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. With Year 3 under head coach Chan Gailey and veteran player report day at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 24th and Sept. 9th.
Stevie Johnson has solidified his role as the number one playmaking wide receiver on the Buffalo Bills roster. Question marks still remain as to who will complement him as the team's number two receiver on the opposite side. The Bills unquestionably have talent at the position, but are still waiting for one player to decisively stand out amongst the group. This means there will be an open competition at training camp to determine who Johnson's counterpart will be.
Marcus Easley has the prototypical size and speed to line up outside, but because of injuries and medical issues, he has been unable to play in a regular season game during his first two NFL seasons. He showed signs of what he is capable of doing during preseason action last year when he recorded seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in a two game span. Easley performed well during both OTAs and mini-camp this offseason, which has him right in the mix for the number two wide receiver role. His transition to the NFL has been difficult thus far, but he is very excited to finally get back out onto the field.
"I am just happy to be playing football again. This has been long overdue," said Easley. "Everyone knows the story, but I am just glad to be out here competing and to be back out there with the fellas."
Past health problems have prevented Easley from contributing to the team, but Bills head coach Chan Gailey has yet to see any setbacks from the receiver.
"He's looked good," said Gailey. "He doesn't limp. He's not having any shortness of breath. All of those things that were bothering him earlier aren't bothering him now. So he's done a good job."
Rookie wide receiver T.J. Graham has the ability to stretch a defense with his phenomenal speed and athleticism. He strikes fear in opposing cornerbacks because he is capable of beating them for six at any point in time during a game. On the other hand, his inexperience in a pro-style offense and his raw route running ability may limit him in just his first NFL season. Graham will compete for the number two wide receiver position at training camp, but he is still trying to adjust to the professional game.
"He's still learning it and he's still out there thinking and not just playing 100 percent of the time, but he definitely can add a different dimension to our offense," said Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. "It's going to be a matter of him getting up to speed and learning things and then making the plays when he needs to."
Veteran receiver Derek Hagan was picked up off of waivers late last season by the Bills and performed well in his short time with the team. He finished the year with a breakout performance against the New England Patriots, in which he had seven catches for 89 yards. His late season success, along with the opportunity to compete for the number two wide receiver role, influenced his offseason decision to remain in Buffalo.
"That is what it is all about," said Hagan. "That is what I came back for because I knew there was an opportunity here to come in and start and help this team."
Consistency issues have prevented Hagan from landing a starting role during his first six NFL seasons. Hagan feels like he has learned from his past mistakes and is ready to become a starter on this team.
"I know that I am going into my seventh year, but I feel like each and every year I am getting better," Hagan said. "As you get older you start to mature a whole lot and start to see things that are going on out on the field and it just makes things easier."
Out of this group, Donald Jones has the most experience playing with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and in this system. He has had success in this offense, but is he a true outside receiver or is he better fit for the slot? Jones has spent a lot of his time in the slot during OTAs and mini-camp. His ability to play in the slot and line up outside signifies his versatility as a receiver.
"I like to move around. I like to be able to know every position," said Jones. "The more you can do the more effective you are and the better chance you have of making the team."
While switching positions doesn't bother Jones, Chan Gailey believes that he has the inside track to land the number two receiver position.
"Donald Jones is probably a little bit ahead of everybody at this point," Gailey said.
Jones may be slightly ahead of the other receivers right now, but the competition is far from over.
"It's too early and to be honest with you you can ask me the third week of training camp and I'll tell you it's too early," said Gailey. "We'll know exactly where we stand. It all works itself out by the time we get to the first ball game."