Since almost the day Sean McDermott took over as Bills head coach he’s preached the concept of open competition across the entire roster. In his eyes no job is given, it must be earned, and training camp is where most players earn their jobs.
Some of the more notable position battles everyone will surely be watching include middle linebacker, No. 2 receiver and even backup running back, but there are plenty of “not so sexy” position battles that will be taking place as well.
Here’s 5 you shouldn’t forget about…
1) Right Tackle
Lineman never get their due diligence in jersey sales and notoriety, but they’re the key that makes the car go. They do the work no one else wants to. Buffalo begins camp with one spot along the O-line up for grabs at right tackle. Last year the job belonged to Jordan Mills for the majority of the 2016 season, but there’s no guarantee that it’s handed to him again. At times last year he looked like a revolving door. The opportunity is there for Seantrel Henderson, who got some run at right tackle last season, and rookie Dion Dawkins to win the starting job over Mills. Henderson’s suspension – he must sit out the first five games of the season – could also come into play. Perhaps Ryan Groy – who’s easily the Bills top backup lineman – could even get some reps at the position. The battle for right tackle isn’t a flashy one, but an important one regardless.
2) Nickel Cornerback
Naturally, everyone is excited to see first-round pick Tre’Davious White line up opposite of Ronald Darby as one of the Bills starting cornerbacks on the outside. However, that nickel cornerback spot is equally as important, especially considering all the subpackage looks McDermott likes to run. There is an interesting competition brewing between six-year veteran Leonard Johnson – a guy who is familiar with McDermott’s defense – and second-year man Kevon Seymour, who showed some upside during his rookie campaign. Keep an eye on the rotation between Johnson and Seymour in the coming weeks.
3) Tight End depth chart, behind Charles Clay
Behind Clay, the Bills tight end depth chart is pretty underwhelming and given Clay’s lengthy injury history, having reliable backups becomes even more valuable. Nick O’Leary played in all 16 games last season and caught nine passes for 114 yards. He can certain make this team as Clay’s primary backup again, but he doesn’t necessarily blow his competitors away. Logan Thomas is still an experiment, making the switch from QB to TE, so the fact that he has three years of NFL experience is sort of irrelevant. He’s also the tallest of the Bills tight ends so maybe that helps him earn a roster spot. Rookie Jason Croom was pretty active at mini-camp. Fellow rookie Keith Towbridge and Wes Saxton will try to make a name for themselves as well. There is a surplus of options but only three spots available and, for what it’s worth, Chris Gragg is still available too. Buffalo could always add another name into the conversation as camp progresses if they don’t like their current options.
4) Weakside linebacker
Everyone is talking about the highly touted battle for middle linebacker between veteran Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland, who’s essentially a rookie. You won’t want to forget about the weakside linebacker spot though. At mini-camp the starting job belonged to Ramon Humber, but he’s far from a lock to win the position, in fact, Gerald Hodges could easily supplement him as he becomes more comfortable in McDermott’s scheme throughout camp. Released by the 49ers after a career year in which he recorded 80 combined tackles, three sacks and two interceptions in 15 games, Hodges was an under-the-radar signing for Buffalo earlier this offseason. He was could easily start for the Bills. Also, there’s always the possibility that McDermott tries to get Brown and Ragland on the field together, which could be very fun to watch. Who of the two would move out of the middle linebacker role and where they would go is just another situation to follow.
Believe it or not there is some competition at punter. Enough that some analysts and reporters have even listed three-year vet Colton Schmidt as a surprise cut by the end of camp. That means handing the punting duties over to rookie Austin Rehkow, who averaged 44.4 yards per punt at the University of Idaho, which bests Schmidt’s career average of 39.4 with the Bills. Rehkow can also kick field goals and we know how much McDermott loves versatility.
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