The summer has moved into its final month and just like that the National Football League preseason is here. To start things off the league has decided that the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants will be the first two to take the field for the 2014 season.
The Bills have plenty of questions and get an extra preseason game to help figure out the answers to all those queries. It all begins Sunday night for the league’s annual Hall of Fame Game, putting the Bills on display to a national audience. Just like the past several years, here are five things to watch for in the upcoming contest:
1) How long does EJ play?
- It’s the age old question for the beginning of the NFL preseason. With their first of five games, how long do you subject your starting quarterback to the pressure and live action with the season just a month away? It really all depends on the individual team’s situation. For instance, on the Giants’ side the expectation would probably be that Eli Manning plays no more than a series or two. With EJ Manuel being as young as he is and needing all the experience he can get in a game setting, there could be some temptation to put him in for longer. Despite that line of thinking, this season is a vital one to many people mainly due to the ongoing ownership questions. Wins are needed to make impressions on whoever ends up with the team. That, combined with some moving pieces on the offensive line, could put Manuel in the same realm as Manning despite needing some more snaps.
2) Sammy’s Debut
- The most exciting piece of the offseason for the Buffalo Bills was when they moved up in the draft order to add the electric wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and Sunday night will be the first chance the rest of America gets to see him in action in an NFL setting. He might get a similar amount of time on the field as Manuel, but perhaps the Bills might want to show him off a little bit with a play or two designed just for him. Even without playing a down the buzz surrounding Watkins is already fairly high, and if he’s able to do something special in the first series or two, it could reach a whole different level.
3) Three youngsters on the O-Line
- Besides adding pieces for EJ Manuel to throw the ball to, the Bills second biggest area that they addressed was to bring in offensive linemen. Left guard, right guard and right tackle were all issues at one point or another in the 2013 season and the Bills addressed them accordingly. The team signed veteran guard Chris Williams to start at left guard, they drafted tackle Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round, drafted guard Cyril Richardson in the fifth-round and then doubled up on tackle by selecting Seantrel Henderson in the seventh round. Since the start of training camp, normal starting left tackle Cordy Glenn has been unable to practice due to an undisclosed illness, leaving Henderson in with the first-team at that position. Kouandjio has struggled out of the gate at right tackle and has been designated for the second-team behind Erik Pears, while Richardson has improved and now splits reps with the incumbent right guard Kraig Urbik. The play of the young trio will be among one of the more fascinating things to watch to see just how far they’ve come in 11 days of work.
4) Tuel vs. Lewis
- Just a few days into training camp the Bills made the decision to split second-team series between Jeff Tuel and Thad Lewis, signaling the start of a competition to be Manuel’s direct backup. Through the first two weeks of camp, Lewis has been the far less impressive quarterback of the two and will need to make up some ground during the five preseason games that the Bills have been afforded this year. Tuel hasn’t made a definitive statement with his play that the job is his to lose -- he’s been inconsistent as well -- but he has shown a bit more in limiting his turnovers as opposed to his counterpart. Regardless of how they look at practice, the duo will receive a hearty amount of playing time on Sunday and in the rest of the preseason to weigh who brings the most to the table as the team’s main backup.
5) The battle for sixth wideout
- There hasn’t been much mention of the defense in this piece, but that’s due in large part to a lot of those decisions having been already made. One of the more compelling roster battles, just because of one of the entrants involved, has to be for the final wide receiver spot. The Bills very well could keep seven receivers, but the expectation is that six will be the magic number. The team has four spots already spoken for in the form of Watkins, Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin. With the way that Chris Hogan has played in the first two weeks, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the group for the fifth spot. That leaves a trio of players who have a legitimate shot at cracking the roster: T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley and Kevin Elliott. Graham, the former starter and third round pick, just hasn’t progressed since he’s gotten in the league and hasn’t made enough plays in practice to secure his spot. Easley’s role is as a special teams standout, but can he show enough on the offensive side of the ball to warrant the final roster spot? The wildcard is Elliott, who has the frame (6-foot-3, 205-pounds) and the physicality that the Bills love, but lapses in concentration with catching the ball have left him firmly on the bubble to make the team. All three will get plenty of time on the field Sunday, and one could end up having the leg up as they shift to a shortened next week ahead of preseason game number two.
Bills Injuries as of Saturday:
TE Tony Moeaki (hamstring)
TE Scott Chandler (groin)
WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring)