Sixty minutes of game action. That’s all that separates the Buffalo Bills from their all-out preparations for Week One of the 2017 regular season.
However, in that sixty minutes, there exists an opportunity for players to claim either a starting job or roster spot when final cuts come through.
What are the main battles to keep an eye on? Five different things to keep an eye on as the Bills take on the Detroit Lions at New Era Field:
1. The battle for starting right guard should conclude
- It’s been a battle since the end of offseason workouts for the Buffalo Bills. All throughout mandatory minicamp, training camp, the practices at One Bills Drive, and all three preseason games, the Bills have split the reps at right guard pretty evenly between John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse. Through the first two games, Miller was the starter while Ducasse started in Baltimore.
Head coach Sean McDermott said that the right guard position remains an open competition — but there is only one more game to make a determination as to who the starter will be. By the end of the night, a winner should emerge from the game, and the Bills can then decide what to do with whoever loses the open competition.
2. Joe Banyard vs. Taiwan Jones
- It seems like there is one remaining job up for grabs at running back, with all of LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Williams, Mike Tolbert, Patrick DiMarco having locked up spots. With McCoy, Williams, and Tolbert all positioned to be the ball carriers, this final job will come down to which player is the most proficient on special teams.
It’s going to be Joe Banyard against Taiwan Jones, who each mix in on coverage units for the Bills. Banyard appears to have the leg up on Jones because he’s been trusted to be on all four special teams units. Jones’ early special teams penalties in the preseason might have been just enough to push Banyard ahead, so he’ll need a big night to potentially unseat him. Banyard also showed some ability running the ball against the Baltimore Ravens, and Sean McDermott took notice.
Banyard is by no means a lock, which equates to Jones having 60 minutes to earn a spot.
3. Brandon Reilly vs. Daikiel Shorts vs. Philly Brown
- When you take a look at the wide receiver room, it doesn’t appear that the Bills have a lot of healthy options for their team. Jordan Matthews and Rod Streater are both injured, while Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, and Brandon Tate appear to be how the rest of the room is rounded out for the time being.
If the Bills were to keep six receivers, it all comes down to Brandon Reilly, Daikiel Shorts, and veteran Philly Brown. Reilly made a fantastic catch late against the Ravens and followed it up by getting stripped after a catch and fumbling it away. Shorts has been a consistent performer late in preseason games. Brown’s best claim is that he has the experience in the NFL, though you could argue that both Reilly and Shorts have outplayed him.
For this trio, it could really come down to just who puts forth the best effort on both offense and special teams. Reilly’s catch from last week shows some definitive ability to work with, so despite the fumble, I probably favor him for the time being. Though, this could all be a moot point if, and perhaps even when, the Bills either trade for or claim a wide receiver off of waivers.
4. Bradley Sylve vs. Greg Mabin vs. the field
- The Buffalo Bills, after the trade of Ronald Darby and some injuries to go along with it, brought along some opportunity for some younger players to get some time on the field — and it might just have helped one of them get a spot on the 53-man roster.
If the Bills keep six cornerbacks (with the ‘if’ being the reason ‘the field’ is listed in the title), it comes down to Bradley Sylve against Greg Mabin. Sylve has been cross-trained at both the outside cornerback and nickel cornerback position, which could mean the Bills are interested in his versatility as a potential bottom of the roster type to keep. Mabin, due to some injuries, has even mixed in with first-team duty a time or two this summer. One of these players will need to convince the Bills to keep a sixth cornerback on the team behind Tre’Davious White, Shareece Wright, Leonard Johnson, EJ Gaines, and Kevon Seymour.
5. Shamiel Gary looking to lock up a spot
- Behind starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, the Bills have been hoping for some of the reserve safeties on the team to step up. Despite an injury, it appears Trae Elston has flashed some ability in both games and practices that he may have carved out a spot.
The true question is about Shamiel Gary, and if he can beat out the likes of Joe Powell for one of the main backup spots at safety. To this point Colt Anderson hasn’t been able to stay on the field, so he’s essentially a non-factor in the safety discussion heading into the weekend. They still would likely hope to keep him, but he just hasn’t been able to get through his injury. For Gary, it will be a big chance to lock up a spot following a summer that was wide open for everyone at the position.