As training camp closed up for the Buffalo Bills earlier in the week, that only means the Bills are that much closer to the start of the 2016 regular season. Before that all happens, though, they have two more preseason games to go — and both are on the road.
Their first stop: a date in Landover, Maryland to take on Washington in the game that is widely known as the ‘dress rehearsal’ of the preseason. It’s primarily the game in which the starters see the most amount of time on the field.
What storylines should you be tracking during Friday night’s game -- which you can see only on 7ABC in Buffalo -- as they begin to think about narrowing down the roster? Five things to watch in the upcoming contest:
1) Watkins’ debut
- Last week Rex Ryan hinted that the team’s star wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, would be eligible to play against the New York Giants, and would get a possible series. Everything looked to be trending in that direction even during the game day warmups, with Watkins in his full gear on the field. However, when the team was introduced, Watkins walked out in street clothes and spent the entire game as a bystander on the sidelines. By every indication in the week leading up to the Washington game, the Bills will have Watkins on the field and playing for them for the first time in 2016. Just like if he were to debut last week, the Bills shouldn’t try to overuse him in the upcoming game and put him at risk to suffer an injury. A series or two, combined with a target that leads him towards the sidelines would be a great way to get him back in the flow of a game without putting him in a position that would hurt the team for the early stages of the 2016 season. They’ve suffered enough bad news as it is, they don’t need to add to it themselves — considering that he is one of the most talented players on the roster.
2) The return of Seantrel Henderson?
- Perhaps a bit earlier than expected, the Bills welcomed former starting right tackle Seantrel Henderson back to the practice field this week. Henderson, who started 26 games for the Bills over the last two seasons, had a serious battle with Crohn’s disease that left some to ponder if he’d be able to play again. Now Henderson is back on the field, and it immediately led to the question about his potential availability and playing level for the 2016 season. Jordan Mills has not performed well through the summer, and he’s likely the weakest link on the offensive side of the ball — and Henderson just so happens to play that exact position. As for Friday, might Henderson be able to play? Rex Ryan said they would like him to, but they don’t want to push the issue if he isn’t ready to play in a game at this point in time. Eventually, though, they’ll need to know if Henderson can play at a high level this year because an impending roster decision is coming following next week’s final preseason game.
3) Extra DL position available
- The suspension to Marcell Dareus caught many off guard, but with a stark decision from the NFL about that, it also opened up a door to a humongous opportunity that didn’t previously exist. The Bills are likely to keep six defensive lineman for their initial 53-man roster, and now that Dareus won’t count against that for the first four weeks of the season, a brand new spot is available. At this point, the players that are incredibly likely to make the roster at defensive lineman are Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington, Corbin Bryant, Jerel Worthy, and Leger Douzable. There are only five names there, which gives an opportunity to a few players for one spot. Justin Zimmer, Levar Edwards, Brandon Deaderick, Casey Walker, and Alameda Ta’amu all will be vying for that sixth defensive line spot to start the season. The two players it will likely come down to is Zimmer (No. 63) and Edwards (No. 93), the two that have flashed the most ability through the summer. Zimmer is a bit undersized but continues to make plays, but Edwards is the prototypical size to play on the line, and earned the praises of Rex Ryan following the end of camp.
4) Velasco vs. Groy battle brewing?
- The return of Seantrel Henderson is here, and he’s already proven to be a commodity on the field in his first two seasons. If he’s able to show enough over the last two weeks, that means one of Fernando Velasco or Ryan Groy could be on the way off the roster — a switch from what we thought would happen with Henderson’s status relatively unclear, even as recent as a week ago. Velasco and Groy have both been auditioning to be the top reserve offensive lineman on the interior, and along with that, both have been getting some reps at center as well. To this point, if the Bills had to choose now, Groy would be the player likely kept because he was the one to fill in for Richie Incognito over the past two weeks of practice. However, Groy has struggled in the preseason, which leaves some room for Velasco if he can string together a solid performance or two — starting on Friday night against Washington.
5) Backup safeties fighting for position
- Over the past two weeks, the Bills have been without starting safety Aaron Williams due to a concussion, which has led to a huge opportunity for one of the backup safeties to really set himself apart. That opportunity was grabbed by Duke Williams, and he has seemingly locked himself in as the No. 3 safety on defense. Past him, though, will be a fight for either one or two spots between three separate players. Robert Blanton, Colt Anderson, and Jonathan Meeks all still have more to do to secure a roster spot. For Anderson, he’s the likeliest of the three to get kept, just for his special teams prowess alone. As for Blanton and Meeks, the former has really fallen down the depth chart over the last two weeks, while the latter hasn’t been able to take advantage of some of the opportunities — to work with the first-team, that he was given earlier in camp. For those two players especially, both this game and the Detroit game is vital to them making the roster.
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