The first stringers may not have played in Thursday night's 17-10 loss to the Detroit Lions, but didn't mean there weren't supreme efforts on display at Ford Field. Linebacker A.J. Tarpley and wide receiver Dezmin Lewis were two of a handful of roster hopefuls who put their level best out on the field in their last chance to make an impression.
"[I'm] really pleased with both those guys," head coach Rex Ryan said after the game.
Tarpley played the majority of the snaps against the Lions because of an injury to linebacker Tony Steward and he took advantage of his opportunity. He led the team with eight tackles, two of which resulted in a loss of yards. More notably, he called the plays throughout the night for the defense.
"It's nothing new for me. Coming up through college, I started for four years and called plays for three," Tarpley said of his time at Stanford. "I want to be the leader and want to be able to line everybody up and call the plays and help everybody out."
The defense as a whole for the Bills was stellar against the Lions with Tarpley as the leader. Of his eight tackles, three were for little or no gain or a loss. One of his most important plays however, came on a 3rd-and-5 play in the fourth quarter. Lions quarterback Kellen Moore completed a pass to wide receiver Zach Zenner at the sticks, but Tarpley stopped Zenner before he could reach the ball forward for a first down.
"Tarpley is a guy who has been playing well for us," Ryan said. "I liked the way Tarpley played."
Depending on how long sixth-round pick and fellow LB Tony Steward is out with his sprained MCL could lead to a roster spot for Tarpley, otherwise he's seems a lock for the practice squad.
Lewis has more of an uphill battle to make the team. The Bills are loaded with talent at receiver, but he certainly made a case for himself on Thursday night. Quarterback Matt Simms targeted Lewis 11 times, connecting on six throws for 81 yards.
"It was very exciting to go out and be able to make plays," Lewis said. "Just go out and have fun, that's the main thing."
Lewis had several key third down catches against Detroit. In the first quarter, Lewis caught a pass on 3rd-and-1 to extend a drive that eventually ended with a field goal. In the third quarter on a 3rd-and-10 play, Lewis caught a ball deep down the middle for 28 yards and a first down. He also had a 19-yard reception during a two-minute drill at the end of the first half that led to a field goal.
"I just saw the ball and attacked it and I was able to bring it down," Lewis said. "Simms had a really good game and he was very productive with his passes. He found a lot of open receivers and we were fortunate enough to make plays."
"It was good to see Dez Lewis step up because he really hadn't done anything," Ryan said. "He had one really good day of practice and that was about it. So I was happy to see him play well."
The Bills have until Saturday at 4 p.m. to cut their 75-man roster down to 53. Ryan has maintained that the best 53 will be kept, and he won't be wholly committed to set numbers at any position.
"We've got a hell of a roster. We've got a good football team and the guys that are going to be on this team are going to earn their way on there," Ryan said. "Whether it's the 53-man roster and the eight guys who are practice squad, I feel pretty good about that."
For players on the bubble like Tarpley and Lewis, there is a lot of pressure to play well in the preseason. Thursday night's game could have been their last as a Bill.
"Some people won't be here and some people probably won't get to play again," Lewis said. "Rex really put it in my head to go out there and be a Bill and be proud of yourself and be confident in yourself and make plays."
"All I could ask for is an opportunity," Tarpley said of his preseason with the Bills. "I felt like I played very hard, I played as hard as I could. I didn't take anything for granted and I'm just excited about what's next."
Photos of all the action from 2015 preseason Week 4: Lions vs. Bills.