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Buffalo Bills mailbag: C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson headline skill positions

In this week's mailbag, we discuss who the Buffalo Bills' five best weapons on offense are - plus plenty more.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

It's Friday, and Friday is Buffalo Bills mailbag day here at Buffalo Rumblings! Questions submitted by readers have been a saving grace for us as bloggers during another long and slow NFL off-season, so thanks again to those of you that continue to send in excellent discussion topics. We'll keep this going as long as the questions are out there, so feel free to send them our way at

Hey Brian - curious to hear your take on Nathaniel Hackett's "best five skill players" approach, and who you believe those players are. Thanks! - Joe

We talked about this as a community a bit earlier this off-season, if you're interested in reading some or all of that debate. As mentioned in early June, it's fairly clear that C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler are the four most established skill players on the roster. My No. 5 is Robert Woods, the rookie receiver that should start and perform admirably from day one.

Of course, situational football will demand different personnel groupings; as such, we'll see a lot of different groups of five out on the field. T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin should see a lot of playing time. Quite frankly, the three players that I believe should be on the field regardless of circumstance are Spiller, Johnson and Woods. The rest are complementary pieces that will need to find niche roles.

This whole Jairus Byrd situation has me wondering: what exactly is the power structure in the Bills' front office? Do we even know for sure? - Matthew

In terms of the fine details, it's tough to know for sure exactly how much influence each major player has - mostly because we may not fully believe everything that the Bills say about it. (Whether that's justified or not is another matter.) Here's what we do know: Russ Brandon is the president, and is in charge of the full organization. From a functional perspective, his top two men in the football operation are GM Doug Whaley and Jim Overdorf, the Senior VP of Football Administration (and the man who manages the cap and handles contract negotiations). Both of those men report directly to Brandon. Doug Marrone, of course, is the fourth major player.

The way I sort of rationalize it is this: Whaley and Marrone are in charge of the players, while Brandon and Overdorf handle the books. The group tries to operate from a consensus approach - the best NFL front offices are on the same page at all times - but I do believe there's a very clear delineation between the field and the finances here. (Do I think that could present problems at times? Yes. We'll see how things play out on the Byrd front.)

Outside of quarterback play, what area of the Bills as a team do you think needs to improve the most in 2013? My take: run defense. - Austin

Absolutely - and it's a very close second, in my opinion. Buffalo has had a bottom-five run defense for four consecutive seasons. Their best year of run defense in that stretch, in 2011, was a No. 28 finish in which they shaved off over 30 yards per game from their previous year's average and still managed to give up 139 rushing yards per game. The biggest problem on this Bills defense is its inability to stop the run, and that's been the case since Dick Jauron was the head coach. People want to talk up the pressure packages of Mike Pettine's defense; I'm far more interested to see how well he can get his new Bills personnel to defend the run. It's hard to envision the defense taking a big leap in the standings without taking an even bigger leap on run defense.

Why isn't Doug Marrone getting more national press? Is it just because of the fact that he coaches in Buffalo, or is it something else? - Ben

Is this a thing we should be worried about? Most of the national coverage concerning Marrone that I've read has been subtly positive, if not just blatantly so. I'd imagine that low expectations for his team might have something to do with it, as would the lack of compelling story lines aside from the quarterback position.

Forget about the 25 teams that didn't change coaches this year, most of which have compelling training camp stories to follow. Of the seven teams with new coaches, Marrone's Bills are less interesting than Chip Kelly's Eagles, Andy Reid's Chiefs, Marc Trestman's Bears and Bruce Arians' Cardinals. (Heck, they might even be less interesting than Jacksonville and Cleveland, depending on your perspective. Not mine.) I'm less concerned with the volume than I am with the substance, and for now, most national writers are putting out positive vibes about HCDM. Shouldn't that be enough?