The dates on the National Football League calendar when the roster has to be reduced are fast approaching. On Sept. 1 the roster must be trimmed to 75 and just four days later (Sept. 5) 22 more players will need to be waived. It's a difficult time of year for any coaching staff.
For Buffalo's staff those decisions will be particularly difficult at a few positions where there is very good depth. Perhaps most prominent is the receiver position.
"It's going to be tough," said receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. "We all have input. The good thing about my job is I'm going to coach whoever is out there. When it gets down to it, the higher-ups make those types of decisions. All the guys out here right now are my guys, so I coach them all hard and coach them the same and try to get them to be as successful as possible because you never know what's going to happen."
The free agent addition of Terrell Owens knocked most of the receiving corps down a peg on the Bills' depth chart. As a result one can make the argument that there's one less spot on the roster with Owens occupying one of them.
Under Dick Jauron over the past three seasons, the Bills have carried six receivers on their opening day roster twice. The club carried just five in 2007.
The list of qualified candidates at the position however, stretches longer than that.
Lee Evans, Owens, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish are virtual locks to make the roster. James Hardy and Steve Johnson are players considered long term investments by the organization. That's six receivers right there. But where does that leave Justin Jenkins and some of the other qualified candidates?
For the better part of the past two seasons Jenkins has been a monster on special teams serving primarily as a gunner on the punt team, which set a franchise mark for punt return yards allowed in a season in 2008 surrendering just 187.
Helping his cause the most however, are the strides he has made with his offensive game.
"He's improved his route running in this offseason more so than he has in the time he's been here," said Tolbert. "He's a smart guy. He plays all four positions. And he's a tough guy in the run game. A really good special teams player."
Tolbert doesn't deny that special teams prowess will play a factor in final roster decisions.
"When you get past the top three or four guys, then you have to factor in that the other guys have to be a part of special teams and that's a part of it too. The more you can do the better."
Aside from punt returner Roscoe Parrish, Jenkins is the next best special teams performer in the receiving corps.
So will the Bills keep seven receivers?
There is one way it's possible.
Marshawn Lynch will be serving a league suspension for the first three games of the season. The team could put him on the reserve/suspended list thereby affording them an additional roster spot for the first three weeks of the season.
While it sounds like a temporary solution, the roster can change dramatically due to injury in just a couple of games. It would be one way to enable the coaching staff to hold onto all of the receiver talent on the squad that has NFL playing experience.
But there could be a more pressing positional need that demands that three-week roster spot should the coaching staff choose to make use of it in the aforementioned fashion.
That's why Tolbert is realistic about the possibility of legitimate NFL caliber talent at the receiver position being trimmed from Buffalo's roster.
"There are going to be some guys that probably don't make it that can definitely play in this league," he said. "It is what it is. That's the business and you're going to have 53 on a team and 45 on game day and that's the tough part about our business. The good thing about my part is I get to coach the receivers and whoever goes out there I'm going to coach them up and hopefully be successful."