Can Donald Jones win the No. 2 WR spot?
The Buffalo Bills are about to kick off OTAs, which means several exciting storylines will begin to unfold.
How will the rookies fare alongside the veterans? Will newly signed pass-rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson impress? How about quarterback Vince Young in a Bills uniform?
There’s obviously an abundance of excitement and optimism around this time. The Bills have made great strides and there are big expectations for the 2012 season.
But with a new year comes new players, and with new players comes new competition.
Here are five of the biggest position battles to watch out for in the Bills' OTAs.
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Derek Hagan is a sleeper in a deep WR group.
The primary battle at wide receiver is for the No. 2 spot opposite Steve Johnson.
Currently, the front-runner is Donald Jones, who manned the role last year before going down with an injury. In eight games, Jones recorded 23 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown. However, five of those catches and 101 of those yards came in one game, Week 3 against New England, so the job is certainly not going to be handed to him.
Marcus Easley is also a candidate for the second starting job. The Bills and their fans are anxious to see Easley, who is returning from a serious heart condition from which he has been fully cleared.
At 6'2" and 217 pounds with good speed, Easley has a lot of potential. But much like Jones, he needs to start producing and showing consistency to earn playing time.
The Bills will be sure to give rookie T.J. Graham every opportunity to show what he can do, as well. Though he’s unlikely to win the No. 2 job at this point, he clearly has the deep speed the Bills are looking for. A strong camp could shake things up.
But that’s not the only battle at wide receiver. Because the position is so deep, several players are going to be clawing just to earn a roster spot.
David Nelson is a lock, but after him and the other aforementioned players, the Bills will have some tough decisions to make. The other wideouts on the roster include Kamar Aiken, David Clowney, Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin and Naaman Roosevelt.
Don’t forget that with the addition of Vince Young, the Bills will likely need to list Brad Smith as a receiver on game day.
Buffalo will have some tough decisions to make here for the final 53.
Rookie Ron Brooks has a big opportunity to shine.
Bills lead journalist Chris Brown reported on BuffaloBills.com that second-year corner Aaron Williams is projected to be the team’s starting left cornerback. That leaves veteran Terrence McGee and this year’s 10th overall pick, Stephon Gilmore, to battle for the starting right cornerback job.
Ordinarily, McGee would figure to be the favorite in this scenario. However, after multiple injury-plagued seasons and restructuring his contract to stick with the team, it appears he is the underdog. The Buffalo News reported early in May that McGee isn’t quite fully healthy yet, and BuffaloBills.com notes that the veteran hopes to be 100 percent by the start of training camp.
Meanwhile, the Bills spent a Top-10 pick on Gilmore, a big, long, fast corner with a very bright future. Via Rotoworld.com, ESPN’s John Clayton declared on SportsCenter that Gilmore “was one of the most impressive rookies at rookie camps around the league.” So things are looking good for the youngster.
As a result of this newfound youth and depth at the position, there will be a trickle-down effect at the other spots. McGee leads competition for the slot role, while fourth-round rookie Ron Brooks will battle for time with veteran Leodis McKelvin and last year’s seventh-rounder, Justin Rogers.
Brooks is hoping to make a good first impression. With McGee still ailing and McKelvin running out of time, he has a chance to open some eyes.
Also, undrafted rookie Cris Hill out of Virginia Tech could be a sleeper name to monitor for a roster spot.
Second-round pick Cordy Glenn will compete at LT.
Buffalo drafted Cordy Glenn in the second round to compete at left tackle, and that means second-year player Chris Hairston is on notice.
Hairston played admirably last season in his rookie campaign, filling in for an injured Demetress Bell. However, Glenn has a lot of upside and the coaching staff will want to see how he fares at the next level.
There was a lot of chatter before the draft regarding Glenn’s best fit in the NFL. But Rotoworld.com states that “Bills GM Buddy Nix is ‘convinced’ [Glenn] will succeed at left tackle.” With huge size (6'6", 343 pounds), Glenn offers solid tangibles and a big frame to project as a successful blindside protector. He’s also very athletic for his size.
Still, the position will not be handed to Glenn, as Hairston has every bit as much opportunity to hold off the rookie and earn the starting job. Whatever the outcome, it’s a good situation for the Bills. Having both young, talented players at left tackle means there is quality depth at the position, and their competition should prove to be a healthy one for the team.
Journeyman Tyler Thigpen will have to hold off Vince Young for No. 2 QB job.
With the addition of free-agent quarterback Vince Young, the Bills will now have three true quarterbacks competing for spots on the active roster. Last year, Brad Smith snuck in as a listed quarterback on game days, but with Young and Tyler Thigpen, Smith figures to bounce to wide receiver.
That means Young, the former third overall pick out of Texas in the 2006 draft and former Pro Bowler, will be working to fight off Tyler Thigpen, a former seventh-rounder who has since been a journeyman in the NFL.
Young obviously has better tangibles. He’s 6’5” with good mobility and a strong arm. At 29, he appears more mature and hopes to use his previous experiences as a starter to his advantage.
On the other hand, Thigpen has experience with Gailey and already has a year backing up starter Ryan Fitzpatrick in the Bills’ system.
All signs point to Young winning the No. 2 quarterback job, but Thigpen has a fighting chance. As long as there’s no controversy regarding Young taking over for Fitzpatrick, it will be all smiles out in Buffalo.
Veteran Chris Kelsay could find success with better talent around him.
Two roster spots are virtually taken as free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson figure to start left and right defensive end, respectively. With the Bills switching to a 4-3 base defense, some guys may be on the outside looking in.
Veteran Chris Kelsay figures to earn a spot at his natural position after switching to outside linebacker in the 3-4 last season. He’s a defensive leader of sorts and has three years left on his five-year, $28.2 million contract. In fact, he could have a productive year with better talent around him.
Shawne Merriman, too, is sure to earn a spot as long as he’s healthy. According to recent reports from Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, Merriman looks great and should be ready to go when the regular season rolls around.
What happens after these guys is anybody’s guess. Dwan Edwards and Spencer Johnson are candidates to be released, since both are poor fits in the 4-3.
Alex Carrington will switch to defensive tackle now in the new scheme. That leaves players like Danny Batten, Lionel Dotson and Robert Eddins fighting for one potential spot, which may not even be available depending on what the Bills ultimately decide to do with personnel.
You won’t hear Bills fans complaining about the new depth at defensive end, though, as the team hopes to fix its problem rushing the passer.