While the Buffalo Bills were putting their finishing touches on their first 53-man roster of the 2014 season on Saturday, I was attending a family wedding. Matt Warren earns a back-slap for covering for me in quality fashion while I was at Letchworth State Park, almost completely devoid of cell coverage - but now that I'm back, I just have a few things to discuss regarding the shape of the Bills heading into Week 1.
(Here is the 53-man roster in depth chart form if, like me, you were unavailable yesterday.)
What I billed as my second-to-last roster prediction of the preseason (which you can read here) ended up being my last, for two reasons: I didn't end up wanting to change anything from my last guess, and even if I had, the Bills' list of cuts on Friday would have preceded that effort. (50 of the 53 names on that prediction ended up on the team, so I don't feel too badly about not getting that last post in.)
Quarterback is one of only two areas where the final prediction looked silly, because the Kyle Orton signing was a pleasant, left-field surprise. Even more surprising: the team's willingness to enter Week 1 with one quarterback that knows the offense. There is no question that the Bills are in much better shape at the game's most important position than they were this past Thursday, but it is also, obviously, the biggest and most glaring question mark entering the regular season.
Also: count me among those that believe that Orton, in whichever way the opportunity arises, will elevate to and keep ahold of the No. 1 job at some point this season.
If you couldn't tell from the obsessed-level coverage of it this preseason, the offensive line has been a particular point of fascination for me this summer. The team heads into the regular season with some interesting scenarios playing out, especially from a depth perspective.
Cyrus Kouandjio was always going to stay with the team, but he's nowhere close to being ready to play, which helped Chris Hairston land a roster spot. Hairston will be the swing tackle in Week 1, while Kouandjio is going to be a healthy scratch until further notice.
Things are a bit trickier at guard and center. My expectation is that Kraig Urbik will be the top interior reserve throughout the season, even though Cyril Richardson is a more-valued player on the interior. Urbik's ability to play center will be more valuable on game days, so if Chris Williams and Erik Pears are healthy enough to start at guard in Chicago, Richardson is likely to be inactive, as well. Until Richardson becomes a full-time starter, he'll likely flip between the inactive list and the starting lineup as a fill-in, with no middle ground unless Urbik is forced into the starting lineup elsewhere.
Many were surprised when the team released Landon Cohen, who had absolutely earned the right to be kept. This strikes me as another wise move by the Bills: you always keep the extra pass rusher over the extra interior lineman, and both Jacquies Smith and Jarius Wynn had earned their keep.
It's also widely believed that Smith was the last end to make the cut, but he may also have more game day utility than Wynn heading into the regular season. Manny Lawson is going to be the first end into the rotation, anyway, and it's unclear right now how much playing time will be afforded the fourth end. Smith is a smaller player and a better runner, and can play special teams, while Wynn is more of an end-tackle 'tweener that won't contribute to coverage teams. Don't be surprised if Smith opens the season as the fourth end simply because of that added versatility. Wynn might get the nod if the team is expecting a run-heavy attack from an opponent.
Aside from quarterback, the other spot where my last 53-man roster prediction looked bad was punter, because I don't think many expected Brian Moorman to be released because of two bad preseason games. This Bills regime strikes me as very fickle regarding their kicking specialists; don't forget that their best, Dan Carpenter, only made the team last year because Buffalo had cut veteran Rian Lindell in favor of then-rookie Dustin Hopkins (no longer with the organization), who was promptly injured.
I know absolutely nothing about Colton Schmidt as a punter, but I do know this: his name is cool, and he'd better assimilate quickly, because if he doesn't perform well immediately, the Bills will probably just keep recycling punters until they do find a guy they feel comfortable with.
Jordan Gay will need to perform well immediately, as well; Gay made the team as a kickoff specialist, and with Nigel Bradham returning from suspension after the Chicago game, Gay will have need to proven his 4-5 plays per game worthy of sacrificing a reserve at a different position.