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Five Buffalo Bills positional battles to watch vs. the Indianapolis Colts

‘Tis the season for training camp battles to go live

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle Jamie Germano / USA TODAY NETWORK

Preseason NFL football is a time where most fans, whether they be Buffalo Bills fans or people who clearly aren’t as intelligent as us, generally check in long enough to make sure that none of their favorite team’s best players suffered an injury. Whether you’re a casual fan watching because of the writer’s strike, a fantasy football stud looking for the next great sleeper, or a die-hard who fills out the Immaculate Grid in their sleep, the preseason holds some level of intrigue for you.

Regardless if you’re checking in on the preseason out of morbid curiosity, watching for as long as the starters play, or hunkering down for the entire game, there will be plenty to discuss regarding Buffalo’s first outing of the 2023 season when they take on the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. While there are tons of players on this Bills team we’d consider roster locks, there are also quite a few solid battles happening at various positions.

Generally, I’d write a “Five Players to Watch” column, which covers roughly 10% of the regular-season roster. If I mathed it out correctly, that means I’d have to do a “Nine Players to Watch” column for a preseason game. Truthfully, I’d still feel like I’d be missing something if I focused merely on nine players. Within the positional battles I alluded to above, there are more than nine men battling for roles right now.

So, rather than going for five players, we instead present to you the five positional battles we’re watching intently this weekend.


The right to start at linebacker next to All-Pro Matt Milano seems to have come down to two players, as Tyrel Dodson and Terrel Bernard have seen most of the action at middle linebacker this summer. However, Bernard came up with a hamstring injury the other day, so we could assume that Dodson is that much closer to winning the gig by default. We could also see a third combatant enter the fray as last year’s sixth-round pick, Baylon Spector, has seen some run with the ones at MLB in camp. With Bernard unavailable on Saturday, could Spector rise back into the competition? Or will Dodson salt it away and win the job for himself?


The battle for CB2 almost feels like the quarterback carousel Buffalo ran out in the preseason back in 2018. Might the team give all three players involved in the competition a start? Will they limit Tre’Davious White’s snaps substantially enough where we see a lot of Dane Jackson, Kaiir Elam, and Christian Benford on the field together? Similar to that 2018 battle between Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman, and A.J. McCarron, it seems like one player should inevitably win the job. However, similar to that battle, there are also enough questions about the direction the team wants to go that a victor here is anything but guaranteed. How the snaps are divided, who starts, and who performs well are going to be tracked all throughout the preseason, and Saturday is the first step towards that.

Wide Receiver

We know that Stefon Diggs won’t play, but we really don’t need to see how he looks in this offense. We already know he’s one of the league’s best receivers. What we do want to see, though, is how the slot receivers look. Will we see plenty of Deonte Harty, or will it be a little more Khalil Shakir? How will Justin Shorter, Buffalo’s fifth-round draft pick in April, look in his first pro action? How about Trent Sherfield, who’s been one of the breakout stars of training camp thus far? Maybe you’re excited to see someone deeper down the depth chart like Tyrell Shavers — or maybe even veteran Andy Isabella, the speedster looking to make an impact somehow, some way to prove that he belongs on an NFL roster. While we’re at it, the kickoff and punt returners will probably come from this group, as well, so watching which players perform in that role will be exciting, as well.

Right Guard

Now we can be a little more specific. For a time, it looked like rookie O’Cyrus Torrence, Buffalo’s second-round pick in April, would give incumbent starter Ryan Bates a serious run for his money in the starting lineup. Of late, though, it’s been Bates running with the ones in practice. Is the competition over? Will Bates act as a first-team guard and then a second-team center with Torrence as his right guard? Will head coach Sean McDermott surprise everyone and just start Torrence? How will the man Josh Allen calls “Cybo” look in his first pro game?

Backup Quarterback

To be fair, this may be a little more niche, but the reports out of camp haven’t exactly been glowing when it comes to Josh Allen’s understudies. Will Kyle Allen continue to underperform? Might Matt Barkley actually make a case to be QB2 rather than the practice-squad guy? Will both players perform poorly enough where the team makes a move for someone outside of the organization (like Carson Wentz)? There’s also a school of thought that, to paraphrase former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore, believes that there’s no sense in giving too much thought to the backup quarterback position because, well...if the starter goes down, the team is definitely in trouble. Given that No. 17 won’t be playing, I’m interested to see how the other Allen looks, and I’m hopeful that he can put a little separation between himself and Barkley.