The Buffalo Bills open up their 2018 preseason slate tonight against the Carolina Panthers. Preseason performances can be essential for determining which players deserve to start at certain positions, and the coaching staff has no shortage of battles to evaluate this preseason.
Head coach Sean McDermott recently stressed the importance of the preseason games himself, stating that “The games are important…we put a little bit more weight into games.” The Bills have several competitions going on this year that fans should keep an eye on tonight. Here are the ones to watch:
Although we’re still in the dark about whether AJ McCarron or Nathan Peterman will be the starting quarterback tonight, the competition between the two is the most important reason to tune in to the game. On Tuesday, McDermott characterized the development plan for Josh Allen as being “calculated,” saying that he does not want to rush the young signal-caller along. That likely means that whichever quarterback demonstrates the best command of the offense tonight could have the inside shot at being declared the starter for Week 1 of the regular season.
Four wideouts are virtual locks for the final roster at this point in time: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, and the newly-acquired Corey Coleman. Assuming the Bills keep six wideouts on their roster, that leaves only two open positions left for a mix of players that includes veterans Andre Holmes, Malachi Dupre, Brandon Reilly, Kaelin Clay and Rod Streater, as well as rookies Ray-Ray McCloud, Austin Proehl, Robert Foster, and Cam Phillips. Out of that rag-tag list of players, whoever manages to standout against the Panthers will have a significant leg up compared to their peers.
With longtime center Eric Wood retired, the competition to replace him has been between backup Ryan Groy and free agent signee Russell Bodine. While Groy earned a few consecutive days as the starter in practice, both have mostly alternated starting duties throughout camp. A a positive performance tonight, though, could see the Bills declaring a winner imminently.
While Phillip Gaines has been locked in as the starting slot cornerback throughout training camp, rookie fourth round draft pick Taron Johnson has earned his fair share of praise in practice. Gaines had a history of inconsistency with the Kansas City Chiefs, however, and if he struggles against the Panthers’ receivers tonight, it may persuade the Bills to give Johnson a longer look.
Charles Clay will continue to be the team’s starter, but his backup this year might not be as clearly evident as it was in 2017. Last year’s number 2 tight end, Nick O’Leary, has had a quiet camp so far, while Jason Croom, Khari Lee and Keith Towbridge have earned positive press at various times. Also, where does Logan Thomas fit in with this coaching staff?