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.
It's the decision making process that most NFL head coaches dread. After watching 90 players bust their tails for an entire offseason and sweat their way through the rigors of training camp to make the 53-man squad, coaches and their staff of assistants must make difficult choices to whittle down the roster for the regular season.
"Every decision is a difficult decision," said head coach Chan Gailey. "There are no easy decisions. It involves their life, their profession, their goals and their dreams and that's the hardest day of the year for me. But you make decisions for a lot of different reasons."
When it gets down to the last few decisions a lot of factors can come into play. Player versatility, style of offense or defense and football smarts are just a few of them. One of the positions that is expected to carry a lot of interest in not only who will man certain roles, but how many will be carried on the active roster is the wide receiver position.
The main reason why is because beyond Stevie Johnson and locked in slot receiver David Nelson there is a lot of unproven talent and not a lot of separation from one receiver to another. It's a position group that is not as clear cut as some may believe. That means competition will be fierce throughout training camp and if players don't convince the coaching staff, the decisions will be made all the more difficult.
First, we'll take a look at the roster history under Coach Gailey. In 2010 Gailey and his staff kept five receivers on the active roster, but there were also a pair of wide receivers on the practice squad including Naaman Roosevelt. Roosevelt was eventually promoted to the active roster due to injury.
Last season the Bills again carried five receivers on the active roster with Brad Smith affording the staff some flexibility as a quarterback that could also serve as a sixth receiver. Marcus Easley was the new addition from the previous year, but Easley was quickly placed on injured reserve with a medical condition and replaced by Ruvell Martin.
During the 2011 season the Buffalo offense expanded their spread attack with their four-wide set being their most popular formation with a running back in the backfield. With the anticipation that the offensive approach will remain largely the same one could deduce that the possibility exists to keep six receivers on the 53-man roster with Smith as a possible seventh.
The question is where would that extra roster spot for a receiver come from?
The most likely source would be the linebacker position. With the team moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive front fewer linebackers would be needed on the roster even though it's one of the most utilized positions on special teams.
Buffalo kept 11 linebackers on their 53-man roster to start the season last year. Eight would appear to be a more likely number this season. One or two of those extra spots would presumably go to the defensive line, which will be operating with a four-man front. The other extra could possibly go to the offensive line or receiver position.
The anticipated presence of Smith on the roster however, reduces the need to carry six receivers. With a player like 2011 practice squader Kamar Aiken still eligible for such designation in 2012 there will be talent that could be called up should injury strike, should Aiken not to make the active roster at the start of the season.
So it looks as though it might take a lot of convincing on the part of the receiving corps both on the practice field and in the preseason that more than five wideouts should stick.