The Buffalo Bills had an impressive offseason, adding quality depth at positions of need, including defensive end, linebacker and offensive line. However, the remaining question is, which of the wide receivers not named Stevie Johnson or David Nelson will emerge as the starter on the outside?
Throughout offseason training activities (OTAs), Bills' head coach Chan Gailey used most of the receivers on both the first- and second-team reps, making it difficult to determine the starter.
Last season, wide receiver Donald Jones earned the No. 2 wide receiver role for the Buffalo Bills. Jones was having a decent year, catching 23 passes for 231 yards and a score, despite being plagued with injuries that caused him to be placed on injured reserve halfway through the season.
This year, he is fully recovered and ready to go. Head coach Chan Gailey says that Jones still has the upper hand over rookie T.J. Graham and Marcus Easley as the No. 2, but isn't making the situation crystal clear. Gailey says that Jones is a bit ahead of the curve, according to the Buffalo News.
“You can ask me about the third week in training camp and I’m going to tell you it’s too early. We’ll know exactly where we stand and it all works itself out by the time we get to the first ball game. We’ve got two or three guys that have done a great job,” the coach said. “Donald Jones probably a little bit ahead of everybody at this point.”
Throughout OTAs, he has been working mostly in the slot position, which Jones seems to enjoy. Coach Gailey likes his receivers to know all of the positions and routes in his spread attack, so I don't really think he'll be challenging David Nelson for the slot role. Jones played in the slot for the majority of his rookie season, with Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson on the outside, so the role is familiar to him:
“I love the slot,” said Jones. ”You have a lot more flexibility in the slot. You don’t have guys beating up on you every play, so I definitely like being in there.
“It definitely helps out a lot...You have a lot more room in the slot. You have a two-way go. You’re working a lot more on nickels, but also linebackers and safeties, so we definitely have the edge. When you’re outside the corners have the sideline as their help and then they have the inside help so you have less flexibility.”
Buffalo Bills' General Manager, Buddy Nix, decided to move up two spots in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft to select Nortch Caroline State's speedy wideout, T.J. Graham. Nix stated that the move was simply to add speed on the outside
”To me I think Buddy said, ‘Hey we’re this close, why not guarantee ourselves the pick, just to give up a seventh rounder in this draft.’ We already had another seventh rounder so it wasn’t like that was a huge leap of faith or anything. It was just trying to insure that we got one of those fast guys.”
In OTA's, quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has already said that Graham's speed is refreshing, since the team was lacking quickness at the wideout position due to the oft-injured Roscoe Parrish.
"It was nice to see T.J. go out there and make some plays today. He did some good stuff. Every time you see him catch the ball in space you really see his speed. It's been refreshing to see him take a hitch, make the defender miss and run down the sideline -- stuff like that."
However, without the willingness to go over the middle in the slot, Graham is strictly an outside, speed threat, which may not fit well in Coach Gailey's offense that likes the receivers to know every position.
It's definitely been a long and tough road for the former fourth round draft pick out of the University of Connecticut, wide receiver Marcus Easley. In his rookie year, he was plagued by injuries throughout training camp and eventually was placed on injured reserve. Last year, it was revealed he had a serious heart condition that caused another trip to the injured reserve list.
One of the most intriguing physical prospects on the roster, listed at 6'3", 217 pounds, with a 4.46 40-yard dash time at the combine, it's time for a healthy Easley to show what he is capable of.
While spending most reps with the second team, both Easley and Gailey sound optimistic about the third-year "rookie"
“I don’t think I need to talk to Marcus because his attitude has been so good,” said Gailey. “His work ethic and the things he’s done in the offseason to get ready to participate. He’s been so strong and so good I haven’t had to say a word to him. He is an upbeat guy. He knows he’s got to fight an uphill battle to get into the fray, but I think he can.”
Easley quickly was a fan favorite due to his stature and speed, but he will need to prove himself during training camps to even have a shot at making the team.
Last year, the Bills acquired wide receiver Derek Hagan from the Oakland Raiders midseason. He finished the year with 24 receptions for 251 yards and a touchdown, with 13 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown in his four games with the Bills.
Hagan has been with his share of teams in his seven-year NFL career, but believes his journey has made him mature
“I definitely think so. I know that I am going into my seventh year, but I feel like each and every year I am getting better. As you get older you start to mature a whole lot and start to see things that are going on out on the field and it just makes things easier.”
With Stevie Johnson sitting out of OTAs after offseason groin surgery, Hagan took the majority of first team reps as the No. 1 receiver and fared well.
Hagan is definitely ready for a competition with Donald Jones for the leading No. 2 receiver role come training camp.