With Offseason Training Activities (OTAs) underway and training camp just around the corner, it's time to take a look at some of the early winners and losers of the offseason.
The Buffalo Bills have had an influx of talent via free agency and the draft, meaning that many players are competing for not only starting roles, but a spot on the final 53-man roster.
The Bills finally have significant depth across the board, something they have lacked for quite some time, which will ultimately result in some players losing snaps on game days.
Since being selected in the second round of the 2003 NFL draft, Buffalo Bills defensive end, Chris Kelsay, has missed just six games in his career. However, while he is a decent defensive end, he has never recorded over 5.5 sacks in a season.
While Kelsay was signed to a five-year, $28.2 million contract in 2010, the 32-year-old defensive lineman will be fighting off Shawne Merriman and newly acquired free agent Mark Anderson for a starting role.
Kelsay opened OTAs taking reps with the first team, according to the official Buffalo Bills Twitter feed, but if Shawne Merriman is as healthy as head coach Chan Gailey says he is, keeping that starting role could be difficult.
Gailey had this to say about Merriman (via BuffaloBills.com):
Excited about where he is physically, really physically and mentally because he’s come out every day with an outlook that’s just outstanding. He works hard. He looks quick. He looks healthy. That part of it has been refreshing for us to see some what of I think we’re going to see is the old Shawne Merriman this year.
Kelsay will definitely see playing time back at his natural defensive end position after seeing time at outside linebacker last year in the 3-4, but it won't be surprising if he is quickly surpassed by Anderson or Merriman on the depth chart.
The Buffalo Bills selected Georgia's left tackle, Cordy Glenn, with the No. 41 overall pick in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. While many pundits saw him as a better fit for the guard position, general manager Buddy Nix clearly sees him as a left tackle, according to The Buffalo News. Said Nix:
"We've been trying to get a guy that we thought was good enough to be a starting left tackle in this league, and we thought Cordy Glenn was that guy from the start..."
Coach Chan Gailey has had nothing but praise for the massive 6'6" 346-pounder (via BuffaloBills.com).
"He’s done a good job. He’s got some things to learn,” said Gailey. ”The speed of this game is so different. So he’s got a lot of learning to do. He’s got physical talent and he’s got ability. He’s got a work ethic that will allow him to get there. He just needs as many reps as he can possibly get between now and the first game of the year.”
Glenn has taken every first-team rep throughout the entire offseason workout program, and the second rounder is the front-runner to protect QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Last year, with Demetress Bell often injured, then-rookie tackle Chris Hairston made seven starts on the blind side and performed fairly well. However, he hasn't seen any first-team reps throughout OTAs, and with right tackle Erik Pears signed to a new deal, Hairston seems like the odd man out.
Hairston has been taking reps at right tackle, in place of Erik Pears, who was absent from the beginning of OTAs, but it's doubtful he sees any starting time unless there is an injury.
With the Bills going back to a 4-3 defensive scheme, Sheppard will return to his natural Mike linebacker position, which he played for the LSU Tigers. During his time at LSU, Sheppard racked up an incredible 311 tackles—26 of which were for a loss—4.5 sacks and forced six fumbles.
With virtually no competition for Sheppard at the position, he is clearly a winner in the offseason, due to the scheme change.
Defensive Coordinator, Dave Wannstedt has had nothing but praise for the 24-year-old, following Sheppard's solid rookie season in which he started nine games and recorded 70 tackles (via BuffaloBills.com):
I’ve got all the confidence in the world with Shep being the middle linebacker. To me he’s about what you’re looking for in a 4-3 middle linebacker. He did a great job (last year). He really, I thought, got better and better as the year went on. He became more confident and quicker and now he’s got to play in the box and doesn’t need to play on the edge as much. I think it’s going to fit his skills to a ‘T’. I think he’s going to be a very, very productive player for us.
With Buffalo's much-improved defensive line, Sheppard will have free range to take on blockers, cover tight ends or roam the middle of the field.
Last year, the Bills brought in competition for former first-round draft pick, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, when they selected Aaron Williams in the second round.
Williams performed so well that he is expected to be the opening-day starter.
This year, the Bills used their No. 10 overall pick on another cornerback, South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, further slimming McKelvin's chances as even a role player on the team.
Coupled with Terrence McGee and second-year man Justin Rogers, who played well down the stretch last year, McKelvin needs to prove his worth, as he is entering a contract year.
McKelvin was awful last year, starting just six games and being relegated to the bench for most of the year.
In OTAs, McKelvin has been seeing reps in the slot, along with rookie fourth-round draft pick, Ron Brooks, out of Louisiana State.
McKelvin had this to say to BuffaloBills.com
“It’s just an opportunity for me to get inside. I’m getting an opportunity on the outside and an opportunity on the inside. We’ve got a lot of young guys coming around and just the competition level, if anything happens on the back end as far as me not winning a starting job on the outside I can also play on the inside.