Camp Countdown

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

Free agent signee Ty Nsekhe will be among the top candidates battling for a starting spot along the new-look offensive line later this summer.
Free agent signee Ty Nsekhe will be among the top candidates battling for a starting spot along the new-look offensive line later this summer.

Bills training camp is right around the corner and we shift our focus to the key position groups that have some ground to cover this summer in preparation for the regular season.

1. Wide Receiver

Josh Allen has some new weapons this season. The second-year quarterback will get his first chance to utilize a fully healthy group when training camp begins.

John Brown missed some OTAs due to personal reasons, Cole Beasley had core muscle surgery in the spring while Zay Jones and Robert Foster each dealt with nagging issues that kept them on the sidelines during OTAs and minicamp. All four figure to be a full go at St. John Fisher.

All eyes will be on Brown and Beasley because they’re brand new free agent acquisitions, but they also need a ton of reps to build chemistry with Allen in the passing game.

Jones is bigger and stronger than ever entering year three. He led the Bills in receiving yards (652) and touchdowns (7) last season and could be primed for a breakout year.

Foster can focus more on diversifying his routes and re-establishing the timing with Allen this season instead of worrying about his roster spot. Foster can be the key to opening up the offense in 2019.

2. Right Tackle

The starting right tackle position is still up for grabs. Rookie Cody Ford received the majority of first-team reps throughout the offseason with free agent acquisition Ty Nsekhe missing minicamp after suffering an injury near the end of OTAs.

The Bills also have free agent signee LaAdrian Waddle who rotated at each tackle spot but mostly with the second team.

Nsekhe is looking to earn his first full-time starting role in the NFL at age 33 after backing up linemen in Washington the past four seasons, earning 16 career starts.

The Bills traded up to draft Ford in the second-round of the 2019 NFL draft and certainly expect him to bring the same physical style he was known for at Oklahoma.

3. Tight End

It seemed as if Tyler Kroft’s foot injury derailed the Bills’ plans for its tight end position this season. Kroft, whose timetable to return is unknown, was the prized free agent addition to replace Charles Clay.

But the Bills were almost clairvoyant in drafting a pair of tight ends in this year’s draft. Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney each bring something different to the table .

Knox is the uber-athletic pass catcher whose former experience has helped him gain a firm grasp of the offensive scheme, while Sweeney is known as more of a versatile tight end after operating in a pro-style offense at Boston College.

The two rookies have stepped into the top two tight end roles comfortably with teammates at the same position missing time. Kroft is still the presumed starter when healthy but both rookies can make solid impacts early in their careers.

A major contender for the starting role in the absence of Kroft, however is third-year player Jason Croom, who flashed last season and was putting together a strong spring before a hamstring injury sidelined him.

4. Cornerback

Tre’Davious White will be the number one cornerback this season but that seems like the only firm decision made among his position contingent. Levi Wallace is battling to keep his role opposite White on the outside and the battle has heated up at the nickel position with Taron Johnson and Siran Neal.

The Bills boast a youthful group at cornerback with all three current starters (White, Wallace, T. Johnson) entering either their second or third seasons.

Wallace was undrafted and earned his spot with the team midway through 2018 while Johnson powered through a shoulder injury his rookie season. The two are confident they can keep their spots for the upcoming season but have a pair of veterans breathing down their necks for that spot.

Buffalo brought back E.J. Gaines, who played with the team in 2017, and added former first-round pick Kevin Johnson through free agency. Gaines is still familiar with the defense and has chemistry with everyone on the 2017 roster. Johnson was a standout from camp, consistently getting his hands in the passing lanes. Head coach Sean McDermott has emphasized the importance of winning the turnover battle this season, and whoever makes the most plays on the ball could find their way into the starting lineup.

Free agent addition Kevin Johnson will get a chance to compete for a starting cornerback spot at camp this summer.
Free agent addition Kevin Johnson will get a chance to compete for a starting cornerback spot at camp this summer.

5. Guard

The least set position along the offensive line is at guard. Neither guard spot boasts a clear front-runner and the Bills have plenty of options.

Spencer Long, Ike Boettger, Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain, Wyatt Teller and Jeremiah Sirles are the top competitors for the two spots.

Long has the versatility to play either guard spot or center and earned snaps on the first team offense at all three positions. Feliciano has previously worked with offensive line coach Bobby Johnson in Oakland and has the physical and nasty style that coaches like to see.

Spain started 48 out of 50 games at left guard for Tennessee and wants to keep his starting role with the Bills. He’s recovering from a thumb injury but should be cleared for training camp.

Boettger, Teller and Sirles all got playing time for the Bills last season. Buffalo knew it needed to upgrade the offensive line and brought in competition for the young players. Teller probably has the best chance to compete for a starting role.

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