With training camp over and done with, the Buffalo Bills conducted their three practices of the summer in Orchard Par — and also their last practices before they have to trim down to the regular season 53-man roster.
Over the last three days of speaking with the media, we’ve gotten some roster hints and clues from Bills head coach Rex Ryan — and some that appeared to be on the outside looking in, may, in fact, be just the opposite.
Five takeaways from the head coach after the last three days:
1) Playing the waiting game with the WRs
- To this point, there are three sure things at wide receiver. Three players that will be kept on the 53-man roster no matter what, because of how good they’ve been all summer long. Those three are Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin. But then, Rex Ryan, perhaps gave a bit of a hint as to who’s above the rest for the remainder of the wide receivers.
Q: Rex, the wide receiving group, you talked about the competition. What do you want to see out of (Walt) Powell, (Greg) Little and (Dez) Lewis leading up to Thursday?
A: And (Jarrett) Boykin. Yeah, I mean still waiting for somebody to pop out. So right now, it looks like Walt Powell’s doing a nice job but then there’s times when you see Little doing a good job, Boykin doing a good job, Lewis doing a good job. They’ve all had their moments but we’ll see. If somebody can distance themselves, then that should bode well for them.
Notice the player that is absent among those four names, even after Rex Ryan added to the list? Greg Salas, that’s who. Salas has been working a lot with the first-team offense throughout both the offseason and during training camp, and with a solid special teams presence, it seems like the Bills are looking at Salas as their firm No. 4 wide receiver on the depth chart. With the rest of the players, the Bills may end up only keeping one of Walt Powell, Greg Little, Dez Lewis, and Jarrett Boykin. The leader in the clubhouse, after the head coach admitted to the media Monday about calling a timeout just to get him on the field late in the game against Washington, is Powell. He has been the most consistent of those names listed, and provides the most on special teams, too.
2) Rex loves him some Brandon Spikes
- Remember this quote, just in case starting middle linebacker Preston Brown starts to struggle as he did in 2015, because head coach Rex Ryan’s love for the recently signed inside linebacker Brandon Spikes has grown significantly since the veteran player walked in the door.
“I see him getting better and better and I think that’s just, he’s playing more. He actually looks quicker, but yeah, he’s definitely taking to the defense. I love the temperament he has, I think that’s a real positive. I think all the guys in the locker room, they look up to him, whether leadership or whatever—they all respect him. And I think that’s a real positive for us as well.”
Considering the fact that the Bills have asked Brown to be more of a vocal presence, and more of a leader for the defense in 2016, they have already seen those things from Spikes in just a few short weeks. I’m certainly not implying that the change will be immediate, but if Spikes is as impressive as they say he is — and the type of personality that Rex Ryan wants out of his linebackers, just stow away this quote just in case anything starts to go awry with the third-year linebacker.
3) Don’t count O’Leary out just yet
- After the team’s third preseason game, it appeared as though Nick O’Leary had fumbled away his chances of making the roster in 2016. He hasn’t been an overwhelming target in the passing game, so big mistakes like that one usually loom large. The Bills tight end situation, though, is not a usual thing. Chris Gragg, the team’s No. 2 tight end behind Charles Clay, suffered a torn ACL and his season is now over as a result. With his exit, that means there is a roster spot to be had for another potential tight end, and Rex Ryan might have tipped his hand as to where O’Leary currently stands. The second-year player had the fumble, but when asked about the tight end position, the Bills head coach minimized the mistake, and instead began to talk up both O’Leary’s receiving skills, and his developing blocking ability. O’Leary is likely their best option after Blake Annen has fallen off since the spring, but he appears to be in good standing for now. My best guess is that if they can’t find anyone in free agency or on the waiver wire, O’Leary would likely stick as the team’s third tight end behind Clay and Jim Dray.
4) Bills keeping 6 safeties? Don't rule it out
- The Buffalo Bills are in an interesting position with their safeties. Rex Ryan has raved about all six players, and specifically about the four non-starters that are trying to secure a spot on the team (Duke Williams, Robert Blanton, Jonathan Meeks, and Colt Anderson), but the trouble is, keeping six safeties is a bit unheard of by NFL standards. The head coach said that he had never been part of a team that kept six safeties on the active roster heading into a regular season, but said he’s done five before. But after that, Rex Ryan continued to vouch for all four of those players, saying that they are all significant players on special teams, and that has to be considered in any roster decisions.
#Bills HC Rex Ryan: Keeping 6 safeties is a possibility. It'd be crazy. But it's still a possibility.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) August 30, 2016
Although Rex said that “it would be crazy,” to keep that many players at the position, the fact that he believes that it remains a possibility means the Bills are genuinely considering doing what is mostly considered to be the unthinkable. But, to their credit, offenses around the NFL are putting smaller players on the field, which perhaps necessitates a shift in roster building philosophy on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, the Bills really do love all six of their safeties.
5) Striker's last stand in Buffalo?
- It could be the beginning of the end for the undrafted rush linebacker out of Oklahoma. Striker, who shockingly appeared with the first-team during one practice of the team’s first week of training camp, seemed to be in good standing to potentially push for a roster spot. After that one practice, though, Striker has fallen all the way down the depth chart, mostly working with the scout team in the final practices of training camp. Making matters worse for him, the Bills only put him on the field against Washington for three defensive plays — and in a game that they essentially treated as one for their backups, it’s not an ideal scenario for Striker to make the roster. Rex Ryan spoke about Striker’s heart, and how much he wanted it… but he also brought up his genetic limitations — his speed and size — and the fact that it’s a tough situation because there are a lot of good players ahead of Striker. Given how little Striker played in Washington, and Rex Ryan’s assessment of Striker this week, it wouldn’t shock me in the least bit if Striker were to be one of the first cuts ahead of Thursday’s preseason game in Detroit.