Top 5 Positions to Watch For This Years Buffalo Bills!

 

Bills lining up at training camp. Photo via www.billszone.com

Bills lining up at training camp. –  Photo via http://www.billszone.com


With Training Camp starting in less than two weeks, (Training Camp Main Page) the Bills still have a lot of question marks at marquee positions. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Great, here’s another top five list that is basically a copy of what all the other Bills writers are writing about: EJ this, Sammy Watkins that, Kiko’s hurt, blah blah blah. You’re thinking you’ve read this article 100 times already! Because if you’re like me, I’m sure you’ve surfed the web daily looking for news–any news–videos, and probably even started your fantasy league in preparation for your late August draft to get your NFL fix! Well, if you think I’m talking about the obvious, you’re wrong. We all know about the questions this team has at the marquee positions. When you start to go down the list, you begin to realize there’s a lot more to talk about than QB, WR, and who’s replacing Kiko.

Here are my top five pre-training camp positions to watch:

The O-Line! Photo via www.buddynixon.com

The O-Line! – Photo via http://www.buddynixon.com

1.) Offensive Guard/Tackle: The Bills acknowledged they needed to do something with the offensive line at the end of last year. All I have to say is WOW! Did they make a statement this offseason or what! I think you can tell our head coach used to be an offensive lineman based on the five new additions for this year. The Bills definitely got bigger, better and stronger via free agency and the draft. We know Eric Wood and Cordy Glenn are locked in starters at center and tackle. Free agent pickup Chris Williams is expected to be the starting left guard, but who rounds out the other guard and tackle positions? (Chris Williams Signing) My favorite prospect they drafted this year is Seantreal Henderson. He is 6’7” 331 lbs., mean, and athletic. He has some off the field issues (failed drug tests in college and at the combine), but the Bills made it clear that if he stumbles even just once, he’s off the team. (Henderson on Notice) He was a first round talent who almost slipped out of the draft because of those off-the-field issues before the Bills snagged him in the seventh round. If he keeps his head down and his nose clean, there’s nothing but up side with him. For Henderson to start he’ll have to beat out two other rookies who won’t make it easy. Cyril Richardson is a monster out of Baylor. He’s 6’5” 348 lbs. and offers some serious competition for the guard position (and also has flexibility to play tackle). He ranked 89.7% in lineman efficiency last year and didn’t give up a sack in 2013. He was also one of the main reasons Baylor set so many rushing marks this year. Cyrus Kouandjio is another mammoth of a man from Alabama. He’s 6’7” 322lbs. and had the second longest arms in this year’s draft. The best part about Cyrus is that he’s only 20 (turning 21 later this year)! He has a lot of raw talent, which I’m sure Marone is drooling over, and he has the time to mold him into starting caliber talent. His one down side is that he has arthritis in his knees but he’s never missed time due to knee problems and has been cleared by multiple doctors. As long as those knees hold up he’ll be a starter at some point. Familiar names round out the other competitors; Craig Urbik, Erik Pears and Chris Hairston started in the past and look to put their names on top of the depth chart. Though their play in the past was average at best, they will have to work harder than ever to procure a spot and hold off these young rookies. A dark horse could be a free agent the Bills signed from the Ravens practice squad last November in J.J Unga. Unga is 6’5” 320 lbs. and in his 2nd year as a pro. He was a 2013 undrafted free agent pick up by the Ravens. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about offensive lineman battles since Jason Peters’ coming out party! I can’t wait to see these guys in action!

Stephon Gilmore has to step up this year!  Photo via www.buffalobillsdraft.com

Stephon Gilmore has to step up this year!
Photo via http://www.buffalobillsdraft.com

2.) Corner Back: With Gilmore locking up one spot, many people believe Leodis Mckelvin is the other starter and the training camp focus will be on the Slot or Nickel CB position. I beg to differ. Even though Leodis finally had a breakout season last year, it was largely due to Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme. QB’s were under a lot of pressure, we set the team’s single season sack record (think about that with the defenses we’ve had in the past!), and the scheme single-handedly saved McKelvin’s career. This year, however, there’s no more Mike Pettine. The scheme is changing from a 3-4 hybrid defense to a more basic 4-3 defense that relies on pressure from the front 4 and puts more pressure on the coverage unit. If a QB gets more time to throw this year, it exposes McKelvin as it has in years past and opens the door for Corey Graham. Graham is a bigger more physical DB at 6’0” 200 lbs., whereas McKelvin is generously listed at 5’10” and 185. The trend in the NFL is to have two big physical CB’s on the outside to compete with the bigger, stronger and faster receivers. What’s interesting is if Graham does beat out McKelvin for the #2 spot, McKelvin then gets thrown into a battle with Nickell Roby, Ron Brooks and several rookies for the nickel and dime CB spots. This is a make or break year for Ron Brooks. Is he that diamond in the rough Bills Nation was hoping for when he was drafted three years ago? He came from a LSU team playing behind Patrick Peterson and Maurice Clairborne and was viewed as having their kind of talent. Roby made a strong case for the nickel spot last year and may be tough to beat out, so where would that leave the seven year pro McKelvin? (Wow he’s been around seven years and he’s finally relevant?)

Duke Williams - Photo via Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Duke Williams – Photo via Rick Stewart/Getty Images

3.) Safety: With the departure of Byrd, who’s going to step in? We all saw how well Aaron Williams played last year. I mean, let’s be honest. He was just awesome to watch last year. He was all over the field playing FS/SS/CB and had many people in Bills nation saying Byrd who? Though Williams was viewed as more of a safety when drafted, the Bills played him at CB where he didn’t do well through his first two years. Making the switch last year to safety probably saved Williams’ career and led to a contract extension this off-season. The safety position is filled with Bills home-grown talent. Behind Williams is Da’ Norris Searcy who is a very physical type of safety whom we saw play well at times last year. Duke Williams and Johnathan Meeks–both drafted in 2013–still need a lot of work on their game. Going into their 2nd year as pros, can they take their games to the next level? Look for the safety position to be very rotational with Searcy in on running downs, short yardage, and when the safety is down inside “the box” and D. Williams and Meeks playing in obvious passing situations. Depending on how the CB fight goes, the Bills have a safety valve in Corey Graham in case D. Williams and Meeks struggle since he can also play safety and has the size and speed to play either SS or FS. If Aaron Williams play improves from last year, then the departure of Byrd will be easily forgotten by Bills Nation. If Searcy can turn into a more complete safety in the passing game, then we have a dangerous safety tandem. If Meeks and D. Williams can prove to be decent center fielders on passing downs, the Bills secondary just got a whole lot better and deeper.

D-Line - Photo via blogs.buffalonews.com

D-Line – Photo via blogs.buffalonews.com

4.) Defensive End: Now you may wonder why I’m saying this is a position to watch. Of course we have $150 Million invested in Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes and have a lock on the top two spots, but here’s the Million dollar question: Ready? Who’s our 3rd and 4th DE? No cheating now and running to Google the Bills 2014 roster like I had to! Most teams use a lot of rotation on the front four. Williams and Hughes appear to be on an island and have to play every snap! The Bills did not address this position this offseason, so that must mean we’re set at that position right? Wrong. The Bills did their best to address every needed position, but there’s always one position you choose not to address and roll the dice on. Last year it was backup QB for the Bills, and look how that went! This year it seems to be the DE position, so if anything happens to Williams or Hughes we’re looking at rookies Bryan Johnson, Colby Way and Damien Jacobs. First year player Ikponmwosa Igbinosun (Can’t wait to hear the announcer try to pronounce that correctly this pre-season!) and veterans Manny Lawson (a converted LB) and Jarius Wynn (a FA pick-up who’s bounced around to five teams in six years). After reading that list you have nice, warm and cozy feelings about the DE position don’t you? Yea… I didn’t think so.

Jim Schwartz is a real wild card! - Photo via buffalowdown.com

Jim Schwartz is a real wild card! – Photo via buffalowdown.com

5.) Defensive Coordinator: Hey DC is a position too! This makes my list, because as everyone in Bills Nation is aware, the Bills seem to change coordinators like you and I change underwear… Frequently changing your underwear is a good thing… Frequently changing your DC is not a good thing! Since 2009 we’ve had Perry Fewell (Now the Giants DC), George Edwards (Now the Vikings DC), Dave Wannstedt (Now unemployed, thankfully!), Mike Pettine (Now head coach of the Browns), and now we Have Jim Schwartz. Since 2009 our scheme went like this 4-3, 3-4, 3-4 (but we technically played a 4-4 half the year to try to stop the bleeding from the gaping running lanes), 3-4, and now back to the 4-3, and it seems the Bills just never have exactly the right players to fit the scheme they are trying to run. By the time we have the players, they switch DC’s and scheme again. This year is no different. We have the players and depth for the 3-4 but switching to a 4-3 this year we’re now short on DE’s and we’re forced to use converted LB’s to play DE full-time (Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson). There’s already a juggling act at LB with Kiko being out for the year. If no one steps up in the LB spot what does that mean for Manny Lawson? Who replaces Lawson’s 74 tackles from last year when he played LB (good for 4th most on the team)? Will Hughes get the same sack production now that he’s playing from a more fixed hand on the ground end position instead of an upright, flexible outside linebacker position? There’s a lot to watch on the defensive side of the ball and I’ll be excited to see how the scheme and roster looks after the 3rd pre-season game.

So there you have you have it, my top five positions to watch. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Is there a better battle you’ll be watching that’s not QB or WR? Any way you slice it, I am pumped about this coming season and most excited about that offensive line battle! I hope the Bills have answers to all of the questions we in Bills Nation have and can finally get over that hump and get more wins than losses. The AFC is primed for the Bills to make a move up. The Jets are still as dysfunctional as ever, Miami did a lot of rebuilding this offseason after a season of controversies. The Patriots may be on the downside of things and Brady’s career is coming to an end. (He’s 37!) The Bills are young, stayed mostly intact, and added some good depth this year. On Paper it looks like we’re turning things around, and come Sundays I will be glued to the TV yelling and screaming for no one to hear at both the good and the bad! Let’s GO Buffalo! This is our year! BE THERE!

By: Jason Sinsabaugh

Advertisements

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Buffalo Bills Preview & Review: Preseason game #2 Already!? | What's Going On In Buffalo? - August 8, 2014

    […] showed us he’s not quite as ready for prime time as I was hoping for! If you guys caught my Top 5 Positions to watch training camp preview article, he was one of the guys I was really excited about as he’s just a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: