Preseason games, particularly the finale are commonly pointless. If a head coach hasn’t been able to figure out who will start or at least be a key contributor by this point of the summer, odds are that team is in a world of trouble when the real games begin next weekend.
But every team in the league has a set of subplots worth following in the final dress rehearsal of the preseason, and the Buffalo Bills are certainly no exception. Spots at the back end of the roster are still up for grabs, as are roles of certain players on the team and what direction certain units may be headed.
As the Bills take to Ford Field to face the Detroit Lions Thursday night in this finale, here are ten items positively worth your attention as you attempt to stay glued to the television set for a game irrelevant in the standings.
Who Will Win The #2 Quarterback Spot?: According to the organization, the only thing we know is it won’t be Matt Leinart. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm have entered the home stretch of the competition behind Trent Edwards, and the race is likely to be decided based on the result of this game. At this time, it would appear Fitzpatrick has the advantage since Brohm has barely played in two of the first three games. Fitzpatrick also helped himself by looking impressive against the Bengals. But don’t count Brohm out quite yet. He more than held his own against the Colts and if Gailey stays true to his rotation, should get a lot of playing time against the Lions. It’s yet to be formally announced, but expect Brohm to enter early after Edwards departs. If he doesn’t, then that should tell you all you need to know about his future in Buffalo.
Bills Inside Linebacker Battle: Keith Ellison vs. Arthur Moats: We’re going to assume Chan Gailey will keep eight linebackers on the opening day roster and we’ll pencil in Chris Kelsay, Reggie Torbor, Paul Posluszny, Andra Davis, Aaron Maybin, Chris Ellis and Kawika Mitchell as the first seven. That leaves a battle between Ellison and Moats for the fourth inside linebacker slot. Experience and special teams prowess certainly goes to Ellison, but Moats has come on like gangbusters throughout the preseason. The sixth round draft pick leads the Bills with 18 preseason tackles, a fumble recovery and had a sack called back because of a penalty. Assuming only one makes the roster, it could come down to performance in this game and I’m going to go with the mild surprise and project Moats to stick around, especially if he can make a play on special teams.
Will Cornell Green Finally Block Someone?: The starters at most will make a brief cameo in this contest, but If I were Gailey I’d consider leaving Green in for an extended period of time. He certainly looks like he needs the work. He’s been awful this preseason, almost indisputably the worst of the starting offensive linemen. He nearly got Trent Edwards’ head decapitated against the Colts, and even on C.J. Spiller’s electrifying touchdown run in Toronto, Green completely whiffed on Robert Mathis, forcing Spiller to work his magic to get around him. Green struggled when he was in Oakland and has been a journeyman type of starter throughout his career. He’s had the good fortune of going under the radar because of so many other Bills headlines, but if he doesn’t start blocking someone soon it’s merely a matter of time before he becomes a big story.
Roosevelt vs. Hardy vs. Jones For Sixth WR Spot (assuming there is a sixth WR): Rather than rehash this battle, you can read all about it by clicking yesterday’s article.
Chad Simpson vs. Joique Bell: Even if Marshawn Lynch sees action against the Lions and Fred Jackson is able to come back for the Miami season opener, Gailey has to consider both guys a risk to remain banged up all season. This very likely means a fourth halfback will be kept on the roster along with Spiller. If so, things come down to Simpson and a surprisingly impressive Bell. The undrafted free agent leads the Bills in preseason rushing with 142 yards and a whopping 6.5 yards per carry to go with a pair of touchdowns. Simpson has been no slouch either, averaging 5.2 yards per carry despite being known more for special teams. The Bills could try to sneak Bell past waivers and onto their practice squad, but it’s hardly guaranteed he’d go unclaimed. These two should be fun to watch as they go down to the wire.
Can John McCargo Make One Last Impression?: The good news is the 2006 first rounder has finally started playing like one. The bad news is it’s likely too late. If the Bills keep six defensive linemen his fate already seems secured. But who knows, maybe a monster game against the Lions could propel him past Spencer Johnson into that sixth and final spot.
Will The Special Teams Gain Any Momentum?: One of the few constants you could rely on over the last decade is stellar play from the Bills special teams. Even that has went out the window, at least in the preseason. The special teams, coverage units in particular have been dreadful this preseason. The kickoff team has allowed 27.8 yards per return and the punt coverage has yielded 13.6 yards per try, including a touchdown allowed against the Redskins. As my colleague Brian Galliford from Buffalo Rumblings pointed out, the Bills haven’t used some of their special teams aces much during the preseason, but regardless, it’s a scary trend and the ship better get righted by September 12. Simply put, the Bills aren’t good enough to have the luxury of losing the special teams battle on Sundays.
Another Relevant Aaron Maybin Sighting: He’s been lambasted for some time now because of an inability to produce, but second teamers or not, Maybin was dominant against the Bengals with a pair of sacks and a forced intentional grounding penalty. The only way for Maybin to get on the field more when the games matter is to continue dominating what stands in front of him during the preseason. Another solid showing against the Lions could prompt Gailey and defensive coordinator George Edwards to have increased confidence in the 11th overall draft pick from a year ago.
Interior OL Backup Battle: The Bills will probably (nothing is certain) keep eight active offensive linemen. Besides the five starters, Kirk Chambers could stick around because of his experience and versatility and Jamon Meredith should as well.. If Ed Wang isn’t placed on injured reserve, he’ll earn a spot. Though nothing has been made official, the feeling is Wang’s missed too much time to be any factor in 2010. That leaves a flood of backups fighting a spot. Cordaro Howard, Nick Hennessey, Christian Gaddis, Andre Ramsey, Sean Allen and Jason Watkins should all get extensive playing time against the Lions. If the season started today, I think Howard would make the opening day roster while Hennessey and either Ramsey or Gaddis would end up on the practice squad. But on a line with so many uncertainties, this game will be a huge determining factor in how the roster shapes up.
The 10th DB Spot– Lankster vs. Harris vs. Harris: I’d expect Buffalo to keep 10 defensive backs on the active roster. Typically it would be six corners and four safeties, but to this point Ellis Lankster has played himself out of a job. He’s been torched in consecutive weeks against the Colts (twice) and Cincinnati. In my estimation, that has brought safeties Cary Harris and Dominique Harris into play for the 10th spot. As of now, I think Cary Harris has been the most impressive and perhaps the staff remembers his two interception game in the season finale against the Colts last season. Dominque Harris is probably a bigger practice squad candidate than a threat to take a job from one of the two. All I know is Lankster better show something positive against the Lions because he’s been toast for the majority of the summer. Of course, the team could end up with 11 defensive backs, but I think that may be pushing it, especially with the injuries at the running back position.
(Photo Credits: Michael Thomas)
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