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Tyrod Taylor won the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback competition this summer with style: in three preseason appearances, he completed 24-of-31 passes for 236 yards, and he ran for 108 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. He appears to have made strides as a pocket passer sitting for four years in Baltimore, and now that he's emerged as the Bills' starter, he makes his debut on Sunday in the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
There are, of course, concerns about Taylor as he begins his career as a NFL starter. He hasn't really played football in four years. He entered the league as an unrefined passer and a sixth-round pick; how much could he have really advanced sitting on the bench? As one of the league's more athletic quarterbacks, there will be durability concerns each time he takes off to run, as well.
All of these are questions that will inevitably be answered, but there is also a much more pressing short-term concern to cover with Taylor, as well: his lack of playing time with the Bills' primary skill players this summer, particularly in a live game setting.
That's not Taylor's fault, of course; the since-released Matt Cassel took most of the first-team reps during training camp because Bills coaches decided that was the best course of action to develop both Taylor and EJ Manuel. Nor is it Taylor's fault that the Bills slogged through a rather insane number of injuries at both running back and wide receiver, to the point where they were missing at least five players at both positions.
Still, the rep counts are a concern. Taylor enters the regular season having not yet played in a live game setting with three of the Bills' most notable skill players. Long story short? There's a strong chance that this group will experience its fair share of growing pains, starting on Sunday.
On Taylor's 74 preseason snaps, the Bills put a running back on the field 75 times (i.e. one on every play but one, which featured two backs). Of those 75 running back reps, 50 were taken by backs who are no longer on Buffalo's active roster. Bronson Hill had 30 of them, Ricky Seale had 12, and practice squad runner Cierre Wood had eight.
The 25 snaps taken by current Bills running backs belong to rookie Karlos Williams (14) and Bryce Brown (11), who both played extensively with Taylor against Carolina on August 14. LeSean McCoy played in that game, too, but took his snaps exclusively with Cassel; Taylor and McCoy were not on the field together at all this preseason.
Fullbacks took 26 reps. 19 of those belonged to starter Jerome Felton, with the remaining seven going to John Conner, who was released by the team on September 5.
Just like McCoy, Taylor did not see the field concurrently with Sammy Watkins or Percy Harvin this preseason. McCoy, Watkins, and Harvin are the Bills' most explosive skill players, and none of them have taken reps in a live game situation against a different opponent to this point in 2015.
Robert Woods, at least, managed to play 13 snaps with Taylor against Carolina before missing the remainder of the preseason. And he also saw fairly extensive action with depth receivers Marquise Goodwin (35 snaps), Chris Hogan (37), and Marcus Easley (17) - though if all goes well, none will play all that much in Week 1. (Goodwin likely won't even dress as he recovers from a rib injury.)
In all, 60 of the 162 wide receiver snaps (37 percent) played with Taylor on the field this preseason were taken by players no longer on the Bills' active roster (Deonte Thompson, Andre Davis, and Dezmin Lewis).
This is where Taylor is in pretty good shape. The Bills kept all of the tight ends that Taylor took live reps with this summer (including reserve tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who played three eligible snaps), and he played a huge percentage of snaps with the team's top three tight ends, Charles Clay (38 snaps), Matthew Mulligan (20), and MarQueis Gray (31). It probably would not be unfair to suggest that Taylor will feel at his most comfortable targeting the Bills' tight ends early in the regular season.
To Taylor's credit, despite playing with a rotation of marginal NFL roster talent this summer at both running back and receiver, he not only remained productive, but led a Bills offense that committed zero penalties - procedural or otherwise - in his 74 snaps on the field. More of that will be expected when the Bills take on the Colts this weekend.