One of the more anticipated Bills seasons will officially get underway Thursday night as Buffalo plays host to the Washington Redskins at Ralph Wilson Stadium for a 7 pm kickoff.
"I want to see if communication is good, if effort and tackling are good," said head coach Chan Gailey. "Those are the things you're looking at, the fundamentals much more than you are the scheme and how many plays are made or not made. You want to make them, but you want to see the fundamentals take place in the ball game this week on both sides of the ball and the kicking game."
This is the 14th preseason meeting between the two clubs with the Bills holding a 5-8 record against the Redskins in exhibition play. Buffalo has a 3-3 mark at home against Washington all-time in the preseason.
Playing timeThe starters will see a fair amount of time in Thursday night's game, but Gailey said it won't be more than a few series for offense and defense.
"Somewhere around 15-18 plays," said Gailey. "That's the plan going in. If they're in the middle of a drive we might keep our ones out there. If we're in the middle of a drive we might keep our ones out there. If it's 13 (plays) and they've played well we might get them out if it's the end of a series. Somewhere around that 15, 18 (range) though."
Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has a couple of items at the top of the agenda for the opening preseason game with respect to offensive execution.
"I think the running game is always something in preseason in general because it's hard to gauge that stuff out here at practice," he said. "Rarely are we live and our backs are so good at breaking tackles and our linemen can't cut block. So there is a lot of stuff in that run game that you don't get to see on the practice field that you hope comes to fruition in the preseason games.
"The other thing is just some of the younger guys, getting them out there and seeing how they react to playing under the lights and all that. It's always interesting the first game."
Mario debutThursday night will mark the debut of DE Mario Williams in a Bills uniform. The linchpin of Buffalo's free agent acquisitions this past offseason, Williams is expected to be the shot in the arm needed for the Bills pass rush.
"Preseason is one of those things where you go out there and you finally get real hits," said Williams. "They do not count as far as going toward the record or stats and things like that. But you get your all moving around, basically. It is kind of like going out there and driving a car and breaking it in. That is kind of what we want to do is to go out there and move around against other people, see what is going on and see how we play off one another."
Williams wants to get accustomed in a game-like setting to his new linemates up front in Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson.
Rookies readyExpected to be in the starting lineup are Buffalo's top two picks Stephon Gilmore and Cordy Glenn. Gilmore has been starting at right cornerback since camp opened and has been very consistent in that role.
"Yeah it's my NFL debut, but it's still football," Gilmore told Buffalobills.com. "I'll just go out there and play my hardest. I think to me the speed will go up faster, but as long as I play my technique I'll be good. And as long as I slow the game down in my head and play the best that I can I'll be alright."
Buffalo's head coach isn't worried about Gilmore handling his first NFL contest, some others on his roster he wonders about.
"I don't think with Stephon it'll fluster him a lick being out there the first game," said Gailey. "Some of the others might be a little wide-eyed, but he's lined up and played in big games in front of big crowds and I don't think it'll bother him a lick. It's going to go up another level when all this live stuff starts Thursday night and some of these young guys have no clue to be honest with you."
Cordy Glenn is expected to start at left tackle, due in part to the fact that starting right tackle Erik Pears is not expected to play as he recovers from a strained groin. That means Chris Hairston, who has been part of the left tackle competition, will likely line up at right tackle in Pears' absence, though Sam Young is an option as well.
"Yeah I've thought about it," Glenn told Buffalobills.com. "It's going to be a great moment just being able to play in the NFL, play in an actual game, an exhibition. So I'm looking forward to it."
Third-round pick T.J. Graham may also see time with the first team offense and is glad the games have finally arrived.
"I'm kind of tired of practicing so much and I'm ready to get out there into a game atmosphere and kind of let loose," Graham told Buffalobills.com. "I'm really excited to play my first NFL game. I'll probably be more nervous just trying to remember the plays and do the right thing so I don't make mistakes, but it's going to be very beneficial. Practices are good, but the games are where we are going to get our most experience."
Bills lineup notesIn the competition at strong side linebacker it looks like Arthur Moats has the edge right now over veteran Kirk Morrison and will start there Thursday night. Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt said Moats and Morrison will get equal reps in the game.
As mentioned above, with Erik Pears not expected to dress at right tackle, Chris Hairston or Sam Young will get the nod at right tackle.
Eric Wood and David Nelson are also not expected to play Thursday night. Kraig Urbik will start at center in place of Wood with Chad Rinehart replacing him at right guard, while Donald Jones will likely shift inside to the slot to replace Nelson, with Derek Hagan replacing Jones outside.
Terrence McGee, Justin Rogers and Torell Troup are also not expected to dress for the game.
The opponentThe Redskins will have a headliner on the field in Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, who will start under center for Washington. Head coach Mike Shanahan said that the rookie quarterback will get 12-20 snaps in Thursday night's game.
"That guy is going to make his plays just because he's a great athlete and a great player," said Gailey.
Washington is trying to find out a pecking order at running back where they currently have a three-headed monster with veteran Tim Hightower, Roy Helu Jr. and second-year man Evan Royster. Hightower is coming off an ACL injury last season and is not a lock to play Thursday night.
The Redskins offensive line is a bit nicked up right now. LG Kory Lchtensteinger is not expected to play due to a knee injury and RT Jammal Brown is still on Active/PUP.
Tyler Polumbus will have the daunting task of going against Mario Williams at right tackle while Maurice Hurt will step in for Lichtensteiger.
Still another question mark to play Thursday night is starting RG Chris Chester (ankle). If he can't play Adam Gettis steps in at right guard for him, meaning there could be up to three backups on the starting offensive line, which is not the best situation for a rookie quarterback.