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Five Bills roster battles to watch in the preseason opener vs Colts

Here are the players and position groups we’re watching

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills take on the Indianapolis Colts Saturday in the preseason opener. While Josh Allen won’t play and winning isn’t the most important thing, there are a handful of really interesting position battles to watch.

Here is where I am focusing:

1. Starting cornerback

There should be legitimate concern about the state of the cornerback situation. We can’t use the crutch of “they’re playing against Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis so they look bad in comparison.” Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson are going to be on the field Week 1, Robert Woods and 18th pick Treylon Woods are in Week 2, and Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are Week 3. You’re probably seeing a pattern here.

Dane Jackson, first-round pick Kaiir Elam, and sixth-round pick Christian Benford are all expected to get time against the first-team and second-team offense of the Colts and will be tested by Matt Ryan, who is expected to play a quarter. It’s a good chance for them to get their feet wet in actual NFL action. If the trio can’t hack it, it may be time to bring in reinforcements.

2. Offensive line depth

I can’t imagine guys like Dion Dawkins, Rodger Saffold, and Mitch Morse will see the field tonight. If they do it will be short stints. Checking on who are the first guys through replacing them will be valuable, but also which guys are in the longest. If Cody Ford is playing into the third or fourth quarter of this game while Bobby Hart is sitting down in the second quarter, that’s bad news for Ford.

3. Punt returner

It’s weird to put a niche position so high on the list, especially because we have no idea if the Colts are even going to punt. This is a roster spot discussion, though. Do the Bills use a spot on the 53 for Tavon Austin to be their primary punt returner or does a guy who has already played his way onto the roster lock down that role to give another player a chance to latch on? Khalil Shakir is the one I’m watching the closest. With his dominance in the slot receiver contest, I’m not sure how much Isaiah McKenzie factors in here.

4. Wide receiver depth

The Bills have a battle brewing at wide receiver, and it’s going to be impacted by that punt returner conversation. If Tavon Austin does not make the team as the PR, that opens a roster spot to potentially keep another wide receiver option. Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, and Isaiah McKenzie are roster locks. Jamison Crowder is a savvy veteran who can play inside and outside and has been winning his matchups, while rookie Khalil Shakir had a great camp. If either of them have a good game against Indy, they can probably put a roster spot to bed. Jake Kumerow has been making it on special teams ability, but that hasn’t been enough to always keep him on the roster. Isaiah Hodgins has had a good camp and is firmly on the roster bubble. If Hodgins puts on some great game tape, it will be harder for general manager Brandon Beane to sneak him onto the practice squad.

5. Punter/Holder

I am assuming the Bills are going to punt in this game and Matt Haack was listed ahead of Matt Araiza out of respect for the veteran and to make the rookie earn it. A few solid punts in game action from Araiza or some duds from Haack could mean the end of the veteran’s spot on the roster sooner rather than later. It would also be great to see Araiza on some field goal or extra point holds.