20 - 5 positions to watch at camp

Posted Jul 8, 2017

There will be plenty of position battles to keep an eye on at Bills training camp. Here are the five key positions where those battles will take place.

Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We’ll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 27th and the Sept. 10th opener at New Era Field against the New York Jets.

Coach Sean McDermott has preached that all positions on the Bills roster will be earned. The time to do that is at training camp. Here are five positions that will be highly contested.

The battle at linebacker is completely wide open. With a mixture of rookies and veterans with various limitations, this position is shaping up to be the best battle of training camp.

In minicamp, the starters were Ramon Humber, Preston Brown and Lorenzo Alexander. Humber has played in the NFL for nine seasons, this being his second with the Bills. Brown is entering his fourth season with the Bills, and has been a starter for much of his time in Buffalo. Alexander was a surprising contributor for the Bills last season at outside linebacker, recording 12.5 sacks.

Although the veterans have an initial lead heading into camp, they will be pushed by the younger linebackers behind them. Reggie Ragland was drafted by the Bills in the second round of the 2016 draft. An injury during training camp ended his rookie season, but the hard-hitting middle linebacker could push Brown during training camp. Gerald Hodges, who played for the 49ers last season, is athletic and versatile. His coverage ability could be a deciding factor in his push for a starting position.

The battle at right tackle is poised to be contested by two players – Jordan Mills, who started for the Bills last year, and rookie Dion Dawkins.

Although Mills is a five-year veteran and the incumbent starter, the selection of Dawkins in the second-round indicates that the Bills want to improve the play at that positon.

Dawkins played for four years at Temple, where he was practically an immediate starter for the Owls. Dawkins stated that he’s willing to play wherever the Bills ask.

“I just know that nothing is given to anybody and I have to come and compete for everything that I’m doing,” said Dawkins. “I’m fighting and fighting every day in whatever spot needs to be taken or be filled.”

With the departure of Mike Gillislee, the back-up running back position is up for grabs. LeSean McCoy has proven he is one of the best running backs in the NFL, but the depth behind him is widely unproven.

Jonathan Williams, who is entering his second-year with the Bills, looks most likely to take the back-up positon. Williams played sparingly last season, but his one-cut, powerful running style fits the Bills zone blocking scheme well.

The Bills added veteran running back Joe Banyard this offseason, along with Cedric O’Neal. Banyard played for the Jaguars last season, but saw very little game action. O’Neil was on the Eagles practice squad last season, but his one-cut running style could be a nice fit in the Bills’ offense.

The Bills parted ways with Corey Graham and Aaron Williams this offseason. Those two departures left a serious hole at the back of the Bills defense.

This was remedied with the signing of veteran Micah Hyde, who previously played for the Green Bay Packers. The safety is very versatile. Not only can he play safety, he can also drop into the box as a linebacker, or play nickel corner.

The Bills also added Jordan Poyer, who formerly played for the Cleveland Browns. The athletic safety spent most of last season injured, but appears most likely to nail down the other starting safety position.

Poyer stated that he’s simply excited to be playing again.

“It’s exciting to get back out on the football field,” he said. “It’s definitely a blessing to just put the cleats on again and be [back] on the field after the injury last season. I put that behind me and I’m excited to move forward with this group of guys.”

With the departure of Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter the Bills have looked to rebuild their receiving corps this offseason.

Outside of Sammy Watkins, the Bills have very few proven receivers on the roster. Andre Holmes was signed from the Oakland Raiders this offseason. The 6-foot-4-inch wide receiver has the height and potential to thrive opposite of Watkins. Corey Brown, who was added to the roster from the Carolina Panthers, is an elusive wide receiver who has shown speed and playmaking ability in the past. He could certainly factor into the battle for slot receiver.

The wild card is rookie second-round pick Zay Jones. The East Carolina product has the height and speed to play on the outside. He was very productive in college, with 158 receptions, 1,746 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns his senior year. If Jones plays to his abilities, he could challenge Holmes for the number two wide receiver position.