Bills fans will be eager to see the improvements the team has made entering year two under Chan Gailey as Buffalo faces the Bears in the preseason opener. But in this unusual offseason there are also players that are still relatively unknown to fans that warrant a closer individual look. Here's a short list of who to keep an eye on as the Bills take on the Bears.
1 - DE Alex Carrington -Last year's third-round pick is a forgotten man with this year's top pick Marcell Dareus getting all the attention. Carrington has added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame, but still has all his athleticism. So much so that the defensive staff has him spending time with the linebackers to help him progress in a hybrid pass rushing role. He's looked powerful and agile looks ready to contribute a lot more this season.
2 – TE Scott Chandler –Chandler could not begin practicing until Aug. 4th having re-signed as a restricted free agent, but he has stepped right in and produced. In fact he's shown a knack for getting behind defenders for bigger plays in the passing game than anticipated. The starting job at tight end is there for the taking. Can he carry the success he's had in camp into the preseason opener?
3 – WR Marcus Easley –The former fourth-round pick (2010) is finally going to get his first taste of NFL action after missing all of last year including the preseason with a knee injury. At 6'2" and 225 pounds and 4.39 speed, Easley is oozing with potential, but a hyper-extended knee kept him out of camp practices until this past Wednesday. Gailey says he'll get his share of reps tonight. With Lee Evans gone, Easley's development has to be tangible. There have to be positive signs soon.
4 – LB Shawne Merriman –Merriman is a household name, but whether his game is again as recognizable as it once was is the 64-million dollar question. His play in camp practices has been very encouraging, but tonight's preseason opener will serve as the first real measuring stick in determining whether Buffalo's pass rush will be dramatically improved knowing Merriman is the lynch pin.
5 – G Kraig Urbik –The waiver pickup from the Steelers last September was a player the Bills saw with future potential. That future is now as he's been lined up as the team's starting right guard with the first unit. How he fares in both the run and pass game will go a long way in putting coaching minds at ease with the right side of Buffalo's offensive line.