The NFL offseason may seem interminable at times. But once the Bills and 31 other teams hit the field for spring workouts, the clock starts ticking.
Now the process that started with conditioning work 10 weeks ago winds down to the three-day mandatory minicamp that begins Tuesday.
It's the final on-field tune-up before the team heads to Rochester for training camp. Here are seven issues to follow this week as the Bills go through their mandatory minicamp:
1. WATCH THE WIDEOUTS
It's shaping up to be a spirited battle for playing time at number two wide receiver for the Bills. Six-year veteran Andre Holmes has had a solid spring for the Bills. He's been one of the consistent standouts on the field during OTAs, with his smooth route running on display regularly.
Second round draft pick Zay Jones is now back in full participation mode, after missing most of the OTAs with a knee strain. He's looking to challenge for playing time outside, and he thinks being on the sideline for the last several weeks was not a significant setback.
"No, I think it has benefitted me with the system and learning the plays and just studying my mental game more," he said last week after his first practice back. "Just being in the film room more, just being able to process everything from the meeting room and now having it translate onto the field."
Head Coach Sean McDermott indicated he'd like to get a look at Jones and Sammy Watkins on the field together early in training camp.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say I'd live to see them together," McDermott said. But Watkins is only working in individual drills and the Bills are likely to keep him out of team work until training camp in July.
"We've got a plan in place, or we will have a plan in terms of what will take place between now and the time he reports back to training camp," McDermott said about Watkins.
2. MOVING PARTS AT LB**
The Bills added veteran Gerald Hodges to their linebacking corps last month. But where (or if) he winds up on the roster remains a question mark.
We may get a clue this week during the three minicamp practices. Hodges has been busy learning the Bills defensive playbook. He may wind up filling a need in the starting lineup on the weak side, where Ramon Humber, a special teams standout, has been working during the spring.
Or Hodges could wind up inside, along with Reggie Ragland and Preston Brown.
"Right now, Reggie, Gerald and Preston are all working inside," McDermott said after the OTAs. "Gerald is working a little bit outside as well. That'll work itself out."
With Hodges getting reps inside, it's starting to get a little crowded at the 'mike' linebacker position. Brown has been a starter for three years, and Ragland seems to fit inside rather than on the outside.
Ragland just got clearance for full participation in practice last week, so it will be interesting to see how the snaps are allotted at 'mike' this week.
3. DEFENSIVE END DEPTH A CONCERN?
Buffalo's transition to a 4-3 defensive front this year has put a premium on finding quality depth at defensive end. And there are job openings on the edge up front, especially if the Bills plan on rotating linemen to keep them fresh.
Jerry Hughes anchors one defensive end spot in the starting lineup and Shaq Lawson has the other side.
Free agent Ryan Davis will challenge for playing time. Max Valles, who has spent more than a year on the Bills practice squad, will get a look. And then there's undrafted first year player Jake Metz, a former Arena Football League standout in the U.S. and in China.
ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, an Arena League owner, describes Metz as "a beast with a high-speed motor."
"I take pride in my high motor," Metz said last week, in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. "I never give up between the whistles. You never know what can happen. I'm always running to the ball."
If Metz is going to make a bid for a roster spot, this week's minicamp would be a good place to start.
4. WHITE LOOKS ALL RIGHT
The Bills first round draft pick, Tre'Davious White, has been getting regular reps with the first team defense at corner. That's expected to continue this week at minicamp. The Bills have to be pleased with the steady, NFL-ready play they're getting from the LSU product. And there's no doubt they're looking for three more days of improvement from White this week.
5. DAWKINS "READY TO START" BUT WHERE?
Second round draft pick Dion Dawkins has impressed the coaching staff since he arrived on the scene a month ago. And he's been working at left tackle in the starting lineup in the spring workouts.
This week in minicamp, it will be interesting to see if he stays there. Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo says Dawkins has the look of a first-year starter for the Bills.
"He's ready to start. He's got to compete for a job, but he's ready to be a starter," Castillo says.
Incumbent LT Cordy Glenn has been working on the sidelines so far this spring, and the Bills say he's week-to-week with an ankle injury. That's given Dawkins a chance to line up on the left. He may also challenge veteran Jordan Mills on the right side, if not this week, then at training camp in July.
Dawkins position flexibility is a big bonus as far as the Bills are concerned.
"The future lies wherever we need him," Castillo toldThe John Murphy Show. "That's the kind of player he is. I think he can play four positions. Really it amounts to where were going to need him."
6. WHO BACKS UP UNDER CENTER?**
We may get a concrete clue this week as to how the Bills view their quarterback pecking order as they head into training camp.
Tyrod Taylor has had an outstanding spring throwing the ball. But the battle to back him up should be interesting in minicamp this week and especially when the team heads to Rochester for camp next month.
Veteran T.J. Yates has been working with the second team so far this spring. But the Bills will likely want to get evaluation time on this year's fifth-round draft pick Nathan Peterman and last year's fourth-rounder Cardale Jones.
7. IS THERE ANOTHER GEAR FOR TEMPO AND INTENSITY?**
The Bills have practiced hard so far this spring in OTAs. No hitting, obviously, and no pads. But the intensity and focus demanded by new Head Coach Sean McDermott is evident. Players rush from drill to drill with purpose and compete intensely with very little down time and idle chatter.
Can they crank it up another notch or two for this week's three day minicamp? We'll find out.