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CAMP COUNTDOWN

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Camp Countdown: No. 12 - 5 positions to watch at camp

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Prior to the start of training camp, anticipation always builds towards a select group of positions. This is no different for the Bills, as they have many position battles that will be decided in July and August.

Here are five positions to watch at training camp this year.

1. Wide Receiver

Kelvin Benjamin is finally healthy, and he will most likely be the number one option for whoever starts at quarterback.

In 2017, Benjamin battled through injuries to produce at as high a level he was able, but his condition did not allow for him to play to the best of his abilities.

“My ACL leg was still bothering me,” said Benjamin. “Then I had two lateral meniscus problems in my right leg.

“I just wanted to keep pushing for the team.”

Zay Jones will look to overcome uncharacteristic issues with drops in year two of his young NFL career; and he could solidify himself as a solid number two option. But he will be playing catch up after missing the entire spring due to knee surgery.

Rod Streater and Brandon Reilly will both look to have a bigger impact on the 2018 squad, than they did in 2017.

Streater was well on his way to making the team before an injury ended his chances.

Reilly was promoted from the practice squad and placed on the active roster for five games, but he never saw live action in those appearances.

Andre Holmes will look to establish himself as a quality red zone target in the second year of a three-year deal he signed with the Bills last season. He may also contribute on special teams.

Former New York Jet Jeremy Kerley will likely be the number one choice at slot receiver, as young options such as Austin Proehl and Ray-Ray McCloud push him for playing time.

Kaelin Clay will be listed at wide receiver, but he will likely spend most of his time on special teams.

Undrafted free agent Robert Foster out of Alabama, could be the biggest surprise candidate of 2018.

His raw athletic ability allows for him to show flashes of greatness. However, inconsistency with route running and attention to detail have prevented him from taking the next step.

Quan Bray, Malachi Dupri, and Cam Phillips round out the group as guys who will look to secure a roster spot by any means necessary.

2. Center

Although the center position does not come with the glitz and glamour that other positions might; it is vitally important to a team’s success.

With the retirement of longtime starter Eric Wood, the Bills are looking at a few different options at center in 2018.

Ryan Groy is the frontrunner to start in 2018, having taken the majority of first team reps in OTA’s and mandatory minicamp.

Groy’s versatility makes him a candidate to fill the void left at guard by Richie Incognito’s departure; but he and the Bills’ coaching staff see him as a near-perfect fit at center.

“I like it, but the other part of that is once you know center, you know the other positions and other assignments,” said Groy. “If I’ve got to move to guard, I’ll be able to fill the spot easily because I know the call for him because I’m the center.”

The Bills showed their faith in Groy by matching an offer sheet that Groy signed with the Los Angeles Rams in March of 2017.

Groy’s main competition for the center position will be fifth-year pro, Russell Bodine.

Bodine spent the last four years of his career in Cincinnati, protecting the likes of Andy Dalton and now Buffalo Bill, A.J. McCarron.

In his first four seasons, Bodine has started every single game; making him a viable option to do the same in Buffalo.

He signed a two-year deal with the Bills on March 20th, 2018.

Rounding out the center competition is Harvard product, Adam Redmond.

Redmond is a longshot to win the starting job, but he could carve out a backup role if Groy does move to guard.

3. Defensive End

Defensive end is a position group that the Bills believe will have an improved season in 2018.

Jerry Hughes is looking to return to his 2014 season form, and he has his sights set on something much bigger than that.

“For us it’s always been about hoisting that Super Bowl trophy,” he said. “When we come into this building, everybody understands that it is about winning the day.”

After missing the 2017 season due to injury, free agent acquisition Trent Murphy is hoping that he can play a large role on the Bills’ defense; and perhaps repeat his 2016 season in which he tallied nine sacks for Washington.

“We have a special group and a special room,” said Murphy. “They are [the front office] building a strong foundation that I think everybody wants to be a part of.”

Rotating in for Hughes and Murphy will likely be a slimmer Shaq Lawson, and 2017 training camp surprise, Eddie Yarbrough. Yarbrough had just one sack in 2017, but his performance on tape showed that he is capable of much more.

Filling in and conceivably contributing to special teams will be longtime former Miami Dolphin, Terrence Fede; and a wild card in former New York Giant, Owa Odighizuwa.

There are a couple of guys looking to surprise like Yarbrough did in 2017.

Former TCU standout Mat Boesen could open some eyes at camp, as he racked up 11.5 sacks in 2017 with the Horned Frogs.

Rounding out this year’s group of defensive ends will be USF product, Mike Love.

4. Quarterback

Quarterback is where most of the question marks lay with the Bills roster. Almost every other position will be affected by who starts in Week 1.

The veteran of the group is A.J. McCarron.

McCarron was Andy Dalton’s backup from 2014 to 2017, starting in just three regular season games and one playoff game in that time.

Although his experience at the NFL level is limited, McCarron’s confidence is through the roof; and he believes that to be a big reason for his successes.

“I trust in myself, and I have self-confidence,” he said. “I think that’s what makes people successful.”

Vying for the starting job will also be Bills first-round pick, Josh Allen.

Allen has all of the necessary physical traits to succeed at the NFL level; but a greater understanding of the NFL environment may help to propel him to stardom.

As much as Bills fans want to see the young gunslinger, Allen’s development may benefit most by him sitting and observing for at least a few weeks.

However, one thing is certain; Allen will inevitably get his shot as the starting quarterback. The only question is, when?

A dark horse in the quarterback race is the much-maligned Nathan Peterman. Peterman has placed the Los Angeles game in 2017 in his rearview mirror, regardless of whether or not fans and critics have done the same.

“I think the biggest thing is that I’ve always been a competitor,” said Peterman. “Even last year, no matter what your role technically is, you are always competing to be the starter.”

Peterman put together a solid performance in Week 14 of last season in blizzard-like conditions, before sustaining a concussion.

No matter who takes the reins as the Bills starter in 2018, Bills fans can be sure that all three quarterbacks will push each other to optimal performance levels.

5. Right Tackle

Jordan Mills is a virtual lock to start in 2018 at right tackle, but he could be challenged further at camp.

Mills took the majority of first-team reps at OTA’s and he will likely begin training camp in the number one slot.

He has started every game for the Bills for the last two seasons, and he is entering a contract year; making this year even more important to the sixth-year pro.

Marshall Newhouse signed a one-year deal with the Bills this off-season after spending parts of seven years with the Packers, Bengals, Giants, and Raiders.

Newhouse could challenge Mills in camp, but he has failed to do so to this point.

Competing for depth at the position will be former Patriots draft pick Conor McDermott, and undrafted free agents Gerhard de Beer and Ike Boettger.

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