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OTAs: What to watch for

Posted May 28, 2014

Chris Brown examines the top players and story lines to watch during OTAs.

With each passing season there is roster turnover in the NFL. Between expiring contracts, free agency and the draft an NFL roster averages change of about 25-30 percent. That leads to changing roles in all three phases where young players step up into bigger roles and veteran additions step into vacant roles.

Below we take a closer look at the players to track as OTAs begin Wednesday and run right up to mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

The Obvious

Kiko Alonso, EJ Manuel, Brandon Spikes, Sammy Watkins, Chris Williams

Alonso is expected to move to the weak side with Spikes the likely starter at middle linebacker in Jim Schwartz’s new 4-3 scheme.

Manuel’s development between his rookie season and the 2014 campaign will be closely scrutinized, but all indications are the Bills offensive leader has done all the right things to prepare himself for what he and the Bills hope is a breakout season.

The expectation for Watkins is to look like a dynamic playmaker from day one. He made encouraging progress with his assignments in the rookie minicamp in Nathaniel Hackett’s scheme. How he executes those assignments against veteran NFL competition will be the test.

Chris Williams was brought in to shore up a left guard position that saw a couple of players roll through the position in 2013. What to watch will be his transition with new linemates Cordy Glenn and Eric Wood.

The Competitors

Bryce Brown, Corey Graham, Cyrus Kouandjio, Da’Norris Searcy, Duke Williams

These players will either be battling for a vacant starting role or direct competition to an incumbent starter or starters.

For Brown the situation he enters isn’t much different from the one he left in Philadelphia. Sitting behind Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller on Buffalo’s depth chart Brown must make the most of every carry he gets in the practices leading up the regular season to wedge his way into the rotation in Buffalo’s offensive backfield.

Graham was primarily signed to provide valuable, proven depth on the boundary at cornerback. The Buffalo native is a solid player, who can play inside or out. Whether he can unseat one of the entrenched starters outside or Nickell Robey in the slot remains to be seen.

The rookie with the best chance to land a starting role whose name is not Watkins is second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio. He’ll be challenging veteran Erik Pears for the starting right tackle role every step of the way leading up to the preseason.

SEE ALSO: How important is right tackle in today's NFL?

Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams won’t be the only candidates for the vacant safety role next to Aaron Williams, but they are expected to each get long looks at the position. This is a role that could see a lot of twists and turns before a final decision is made.

The Dark Horses

Stefan Charles, Chris Hogan, Jonathan Meeks, Tony Moeaki, Ty Powell

This group has players whose roles could see a spike in playing time if the right circumstances unfold.

Charles joined the team midseason last year and appeared in eight games in a backup capacity. With Alex Carrington now in St. Louis and Alan Branch the only proven backup defensive tackle, Charles could land the fourth DT role with a strong offseason.

He had a strong camp that landed him one of the last jobs at receiver. With Stevie Johnson traded to San Francisco, Chris Hogan could carve out a niche behind Robert Woods in the slot.

Meeks figures to be a part of the safety competition, but he has to make up for lost time when he missed the first half of his rookie season.

He was added to the roster with a month left in the 2013 season. Now with a full offseason to get acclimated to new teammates and the offensive scheme, Tony Moeaki, with a strong camp could see more time on the field than most anticipate.

Powell was a special teamer that earned a look on defense late in the year last season. If he can put together quality practices in OTAs and minicamp Powell could put himself in the top six at linebacker.

The Comebackers

Mike Caussin, Kevin Elliott, Chris Hairston, Dustin Hopkins

Caussin has battled injuries much of the last two seasons. A hip injury landed him on injured reserve last season after he was initially waived-injured, but he’s healthy now.

The big receiver looked ready to challenge for a role on the 53-man roster last spring, but a torn ACL compromised those plans for Elliott. Whether he’s fully cleared to compete again is something we’ll learn this week.

Chris Hairston was a valuable swing tackle in 2012, but he landed on the reserve non-football illness list during training camp last summer and missed the entire 2013 season. We’ll find out if he’s fully cleared to participate leading up to the 2014 campaign.

A former sixth-round draft choice, Dustin Hopkins was seen as a potential kicker of the future. A severe groin injury on his kicking leg side ended his rookie season just days before it started. Hopefully he’s fully healthy to show he can serve as a kickoff specialist and is worthy of a roster spot.