Bills' starters and roster coming into focus

We already have answers to some of our pre-camp questions

Howard Simon
August 13, 2019 - 3:30 pm

Photo: Mark Konezny - USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Buffalo Bills have played just one of their four preseason games and it's just shy of three weeks since they opened training camp, we have some answers and a shorter list of questions about the roster that will open the season September 8.

Here’s what we have learned so far:

While most of the questions were on offense, I will get to that in a moment, there were a couple of starting spots up for grabs on the defensive side of the ball. Those spots are going to defensive tackle Ed Oliver and cornerback Levi Wallace.

Oliver, the Bills' first round pick in this April's NFL Draft, has passed Jordan Phillips on the depth chart. The defensive tackle has been as advertised, showing off his quickness, explosiveness and power, while earning more and more reps with the ones during practices. Oliver showed some of that ability when he got the start for the preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Oliver faced Colts guard Quenton Nelson, who was an All-Pro selection and voted to the Pro Bowl as a rookie last season. That will probably be one of the toughest matchups he ends up having all season.

There wasn’t really a battle for the cornerback spot opposite Tre'Davious White. It was Wallace’s job to lose going into camp, and he hasn’t given anyone an opportunity to take the spot from him. In fact, with Wallace, White and the safety tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, the Bills should have one of the best starting secondaries in the NFL this season.

When it comes to the offense, there are still some decisions to be made.

Lets start up front since there were questions all along the offensive line going into camp.

The Mitch Morse concussion certainly threw a wrench into the plans for the rebuild of the line since Morse is the critical piece in the middle. When healthy, he is obviously the starting center, but the concussion, Morse’s fourth since 2015, means the Bills must have a really solid plan B at that spot.

The good news is the Bills' offseason wave of free agent signings for the line included guys who can play center. Both Jon Feliciano and Spencer Long have played the position before, and either could be pressed into duty until Morse is ready to return.

The left side of the line appears to be set with Dion Dawkins at tackle and Quinton Spain at guard.

As to the right side of the line, we do have one answer. Cody Ford will be a starter. We just don’t know whether it will be at guard or tackle.

The second round draft pick from Oklahoma has been with the ones from the first day of camp and looks very comfortable in his NFL cleats. Ford has been getting time at both tackle and guard, due in part to the injuries on the line and in part to the coaches wanting to find the five best players to start. I think a right side of Ford and Ty Nsehke would be better than a combo of Ford at tackle and either Feliciano or Long at guard.

It will be interesting to see if the coaches use Ford exclusively at one position during this week’s practices with the Carolina Panthers and in Friday night’s game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Bills were hoping to have the five starters in place no later than the third preseason contest but it feels like they’re heading towards Ford/Nsehke.

It looks like there is quite a battle going on for, what could be, the sixth and final wide receiver spot.

We know Cole Beasley and John Brown will make the roster. Despite the drop against the Colts, I think Zay Jones is safe, and I think Robert Foster makes the team too, despite some rumblings he could be on the bubble. Andre Roberts will get one of the spots but not just because he is the primary kick and punt returner. Roberts has gotten a number of reps with the ones when they have gone to a four receiver set. That leaves Ray-Ray McCloud and Isaiah McKenzie in, what appears to be, a neck-and-neck race, assuming the Bills keep six at receiver. 

The biggest problem area at this point is certainly at tight end, but don’t expect any questions to be answered there anytime soon. Injuries have taken their toll at that position more than any other. Tyler Kroft has yet to take the practice field. Second-year tight end Jason Croom just got back this week after missing time with a hamstring injury, and that same problem took rookie Dawson Knox off the field after a promising start to camp.

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