Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.
With offseason departures by Donald Jones and David Nelson and the acquisition of many young, talented receivers, the Bills have starting spots up for grabs behind number one receiver Stevie Johnson and the competition has been and will continue to be tight.
"The competition is going to be crazy because of the talent that we have," Johnson said of the impending battle for the second receiver spot. "Not to take anything away from what we had in past years, but the talent that we have and the expectations that the talent brings in. These guys are pretty much the best of the best coming out of college and then you have guys that have been here in the league who have done their thing, but aren't as established."
While the competition just to make the 53-man roster has a long list of contenders, the fight for the second receiver position has seen three players emerge: T.J. Graham, Robert Woods, and Brad Smith.
T.J. GrahamThe second-year receiver out of North Carolina State had a strong spring filled with consistent play. Much of the consistency he has shown has come as a result of improved route running. Graham largely credits receivers coach Ike Hilliard for helping him improve. At the request of general manager Doug Whaley, Graham also studied the routes of Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace, who is one of the fastest receivers and best route runners in the NFL.
"Just the transition, and the tenacity of his routes," Graham said of his observations of Wallace on tape. "He runs them full speed, he's got a lot of herky-jerky. He's pressing vertical all the time. Last year, I don't think I pressed vertical as well as I should have. I didn't get that burst of speed coming out of breaks that I should have. This year, I feel like those are key points I need to improve on."
Graham finished 2012 with just 31 receptions for 322 yards and one touchdown, but those numbers will jump with more snaps. If Graham carries his strong play over to training camp, he could earn a heavily featured position in offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's up-tempo attack.
Robert WoodsWidely regarded as the most NFL ready receiver in the 2013 draft, Woods stepped right into spring practices and impressed everyone early with his route running and quick understanding of the offense.
Woods' practice mentality shows a level of focus and maturity that is uncommon with many young receivers. Woods does not let a lack of touches upset him or negatively affect his play. He instead focuses on running crisp routes and getting open with the knowledge that everything will be seen when the practice tapes are reviewed.
"Just going hard, making sure I don't have any mental mistakes," Woods explained. "Just compete on every play and try to be open on every play whether the ball is thrown to me or not it's on film and coach can see it, quarterbacks can see it and they can maybe come my way later. But I'm just trying to do my assignment, work on myself and hopefully that helps make the team better."
Woods showed what he can do as the second receiver in a high-powered offense his senior year at USC. Behind Marquis Lee, Woods grabbed 76 receptions for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns.
If he continues his rapid progression, Woods could find a significant number of throws coming his way.
Brad SmithStanding out in a green Bills receiving corps is the 29-year-old dependable veteran, Brad Smith. Smith has made the move from QB/WR to full-time receiver this season, and he was a solid performer throughout spring practices.
Smith has 101 receptions for 949 yards and five touchdowns in seven seasons, but his impact as a full-time receiver is difficult to project given that his primary offensive function has been as a wildcat quarterback.
Smith had 14 receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns in 2012, but most of it came in spot work throughout the season. Smith's most memorable play as a receiver came in a 2011 matchup with the New York Jets when he hauled in a deflected deep ball over Antonio Cromartie for a wild 36-yard touchdown.
NFL experience is pretty slim amongst Bills receivers, so despite only having part-time work at the position, Smith could make a play at the job.
The only certainty going into training camp is the receiving corps is packed with talent and potential, and head coach Doug Marrone likes where the team stands at receiver and where it is going.
"It'll work itself out. I'm happy with where we are," said Marrone. "I think there's a lot of competition there. I can't tell you who the second, third, fourth, fifth receivers are right now. There are still unknowns because we haven't put on pads and we haven't hit. So the physicality of tackling, breaking tackles, things like that are things we haven't been able to judge. But they're all here for a reason because they have done that. The question now is can they do that at this level if they're rookies coming in? For veterans the question is can they do that at a level they've always done it or better than they've done in the past?"