the Buffalo Bills have 87 players on their roster. That means that 34 of the players suiting up on Thursday against the Chicago Bears will not be with the Bills when they open the season against the Baltimore Ravens on September 9.
With every preseason, there are positional battles to be waged, won, and lost. Here are five of the battles still brewing that we’ll be watching closely as the Bills play their last exhibition game of the 2018 season.
A lot will be known not only by which quarterback starts this game, but also by which quarterback plays little, if at all. Rookie Josh Allen flopped in his starting debut against the Cincinnati Bengals, and second-year man Nathan Peterman continued his stellar preseason in the very same game. Veteran AJ McCarron should return, and if he starts and plays the majority of the game, it may actually be a tell-tale sign that he has no chance at the starting gig come Week one. Traditionally, the starters play very little, if at all, during a team’s fourth preseason contest. Seeing which quarterback plays the least may actually mean the most in this matchup.
Interior Offensive Line
The lack of pass protection on Sunday night played a huge role in Josh Allen’s putrid performance against Cincinnati. While Dion Dawkins and Jordan Mills appear to be the team’s tackles, the interior line has been shuffled about quite a bit. Russell Bodine and Ryan Groy are still battling for the starting center job, with Groy also in the mix for a spot at guard if he should lose the battle of the pivot. John Miller, Vlad Ducasse, and Wyatt Teller are all fighting for one or two starting spots at guard. A lot can happen in the next week, and the last preseason game will be the coaching staff’s final evaluation in a game situation before the real contests begin.
These to are linked because one of the participants is the same in each battle. While rookie Taron Johnson seems to have edged in front of veteran Phillip Gaines for the slot corner job, that doesn’t mean that the latter player will be off the roster. In fact, Gaines supplanted fellow newcomer Vontae Davis at outside corner for a time during the game against the Bengals. The top four corners seem to be set, with Davis, Gaines, Johnson, and Tre’Davious White all near-locks to make the roster. The order in which they will be deployed, however, still seems very much up for grabs.
Has rookie Siran Neal fallen behind former Carolina Panthers backup Dean Marlowe for a backup safety spot? Neal is more versatile, possessing the ability to play both safety and corner; however, Marlowe is bigger, standing at 6’2” and 205 pounds, perhaps giving head coach Sean McDermott the ability to play a “big nickel” look that he ran during his time in Carolina. With Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde locked in as the starters, the order in whicht eh backups are deployed on Thursday should give fans some insight into the coaching staff’s thinking.
I believe that the top five receivers are already set, but the sixth spot is the wild card. Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, and Corey Coleman should all be on the roster no matter what. Andre Holmes is probably going to remain with the club due mostly to his special teams ability. The team could choose to go with only five receivers, but they could also keep a sixth. Most likely, the decision will come down to veteran Rod Streater, who is once again enjoying a solid camp and preseason, and rookie Ray-Ray McCloud III, who provides youth and explosiveness in the return game. The Bills could keep seven receivers, but I doubt that happens. My gut says that Streater stays and McCloud goes, with general manager Brandon Beane trying to sneak McCloud onto the practice squad.