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Bills vs. Panthers, NFL preseason Week 1: five position battles to monitor

Believe it or not, there will be plenty of position battles and players to pay attention to that don't play quarterback for the Buffalo Bills tonight. What are you going to be paying attention to during the Bills' preseason opener?

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It has been 229 days since the Buffalo Bills have played in a live-action football game, preseason or otherwise. There may come a time in the next few weeks when the concept of another Bills preseason game inspires exhaustion and dread in us, but for now, Bills football is back, and it should make for a fun night at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

I'll be there - be nice to Matt as he runs the blog this evening, please - and I'll be focusing in on the following five items of note as we all begin to (over-)analyze what we're seeing the Bills do on the field this exhibition season. You'll note the distinct lack of quarterbacks on this list; everyone and their brother will have their eyes trained on Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, and EJ Manuel tonight, so if you're looking for my input on them tomorrow morning, prepare to be disappointed. I firmly believe that there are a myriad of ways to better spend your time tonight.

This is the list of players and position groups that I will be paying attention to this evening.

Right tackle: Seantrel Henderson has re-emerged as the proverbial leader in the clubhouse for the starting right tackle job. Not much has been said about his challenger, Cyrus Kouandjio, of late. I'm interested in watching these two players tonight, and how much movement they can generate in the run game, in particular. With the rest of the offensive line seemingly set in stone, this is, arguably, the most critical positional battle still ongoing.

Tight end: There isn't a roster battle still open for business that has more of a free-for-all vibe than tight end right now. MarQueis Gray, Matthew Mulligan, Nick O'Leary, and Chris Gragg are all in play here. Mulligan is a bit of a known quantity, putting the onus on Gray, O'Leary, and Gragg to try to separate themselves from the others by way of sound run blocking and perhaps a strong play or two as pass-catchers. One or two of these guys is going to end up playing a lot this season.

Edge rushers: Even before they brought in IK Enemkpali earlier this week, the Bills boasted a lengthy and intriguing depth chart of young pass rushers. None of them may end up playing an awful lot this season, but there could be one or two roster spots up for grabs behind three veteran edge defenders. Enemkpali may not play, given that he's only been with the team for three days, but there's plenty to keep track of between Randell Johnson, Michael Buchanan, Andrew Hudson, Cedric Reed, B.J. Larsen, and Erik Williams. Johnson, Buchanan, and Hudson are of particular interest to me.

Safeties: We know who the Bills' top three safeties will be, but there's at least one more spot up for grabs on the active roster, and several similarly-talented players vying for that spot. Jonathan Meeks has seen some first-team reps, but Bacarri Rambo is more of a known quantity. Kenny Ladler and rookie Wes Miller are in the mix, as well. I'll attempt to pay attention to how well each patrols the back end of the secondary, plus how well they support the run. Rex Ryan can use limited-skill set safeties in his defense, but the more well-rounded a player, the better.

Specific players: Nope, still no quarterbacks here, I promise. Three other players that aren't directly involved in the four position battles above will be on my radar tonight: rookie running back Karlos Williams, reserve cornerback Mario Butler, and backup defensive lineman Alex Carrington. All three have a good shot at making the team (Williams is a virtual lock), but they can really cement themselves with strong play this preseason. Williams may even be on the verge of creating a role in the offense for himself, given how thin the Bills are at running back right now.

What will everyone here be paying closest attention to tonight?