With another week of work in the rearview mirror for the Buffalo Bills, next up is a trip to Philadelphia for the team’s second preseason game of 2017. It will be a reunion of sorts, as they go up against the recently traded Ronald Darby for the first time. It will also be the first time the Bills will have a game since the big trades of both Darby and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
What should we be keeping an eye on? Five things I’ll be watching for on Thursday night:
1) Peterman’s big chance
- Over the last three practices, there has been a fairly substantial shift at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Rather than veteran T.J. Yates taking up the second-team reps — as he had been doing for the majority of training camp — he was supplanted by the rookie and fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman. The two basically had debuts that were on the opposite side of the spectrum for the Bills. Yates was ineffective and inaccurate for much of his time on the field, whereas Peterman provided a spark and some urgency in his first few drives — albeit, against Minnesota’s third-team defense. However, the Bills are now faced with the task of evaluating Peterman over the next three games, and to decide if he warrants being the main backup to Tyrod Taylor throughout the 2017 regular season — which would be a pretty big responsibility given his draft position this past season. If he puts together another solid performance like he had last week, he could even close in on locking down the backup job.
2) More from Zay
- Last week against the Vikings, rookie receiver Zay Jones saw some time on the field with the first-team offense — but not a lot. He wasn’t targeted by Tyrod Taylor at all, and it had some fans asking, “Did Zay Jones play today?” He did, but if you blinked, you could have missed him. There won’t be anyone missing the rookie this week in Philadelphia — because without Jordan Matthews in the lineup, Jones will make his first ever preseason start as an outside receiver for the Bills. Especially with all the uncertainty following the Watkins trade and the subsequent injury to Matthews, Bills fans are likely eager to see their fancy new toy get a catch or two in the preseason. If nothing else, it will provide both a sense of excitement and a temporary release of some anxiety.
3) The brewing battle at cornerback
- Now that Ronald Darby is a thing of the past, the Bills have an immediate opening for a starter at right cornerback, and based on what we’ve seen at practice, it appears two players, in particular, will be getting a shot to fill that role for head coach Sean McDermott. Since returning to practice from an injury, second-year player Kevon Seymour has been mixing in with the first-team at right cornerback, as has veteran player Shareece Wright. Now, both are dealing with an injury, so we’ll have to see if one or both is playing in the preseason game. However, if they do, it will be a great window into the decision making process for the Bills to try and find that second starter. If neither can play, expect to see the relatively unknown Greg Mabin get some time over there, and perhaps even Bradley Sylve or E.J. Gaines will get a shot, too.
4) Can Streater step it up?
- Throughout training camp, one of the better performers at the wide receiver position during practices was veteran player Rod Streater. He has made such an impression that following the trade of Watkins when asked about who the team’s “deep threat” will be now that the receiver had been dealt, general manager Brandon Beane brought up Streater first. However, in his first preseason game, we did not see much from Streater with the second-team offense. He was targeted only one time and failed to make a reception, which was a bit of a disappointment considering his practices at St. John Fisher College. Now, for what it’s worth, he was mostly working with T.J. Yates — who struggled considerably. Now working with Nathan Peterman, if Streater wants to make the 53-man roster he needs to have an impact on these games, and not just fade into the background like he did last week against the Vikings. If he doesn’t show up again, that opens up the door to players like Philly Brown, Dez Lewis, or whoever else to potentially steal his roster spot out from underneath him.
5) Yates battling himself?
- With the news that Yates will be working with the third-team offense exclusively, it has opened up people’s eyes to the possibility of the veteran player being released ahead of the regular season, and for the Bills to only go with two quarterbacks on the active roster. Essentially, Yates is in a battle with himself to show the Bills a reason to keep him onboard — assuming that Peterman continues to trend upward and in the direction of being the team’s main backup quarterback. There is a definitive off-the-field value with Yates — a player that has played in Rick Dennison’s system before. However, if he can’t conquer the physical side — let alone doing it against the third-team defense of opponents, that doesn’t make a very compelling case for the Bills to keep him on and cut someone else from a different position that could be of value to them down the line. They also have to ask themselves if they believe Yates could be available as a free agent during the season, should anything happen to Tyrod Taylor Considering how long he went without being picked up by a team in 2016, it would probably be a safe bet for the Bills. Really, now it’s just a matter of Yates proving that he’s worth a spot on the roster and if he doesn’t, for Peterman to prove he’s ready to be the backup. The second half should be quite interesting on Thursday.