The Buffalo Bills went into their preseason opener against the New York Giants on Sunday evening with a new-look receiving corps that was missing speedster Marquise Goodwin, who has a hamstring injury.
After the game, a big question had sprung up at the position: why was Robert Woods, one of the team's recent major acquisitions and a projected starter, running with the second- and third-team offenses behind Chris Hogan? As we discussed earlier today, Doug Marrone had a short response on the matter: "(Hogan) came in only in slot."
Woods told reporters he was not offered an explanation for why Hogan was the first-team slot receiver. A review of the game tape from last night offers a bit more insight on the matter, as well as a bigger-picture look at how the Bills structured their rotations in the Hall of Fame Game.
Through the first three quarters of the contest, the Bills used three separate teams of wideouts. Each had two receivers that played only on the boundary, and a third that only played in the slot. Here's what those groups looked like; the first team played two series, the second team played most of the rest of the first half, and the third team went to the end of the third quarter.
Every single snap Hogan took - he played through the first half - came out of the slot. (Marrone, therefore, meant what he said literally.) Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley, and Kevin Elliott played exclusively on the boundary. Woods, despite not working with quarterback EJ Manuel on Sunday night, was actually the only receiver in that group of seven that played through the third quarter that took reps both inside and out, and the only receiver other than Hogan to take slot reps.
That should actually bode well for Woods, despite the perceived slight, as it has long been expected that he'd be the player among the projected top three, however the pecking order shakes out, to slide inside in three-receiver sets. Woods led all Bills receivers on the night with four receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how Goodwin's return to the lineup affects the rotation. The Bills will do less mixing and matching with personnel (i.e. moving Watkins around the formation) in the exhibition season than they will when the games count, so the roles of the players are much easier to define. It should not be surprising, however, when Woods starts taking first-team reps again - whether they're outside or in (or both).