With the implementation of the H-back position in 2007, the Bills have opened the door for using more tight ends on the field on any given play. With the new position the tight ends on the roster have been split between H-back and the traditional position on the line.
It appears that Brad Cieslak and Ryan Neufeld have settled into the H-back role while Kevin Everett and Robert Royal are still holding down the traditional spot. The question is where the Bills fill in depth, at H-back or along the line?
Matt Murphy and Derek Schouman are the ones battling for the fifth and final tight end position on the team if in fact Buffalo chooses to keep five. But who will be more valuable to the team when the final decision is made?
In his fifth NFL season Murphy brings the necessary experience to the position, however, Schouman is known primarily as an H-back which is important in the Bills new scheme. Although Schoman fits well into the H-back role, Murphy is not unfamiliar with playing H-back either.
"I did it in Houston two years ago. I did quite a bit of it and liked it," said Murphy. "It is a different mentality, running full speed at someone not blocking them on the line but I like it a lot."
Murphy's most valuable commodity is his size. At 6'5", 277 pounds, Murphy is a big receiving target who is a menacing blocker on the line. With his prior experience at H-back Murphy can be used effectively at both positions if the coaching staff sees fit although he has primarily lined up in the conventional tight end role. Still his blocking ability is likely his most valuable asset.
"I feel that with my size alone people think blocking, that is my thing. I think I am a good blocker and I try to prove that every time I am out there," said Murphy.
Murphy also has the proper mentality for going through a training camp position battle like this one. As a five-year veteran, he is not new to the numbers battle that comes with training camp.
"I have been around a few years and understand that it is about the numbers not if they like you or not," said Murphy. "I just go out and do my job every day. I always feel that you can only control the things you can control and you can't worry about what you can't because you have nothing to do with it."
The one thing that Murphy will have to improve upon is his receiving skills. Throughout training camp, Murphy has had a couple drops.
His prime competition, Derek Schouman, has shown, through camp, that he can be utilized as a receiving threat. Schouman even had a fairly important grab in his last collegiate game with Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition Schouman flashed his potential as a receiver with an impressive run after catch against Atlanta. The one problem that the rookie has is adapting to the professional game.
As a player very familiar with the H-back position, Schouman is a legitimate prospect for the H-back role. He stands to gain more confidence as he spends more time in the Bills offensive system.
"I am comfortable at that position but not quite yet in this league," said Schouman. "It is a lot different and a lot more that I need to do; I need to improve a lot in many different areas."
While Murphy fits the mold as a natural in-line tight end, Schouman is more of an H-back type, and has spent more time there in camp. Since the two have skills at each position in the Bills offense, they both must shore up their weaknesses at the positions they are less familiar with.
Schouman will become more acclimated to the Bills' system as he is able to spend more time learning both H-back and the traditional tight end role. One way to stand out to the coaching staff is to become comfortable playing on the line, something that he is picking up well.
"I feel comfortable pretty much everywhere as long as I get a couple reps," said Schouman. "There are a lot of different looks and a lot of things to expect but I have done enough to be comfortable at any of those positions."
In order to learn both positions Schoman has been spending extra time studying the offense. As he continues to study and learn the system he feels he is giving himself an advantage in carrying out his assignments.
"I just try to know the playbook the best I can so that if I make a mistake it will be a physical mistake not a mental error," he said.
As the regular season draws closer, both players will need to make an impact in the lone remaining preseason game. While neither has been thrown to a lot, it is not just the plays on which they touch the ball that matters when it comes to making the team.
"When you go out there people are going to watch, the team you are playing is going to watch, everyone else is going to watch. I know that every time you are out there you should be playing hard because (the coaches) will see," said Murphy.
What the tight end battle boils down to is who can do more on the field. Both players are very involved on special teams and both are investing time in learning both H-back and tight end. While neither is lacking work ethic it seems that Schouman may be the one with more to offer. But can he provide it to the Bills as a rookie?
Murphy's size is hard to part with and Schouman is more of a threat as a receiver and fits well as an H-back in Buffalo's system. With the ability to play on the line as well, Schouman offers the versatility that make him deserving of a roster spot.
However, the practice squad could be an option for Buffalo's seventh-round pick, and if the team chooses to keep five tight ends, the veteran Murphy could get the nod.