It's a position that hasn't had an entrenched starter for the Bills in some time. Buffalo's tight end position has been more a position of musical chairs than anything else the last several years. Though they may not be household names, the Bills feel they have some worthy candidates.
The player that is expected to be atop the depth chart at the tight end position going into training camp is Scott Chandler. Picked up late last season off waivers from Dallas, Chandler has prototype size for an in-line tight end at 6'7" and 272 pounds.
"He's a physical kid in terms of his size. He can run. He can be a physical matchup against the people he's running routes against just with his size," said Bills tight ends coach Bob Bicknell. "He catches the ball very naturally. He can move. He was a good blocker."
Chandler only spent the last five weeks of the season with the Bills, but he clearly made enough of an impression to convince the coaching staff that he's a viable competitor for the starting role.
"He's got some things he can work on, but he really did a good job for us as a point of attack type of guy," Bicknell said. "He kind of gives us a little bit of both where he can be a pass receiver and also a run blocker. So you could see that. I think everybody in the league knows that about those type of guys. He's just a good solid football player that we're happy to have."
The veteran of the group is David Martin. Entering his 10th season in the league, Martin proved to be a dependable addition after being signed just a week before the opener last fall. With Shawn Nelson suspended at the beginning of last season, Buffalo had to add someone that could step in right away.
Martin saw most of his time in two tight end sets appearing in 15 games with nine starts. Serving primarily in a blocking role Martin did make seven receptions for 43 yards including a touchdown against the Jets in Week 4.
Knowing the collective youth and inexperience that still exists at the position Martin is expected to be on the roster. Whether he can put together a training camp and preseason convincing enough to earn the starting job remains to be seen.
The potential of Shawn Nelson shortly after he was made a fourth-round pick back in 2009 was beyond obvious. His athleticism at the position was among the best in the draft class that year. Unfortunately injuries, a suspension and bouts with migraines have kept him off the field enough to compromise his progress as an NFL player.
Now entering year three of his career, Nelson fortunately still has the opportunity to compete for the top job.
"It's frustrating as a coach when someone can't be available," said Bicknell. "You just hope that all of that bad luck or bad situations are behind him and he can come in and excel. The kid has a lot of talent. He's got all the tools that you look for."
Nelson's calling card is still his ability to create mismatches in the passing game as he's widely seen as the most athletic player in the tight end group. So the ways in which he might be utilized could differ from that of a traditional tight end role.
There were instances last season where Nelson was part of a few four wide sets as he's more than capable of being split out wide and beating a safety one-on-one. Knowing how frequently Buffalo's offense turned to multiple receiver sets last season it stands to reason that Nelson could be more of a factor for the offense in that capacity than tight on the line next to an offensive tackle.
Either way staying healthy will have to be his top priority.
"The bottom line toughest part of this business is availability," said Bicknell. "That's first and foremost. You need to be available to play."
The youngest member of the position group is a tight end that was signed off Jacksonville's practice squad late last season in Mike Caussin. A college teammate of Arthur Moats at James Madison, the undrafted rookie spent the first 12 weeks of the 2010 season on the Jaguars' practice squad.
After being signed by Buffalo he was on the Bills 53-man roster for the final five weeks of the season, but was inactive for the final five games.
At 6'5" and 252 pounds Caussin has the preferred size and was productive in college with 66 career receptions for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. The final five weeks of the season also provided him with a good working base of knowledge with respect to Buffalo's offensive scheme.
As long as he can hit the ground running in the training camp setting he figures to be in the mix.
So although most anticipate Chandler to be the traditional starting tight end in Chan Gailey's offense there appear to other roles for the entire position group to fill in 2011.