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2013 Team Report: Buffalo Bills
QuarterbacksStarter: Kevin Kolb
Backup(s): E.J. Manuel [R], Jeff Tuel Starting QB: The Bills are already saying this is an open competition between Kevin Kolb and 1st round rookie pick E.J. Manuel so the depth chart here is clearly a work in progress. Kolb has the edge as the more polished and reliable prospect of the bunch, while Manuel has the upside. With new additions like rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin joining Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller, Kolb will have the weapons to excel in this up-tempo offense if he can stay healthy. Still, you expect very little leeway for him if he struggles as he did in Arizona. Backup QB: While he's raw, the Bills didn't take E.J. Manuel in the first to sit and watch - even if that's the wisest course of action for a guy who is essentially a one-read-and-go quarterback. Manuel has tremendous upside but isn't all that quick to get the ball out of his hands and tends to bail out of the pocket and run after his initial read. He's a project, but one which might see action before he is ready because of his draft position, which could prove to be disastrous. If given time to develop, he's not a bad fit for the new offense but given that Tarvaris Jackson is no longer around, there's an better than even chance that he'll see the field as starter at some point this year. Along with clearing some of the detritus from Manuel's path to quarterback, the exit of Jackson means rookie Jeff Tuel has an excellent chance to make the roster. The former Washington State prospect signed in Buffalo as an undrafted free agent after going undrafted, in part due to durability concerns. Tuel has an average arm at best and was inconsistent in college, though his teams were often lacking in talent.
Running BacksStarter: C.J. Spiller
Backup(s): Fred Jackson, Tashard Choice, Zach Brown
Fullback(s): Dorin Dickerson, Frank Summers Starting RB: It's hard to argue with C.J. Spiller's numbers after a year where he took over the starting role when Fred Jackson was hurt and just generally ineffective. Topping 1,000 yards for the first time in his career while keeping up a 6.0 yards per carry average is impressive given how terrible this offense was with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Add to that his 43 catches for 459 yards and you have a very productive year where we saw all the potential Spiller had come to fruition. New head coach Doug Marrone's offense is up-tempo, which should suit Spiller just fine regardless of which quarterback ends up starting. Backup RBs: Fred Jackson followed up signing a new contract extension with his third straight sub-1,000 yard season and second straight injury-plagued one. It's clear he's breaking down a bit just as Spiller is gaining momentum. Jackson may still be an effective back, but one who will only succeed because his touches get limited to keep him fresh. Tashard Choice and Zach Brown are both roster-filling players, especially Brown who spent all of 2012 on the practice squad and might end up back there. Neither one will get much work unless Jackson and Spiller go down, in which case Choice is likely to get the majority of the reps. Still neither one should see much in the way of snaps. Fullback: While the fullbacks will be used to block, overall the Bills don't have a great pair. They'll fill in on occasion but it hasn't been a position the team utilizes all that effectively and that is unlikely to change this year.
Wide ReceiversStarters: Steve Johnson, Robert Woods [R]
Backups: T.J. Graham, Brad Smith (QB/KR), Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin [R], Kevin Elliott, Chris Hogan Starting WRs: In 2012, Steve Johnson saw his third straight 1,000 season and third straight year with over 70 catches as well. He did this despite tight coverage, poor quarterback play and little to no help from other wide receivers. Johnson continues to build on his previous seasons with reliable hands, good speed and the type of my-ball mentality needed for a team's top receiver to be successful. Right now there is concern due to a hamstring injury which forced him to leave practice early on Friday August 2nd. He underwent an MRI, the results of which are as yet, unknown. If he is hurt, this is a dangerously thin receiver corps, and someone will have to step up. Hopefully it was merely a precaution. If he's healthy, he may finally get the help he needs to draw coverage off him with the arrival of USC's Robert Woods, another receiver like Johnson with great hands who can run a great route to get open. While not an elite size or speed guy, Woods is tough to beat on jump balls and is equally adept at plucking the ball out of the air as well as going up and tearing it away from a defender. If Johnson is hurt for a period of time, Woods may have to step up early. Backup WRs: T.J. Graham and Brad Smith are both speedy players who still need to prove they can be productive wide receivers at the pro level. In Smith's case he's likely to be relegated to various packages like the Wildcat and showed some usefulness running the ball last year. Both could find themselves overtaken by rookie Marquise Goodwin, who not only has the track-star speed but reliable hands. Goodwin is likely to stick in the slot position due to his size, and has to improve his route running but he has a leg up on Smith and Graham because of his more complete skill-set. Marcus Easley has never found his groove, missing too many games to injury and could find himself finally cut. Both Kevin Elliott and Chris Hogan are no more than depth at best, camp bodies at worst.
Tight EndsStarters: Scott Chandler
Backups: Lee Smith, Mike Caussin, Joe Sawyer, Chris Gragg [R] Scott Chandler continued to see an uptick in targets - up from 46 targets in 2011 to 74 in 2012. Unfortunately he didn't catch many more of those passes, getting just 43 (up from 38 the previous season). Some of that was due to Ryan Fitzpatrick's extraordinarily bad quarterback play but some of the balls were catchable. It's hard to say given the new coach and new quarterbacks whether he will actually see those targets again. An intriguing addition is rookie Chris Gragg. While he lacks the size to be a real difference maker at the position, he's a really good athlete. He has durability issues and struggles with drops so an impact immediately might be a surprise, but there isn't much competition ahead of him beyond Chandler.
Place KickerDustin Hopkins [R], Dan Carpenter: Despite posting solid numbers in recent years, returning starter Rian Lindell faced a serious challenge to retain his job, as the Bills selected Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins in the sixth round of the draft. Hopkins set a new NCAA D1 career scoring record for kickers (466 points) and was a Lou Groza Award finalist each of the last two years. Punter/holder Shawn Powell also faced competition, holding off free agent signing Brian Stahovich. The Bills have alternated between the middle and bottom of the rankings in kicker scoring opportunities the past four years (28th, 14th, 31st & 16th). A Labor Day groin injury to Hopkins led to the last minute signing of Dan Carpenter.
Kick and Punt ReturnersKick Returners: Marquise Goodwin, T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley, Sammy Watkins [R] For years Buffalo has boasted a strong return game, but in 2013 the Bills were amongst the worst in the league, ranking 29th in yards per return for both punt and kick returns. The same group of returners are likely to handle kickoff duties, with Marquise Goodwin looking to improve upon his team bet 21.9 yards per return. Marcus Easley took over as backup last season primarily because of an injury to T.J. Graham, but did little to impress in his short stint as returner. There is an outside chance the team could use first round selection Sammy Watkins in the return game. Watkins returned 60 kickoffs while at Clemson, though only managed 22.9 yards per return. Punt Returners: Leodis McKelvin, Robert Woods Cornerback Leodis McKelvin entered 2013 with a career 16.3 yards per punt return, but only managed a 5.6 yard average on his 32 punt returns that season. He is likely to enter preseason atop the depth chart still, but his situation may be more precarious. With safety Jim Leonhard still unsigned, Robert Woods is the most likely player to challenge McKelvin. Leonhard has stated 2014 will be his last season, wherever he plays.
Offensive LineProjected Starters: LT Cordy Glenn, LG Sam Young, C Eric Wood, RG Kraig Urbik, RT Erik Pears
Key Backups: T Chris Hairston, T Zebrie Sanders, G Colin Brown, G Keith Williams, C David Snow The Buffalo Bills lost their best offensive lineman to free agency, and didn't make any moves this off season to backfill that loss. The Bills apparently believe in their current personnel and this year will be a huge test for the depth to step up. Left tackle Cordy Glenn started off hot but had an injury plagued 2012 campaign. Glenn but can be a good left tackle when healthy, especially in the running game. Glenn certainly has the upside to improve his current grade. Left guard is an open competition between the massive Colin Brown (who also spent most of last season injured) and David Snow, a versatile reserve who showed well when forced into action. A braver author would project Snow as the starter, and this will likely be the tightest competition in the Bills' training camp. Former first rounder Eric Wood is a pillar for this Bills line at center, and will be counted on for leadership in the coming year. Right guard Kraig Urbik is a technically sound player who usually produces at a high level. Right tackle Erik Pears is rumored to be a cap casualty in the summer, should that occur, swing tackle Chris Hairston would step up in his place. Honestly, the line wouldn't lose much with that change, as Pears has failed to impress. Reserve tackle Sam Young could factor into the right tackle conversation and there's even some talk of him or fellow reserve Keith Williams competing for the left guard spot. The Bills have a tendency to draft tackles rather than guards and bump these players inside if they cannot play tackle. Currently the Bills have a plethora of these conversions on the roster; if just two of these lottery tickets pay out, this offensive line can seriously rise in the rankings.
Team DefenseWith the arrival of stud defensive end Mario Williams, the 2012 Buffalo defense was expected to make huge strides. In Week 1, however, the below-average Jets put up 48 points on them. The Buffalo fan base was immediately deflated, and the stage was set for a poor 2012 performance. While there were some good outings - seven opponents were held under 20 points, five teams surpassed the 30-point barrier and two hit the half-century mark. New head coach Doug Marrone knew help was needed and brought in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine from the Jets. While he wasn't able to bring the 2009 Jets defense with him, Pettine will allow the Bills to attack and be aggressive.
Defensive LineStarters: DE Mario Williams, DE Mark Anderson, DT Marcell Dareus, NT Kyle Williams
Backups: DE Alex Carrington, DT Alan Branch, NT Torrell Troup, DT Jarron Gilbert Starting DL: This is a talented group of players who often underachieved in 2012. The hiring of new coordinator Mike Pettine from the Jets should help get more production out of them, but the hybrid defense he favors leaves some uncertainty about how everyone will be used. The focal point will obviously continue to be Mario Williams, who struggled with a hand injury early last year before finishing strong. Look for him to split his time between DE and OLB similar to the way Terrell Suggs is used with the Ravens, which could lead to fewer sacks but an increase in tackles. Mark Anderson was a big signing last year who wound up being an even bigger disappointment. He only managed to play in 5 games and posted just a single sack before going on injured reserve with a knee injury. Anderson will get a chance to redeem himself this year and should benefit from playing in a more aggressive scheme. Marcell Dareus was taken a spot behind Von Miller a couple years ago but hasn't lived up to the high expectations yet. The star potential is still there, however, and he could be a breakout candidate going into his third season. Kyle Williams had a strong start a year ago with 3.5 sacks in the first month, but then he seemed to make less of an impact as the year went on. If healthy, he is very difficult to block and can cause lots of disruption in the backfield. Backup DL: Alan Branch was the only significant addition to this group over the offseason. He was valuable to Seattle as a space eater, and should see time on early downs to provide a much needed upgrade to the run defense. Alex Carrington has proven himself to be a versatile backup who can play either DT or DE. Torrell Troup was drafted to be a starting Nose Tackle but has been plagued by injuries, so any contribution they get from the former 2nd round pick will be a bonus. Jarron Gilbert was a washout with the Bears and will likely have to fight for a roster spot.
LinebackersStarters: WLB Nigel Bradham, MLB Kiko Alonso (R), SLB Manny Lawson
Backups: ILB Bryan Scott, OLB Jerry Hughes, OLB Arthur Moats, ILB Chris White, OLB Marcus Dowtin Starting LBs: The Bills cleaned house at linebacker in the offseason, releasing Nick Barnett and trading Kelvin Sheppard. We'll learn more about how the new players fit together in training camp, but they appear to have upgraded their speed and athleticism. Nigel Bradham showed some flashes as a rookie starter late in 2012 who the team has high hopes for. Kiko Alonso was taken with a second round pick this year and appears to have enough range to develop into a three-down player at some point. Manny Lawson was signed from the Bengals and is expected to take over as the team's strongside linebacker, but he can also contribute as a 3-4 OLB or nickel pass rusher as needed in the team's new hybrid defense. There is some potential in this group but they are mostly unproven so some growing pains are to be expected. Backup LBs: The Bills used Bryan Scott in their nickel package the past couple years, which gave him nearly as many snaps as a starter in some games. Jerry Hughes was acquired in a LB swap with the Colts and could provide a nice boost to the pass rush. Arthur Moats has played several different linebacker positions in his brief career and provides solid depth. Chris White will likely compete for a backup job inside while Marcus Dowtin will provide depth outside after being claimed off waivers from the Eagles.
Defensive BacksStarters: SS Da'Norris Searcy, FS Jairus Byrd, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Leodis McKelvin
Backups: S Aaron Williams, S Duke Williams (R), S Jonathan Meeks (R), CB Justin Rogers, CB Ron Brooks Starting DBs: The Bills cut veteran safety George Wilson and will likely give Da'Norris Searcy first crack at over the full time strong safety role. He split time with Wilson last year but that was under the previous coaching staff and they added competition in the draft. Jairus Byrd has established himself as one of the best safeties in the league, but could miss time with a contract dispute after the Bills used their franchise tag to retain him. Stephon Gilmore was taken in the first round a year ago and showed the potential to develop into an elite shutdown corner. Leodis McKelvin has been in and out of the lineup as a corner, but finished last year strong enough to get a new contract and also contributes as an elite returner. Backup DBs: Aaron Williams was a bust as a starting cornerback but the team will apparently move him inside to safety or a nickel corner role where he should be more effective. They also invested two mid-round picks on the safety position with Duke Williams in round 4 and Jonathan Meeks in round 5. They could be insurance against losing Byrd at some point, but could also compete for time right away in the team's subpackages and on special teams. Justin Rogers has played well at times and should compete with 2nd year pro Ron Brooks for the nickel corner job. Last modified: 2014-05-15 14:16:23