CAPACCIO: Five position battles to watch in preseason opener

Other than quarterback, there are plenty of spots up for grabs

Sal Capaccio
August 08, 2018 - 3:07 pm

Photo: Mark Konezny - USA TODAY Sports

It’s been 214 days since the Buffalo Bills last took the football field against an actual NFL opponent in any capacity. Since that AFC Wild Card game in Jacksonville, the team has traded its starting quarterback and starting left tackle, moved up in the first round of the draft to select a quarterback No. 7 overall, saw its starting center retire, starting left guard retire then unretire and get released, and have major overhauls at the bottom of the roster.

All of that has made for some interesting position battles to watch throughout this training camp, both for starting spots and roster depth.

Obviously, quarterback is the No. 1 storyline this entire camp and all eyes will be watching the performances of A.J. McCarran, Nathan Peterman, and Josh Allen, in whatever order they play. But here are five other intriguing and important areas I’ll be looking for on Thursday night when the team takes on the Carolina Panthers at 7 p.m. in Orchard Park:

1.) Wide receiver after Kelvin Benjamin and Jeremy Kerley

This is probably the most wide-open battle of any other spot given there are several spots up for grabs and a lot of players still in the mix for all of them. Zay Jones won’t play in this game and it’s doubtful newly acquired wide receiver Corey Coleman will, either. So that opens up more opportunities for guys like Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, Brandon Reilly, Malachi Dupre, Robert Foster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Austin Proehl. Cam Phillips was having a very strong camp and should be included here, but he’s missed the last three practices with a groin injury and also won’t play. That’s unfortunate for him, of course, but from the other group, anyone of them could step right into the third receiver roll or not even be on the team, that’s how wide-ranging this is. What will separate them may be their abilities to play special teams and knowing both the outside and slot receiver spots.

2.) Third running back

We know LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory are No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart and that’s not changing. After that, Travaris Cadet seems to have a leg up on Marcus Murphy and Keith Ford. However, Ford has been turning heads the last week or so at camp and runs very hard. Murphy can be a home run threat. Taiwan Jones is also in this mix, but I expect him to be mostly a special teams contributor.

3.) Second tight end

Charles Clay is the entrenched starter, but after that there is a whole lot of interesting. Nick O’Leary and Logan Thomas are the veterans who can be used in the passing game. Khari Lee is mostly a blocking tight end, but most teams like to carry one of those. The big push right now is coming from Jason Croom, a converted wide receiver in college who spent the second half of last season on the team’s practice squad. He’s had a very good camp and might very well push one of the others off the roster and make the team.

4.) Fourth safety

The Bills have one of the best starting tandems in the league in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Rafael Bush is looking pretty solid as the No. 3 guy to join them. But after that, there is a very interesting battle taking shape. Dean Marlowe, Kelcie McCray, Siran Neal, and L.J. McCray are all in the mix. Marlowe and Kelcie McCray have been getting most of the work with the second team defense over the others, but special teams will once again play a factor in who makes the squad. There’s plenty of time and not a lot of separation to declare where any of these safeties fall in line yet.

5.) Starting center

Just like quarterback, Russel Bodine and Ryan Groy have rotated as starters every single day of practice. I don’t know if this battle will be settled earlier or later, but it will be important to finally firm that spot up since it’s so important to the offensive line chemistry and making all the calls that go with it.

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