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OTA primer

Posted May 24, 2010

There are some obvious questions facing the Bills roster that the coaching staff will try to begin to answer as voluntary OTAs get underway Tuesday. Buffalobills.com takes a preliminary look at five of the more pressing issues the team will have to find answers for as the majority of the roster assembles on the field for the first time under new head coach Chan Gailey.

1 - What will be the quarterback rotation?

Gailey has declared the job of starting quarterback an open competition and even stated that rookie seventh-round pick Levi Brown will have a chance to be a factor in the race for the job. Brian Brohm got a head start in repping the offense on the field during rookie minicamp as he received the lion’s share of the snaps over the course of those five practices.

Whether that extra exposure to Gailey’s scheme will make him first in the rotation come Tuesday is tough to figure. In all likelihood Gailey and his staff will have the two veteran quarterbacks ahead of Brohm in the rotation.

The main reason why is Gailey and his offensive staff have been on the practice field with Brohm already. They’ve also had the opportunity to review Brohm’s practice tape, and Brown’s for that matter. Gailey, offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins and quarterbacks coach George Cortez need to get an up close and personal feel for how Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick operate and perform in the practice setting.

To do that they’re going to need to give the two veteran signal callers more of the reps through this first set of practices this week. Who gets more reps with the first unit will bear watching.

2 – Where will Spiller spend his time?

Gailey has made no secret that top pick C.J. Spiller will be lining up in a lot of different places come September. He’s unlikely to be a full-time running back, especially with veteran ball carriers like Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch fully capable of handling that load.

To take full advantage of Spiller’s skills Gailey intends to get the talented playmaker out in space as often as possible. There are ways to do that from out of the backfield obviously, but it’s expected that Spiller will also line up in the slot and be in the mix on kickoff returns.

When he lines up at all of those different spots is the question.

Through the rookie minicamp, Spiller lined up only in the backfield as the coaching staff installed the base offense over those three days. When the staff decides to expose Spiller to the different roles he’s expected to play come the regular season will largely be determined by how effectively the Clemson product absorbs all the play call assignments being given to him.

It’s likely to be a step-by-step process, with the running back assignments being the foundation in terms of run fits, protection responsibilities and finally routes. When he has a firm grasp of that, we then might see him line up wide and work to master those other roles.

That might not happen however, until June.

Being a rookie, it’s anticipated that he’ll be lining up behind Jackson and Lynch when it comes to the running back rotation.

3 – What’s the depth chart at receiver?

With Lee Evans the only proven wideout on the roster the depth chart at receiver is likely to be in a state of flux right up until training camp, unless someone has a standout spring and puts a stranglehold on the number two receiver role.

Going into OTAs the leading candidates to line up opposite Lee Evans are third-year receivers James Hardy and Steve Johnson. Johnson was able to participate in the rookie minicamp and fared well. Hardy was not.

Free agent signee Chad Jackson will also be in the mix, though he’s considered more of an ‘x’ receiver or split end like Evans and would likely get reps in Evans’ spot with the second unit. Practice squad veteran Felton Huggins is also part of the competition.

Roscoe Parrish is expected to be the primary slot receiver. It will be interesting to see what an offensive coach like Gailey, with a reputation of maximizing a player’s strengths elects to do with Parrish after he was rarely utilized on offense under the previous regime.

Fourth-round pick Marcus Easley is the rookie expected to push the veteran players the most, and had a good rookie camp. Rookie free agents Donald Jones, David Nelson and Naaman Roosevelt could also be factors. Those who absorb the offensive playbook the fastest and execute will be afforded more reps.

4 – How does left tackle shake out?

This is a position that has an incumbent in Demetrius Bell, who started eight games last season before going on injured reserve with a knee injury that required surgery. Bell was still recovering from that knee surgery and his availability for the first set of OTA practices this week is unknown.

If he is able to participate in practice he’s expected to line up as the starting left tackle from the outset. His stiffest competition will come from Jamon Meredith, who made eight appearances last season including three straight starts at right tackle and one start at left tackle in the season finale.

If Bell is unable to practice Meredith will run with the first unit.

Behind Meredith is rookie fifth-round pick Ed Wang. Buffalo’s staff feels he has the physical tools to play on the left side and that’s where he’ll get reps during the course of the spring leading in to training camp.

All of the other tackles on the roster will spend their time on the right side. Free agent veteran Cornell Green is the starter on the strong side with 2009 practice squader Nick Hennessey and rookie free agent Cordaro Howard behind him on the depth chart.

Veteran Kirk Chambers appears as though he’ll be taking his reps at right guard this spring after making nine starts at right tackle last season. Chambers will likely get first team reps with Eric Wood not expected to participate.

5 – Who fits where in the safety puzzle?

The safety position is arguably one of the deepest on Buffalo’s roster with the top four on the squad all possessing starting experience. It was also one of the most jumbled positions last season due mainly to injury. It compromised a lot of roles and even forced one safety to play out of position last season.

Donte Whitner began last season as the starting free safety and made seven starts there with just a single start at strong safety. Injuries kept him out of six games.

Bryan Scott began the 2009 campaign as the starting strong safety, missed five games with a high ankle sprain and was thrust into a starting role at weak side linebacker, where he made six starts, when injuries beset the linebacking corps.

George Wilson replaced Scott at strong safety in Week 4 when he went down with a high ankle sprain and went on to make 12 starts at that spot posting single-season highs in tackles and interceptions.

Jairus Byrd had even greater success when he filled the starting free safety role in Week 4 when Whitner was injured. He started eight games there and tied for the league lead in interceptions with nine before finishing the season on injured reserve.

Under a new staff in 2010 however, some roles look as though they’ll be changing. Whitner will be returning to his more familiar strong safety role and he’s expected to be the starter heading into OTAs. Behind him will be veteran Bryan Scott and converted linebacker Jon Corto, who played safety early in his college career.

At free safety Jairus Byrd would be running with the first unit if he was all the way back from his hip surgery. That’s not expected to be the case however, during the first week of OTAs. So it’s anticipated that George Wilson will step in with the starting unit at free safety.

Second-year player Cary Harris is the third free safety. Rookie free agent Dominique Harris is considered a strong safety with fellow rookie Brett Johnson a free safety.

Schedule
OTA practices this week will be on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and Buffalobills.com will provide full coverage, which can all be found on the home page.

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