Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We’ll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 30 and the Sept. 13 opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium against Indianapolis.
Heading into training camp, the Bills have plenty of positions to keep an eye on. Players will be looking to impress head coach Rex Ryan and company during their time at St. John Fisher College. Here’s a look at five positions to pay attention to in August.
The Bills currently have 13 receivers on roster, the most of any position. With the addition of Percy Harvin, the Bills have one of the best top three receiver groups in the league. Sammy Watkins will be the star of the corps, having led the team in receiving touchdowns last season with six.
Harvin and Robert Woods should both get a significant number of targets throughout the season as well. Behind them, look for Chris Hogan to make an impact in his third season as a Bill. Hogan is a versatile athlete, playing lacrosse at Penn State before going to Monmouth University to play football. Watkins says he’s excited to have this much talent around him.
“You have so many fast guys and so many playmakers on the field at the same time,” he said, adding that the group has great chemistry. “We’re all cool. We joke around and have fun and at training camp we’ll show it all.”
Heading into camp, Aaron Williams (despite sitting out spring practices) is a virtual lock at the free safety position. At strong safety, however, the job is anyone’s to grab.
The three main players to watch are Corey Graham, Bacarri Rambo and Duke Williams. Graham is the veteran among the group, but relatively new to the position. He entered the league in 2007 as a cornerback for the Chicago Bears in the fifth round that year.
Rambo and Williams should not be overlooked, however. Both players are entering their third NFL seasons and they started at both safety positions during minicamp.
According to new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, the starting strong safety position will be earned through intense competition.
“We have a very talented secondary and at this point you don’t want to hand anybody anything,” he said. “You want them to earn it. They’ll be tremendous competition.”
The Bills are fortunate to have Cordy Glenn back as the starting left tackle. Glenn has started in 45 of 48 games since he was drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. On the other side of the line, there are some question marks.
Second-year offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio got the start at right tackle during minicamp, but that does not mean that he will be starting Week One. Kouandjio played in just one game last season while fellow second-year guard Seantrel Henderson started all 16 games. Kouandjio, however, performed admirably in the spring and has the edge heading into camp.
“I know that there are things I need to work on like everybody else,” he explained, noting that the competition will continue well into camp. “When we put on the pads that’s the real test.”
With the addition of LeSean McCoy and the departure of C.J. Spiller, the Buffalo backfield has a brand new look. Although McCoy will be the number one back, the Bills are loaded with talent behind the three-time Pro Bowler.
“Everyone in the backfield can play so I look to forward to having that type of competition,” McCoy said. “I think competition is always good.”
You can’t have a conversation about the Bills running backs without mentioning on Fred Jackson. Jackson is coming off of a down season compared to his stellar 2013 campaign. That season, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry and had 10 total touchdowns.
Competing with Jackson in the backfield is Anthony “Boobie” Dixon. Dixon got 105 carries in his first season as a Bill, more than his previous three seasons as a San Francisco 49er combined. Dixon is a powerful runner whose style compliments Jackson’s well. Look for both backs to get a significant number of touches during training camp.
With Scott Chandler gone, the Bills have a new look at tight end as well. Veteran Charles Clay will lead the young group. Clay has 14 career touchdowns in four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, averaging 11.2 yards per reception during that time.
Behind him, Chris Gragg, Marqueis Gray and rookies Nick O’Leary and Clay Burton will all be battling to land roster spots. Whoever makes the roster could see playing time this season. The unit spent plenty of time on the field during minicamp, much more than in previous years. The competition for the second slot on the depth chart could go well beyond training camp.