Of all the position battles at training camp none are as by the numbers as the battle at wide receiver.
In 2006 Buffalo kept six receivers on the 53 man roster. Of the six, five have returned this year. That potentially leaves the door open for one of the newcomers to training camp provided an even half dozen are retained again this season.
Of all the new faces at receiver three candidates have shown they may be most deserving of a spot. Donovan Morgan and Jonathan Smith have the NFL resumés that coaches are looking for while Jemalle Cornelius has made his presence felt on the field at time as well.
The biggest hurdle for the three has been getting significant playing time. They are among an 11-man receiving corps. Since the starters receive the lion's share of reps the reserves must wait in hopes they are thrown to once they are in.
"Just this morning coach was like 'you have got to take advantage of the plays that you get' because they're precious,'" said Smith. "Each time one of us is in there we are hoping and wishing that a ball is going to come to us so we can make a play."
The downfall all three are trying to avoid is allowing the numbers game to creep into their head. With only one spot up for grabs attempting to block out the battle for a roster spot is harder than expected.
"I would be lying if I said I didn't think about it. I think about it every day," said Cornelius. "That is probably one of the biggest things on your mind. You want to make the team and that is all you are thinking about."
Smith knows the numbers game all too well. He has fallen victim to getting squeezed out twice in his career. What Smith brings to the table is his versatility. In addition to being a sound receiver, Smith doubles as a return threat on special teams.
While special teams are another way to get on the field, Smith knows doing extra work off the field will translate to more time on the field.
"I am in my playbook making sure I learn everything, all four positions, because the more you know the more you can do," said Smith. "That is something they told me around here so I am spending time in the playbook."
While Smith has the added leg up due to his ability to contribute in the return game, he is not alone in using special teams as an extra asset to earn a spot. Donovan Morgan is putting time at many special teams positions hoping his added versatility can earn him a position on the roster.
"I'm a backer on punt return, I'm the gunner on punts and I'm on kickoff return," said Morgan. "I'm going to try and help my status as best I can."
Morgan knows that his play as a wide out will be the ultimate determination in earning a roster spot. While he gets limited reps he is using all of his playing time to make an impression.
"The reps you have might be running plays and you need to make sure that you can block so when the passing plays do come up you can get the opportunity to catch the ball, you just have to go out and make plays," said Morgan.
Morgan has been impressive through camp. The one thing that he brings to the table is his height. As the tallest receiver on the Bills' roster Morgan is a very attractive prospect because he provides a big target that can reel in high passes.
Unlike his fellow competitor Jemalle Cornelius who is a shorter receiver. However, he has shown that he is a valuable possession receiver with good hands. For example, he held on to a pair of passes while being knocked hard to the ground by Coy Wire in a night practice earlier in camp.
Cornelius is not immune to the limited number of reps that the reserve wide receivers have in practice. He knows that the preseason is the best stage to audition for all 32 teams, not just the Bills.
"I didn't realize how important that was until I got here. I thought it was you try out for a team and if you don't make it, you don't make it. Listening to everybody talk, the coaches are evaluating all of the preseason games and all of the snaps," said Cornelius.
As a rookie Cornelius still needs to learn the intricacies of the Bills offense. He noted that his play away from the ball may be the most valuable to making the final roster.
"The hardest thing right now is the run game. For receivers there are so many things you have to understand, not just when you are reading passes but also in the run game," said Cornelius.
While Cornelius has a steep hill to climb as a rookie free agent, as long as he continues to prove he is an effective receiver he will be hard to part with. He also offers the team a practice squad option if they choose to keep only five wideouts.
Looking at the three receivers the Bills can't go wrong with any choice they make. Each offers a different skill set to the Bills organization. Either of the two veterans appear to be the most logical choice due to their prior experience. While Smith doubles as a return threat, the Bills already have many dangerous return men.
Against Atlanta, Morgan led the Bills with 37 yards receiving and was a favorite target of Trent Edwards on the Bills final two minute drive. Throughout camp Morgan has shown that he is a reliable receiver and his height is an additional asset. While the final decision comes down to the coaching staff, Morgan may be the best option for the Bills if they elect to keep six wide receivers.