Buffalo Bills Roster Bubble Battles Headed into Training Camp
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The Buffalo Bills have added enough top-end talent to give faith to their fanbase that the team can turn it around after a decade of struggles.
But as the Bills faithful learned last year, sometimes the backups can become just as important as the starters. The rash of injuries exposed their lack of quality depth, putting the spotlight on guys who should never have had the spotlight on them to begin with.
General manager Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have focused just as meticulously on their second- and third-string talent this offseason as they have on their top-end talent. That should create some exciting camp battles where everyone is feeding off each other in the spirit of competition, which ultimately drives the best to step forth.
These are some of the Bills' best roster bubble battles headed into training camp.
Tashard Choice vs. Johnny White
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The Bills have one of the league's most explosive and dynamic one-two punches in their backfield.
The battle for the third roster spot at running back will be a tough one.
Johnny White was seen as a raw prospect coming out of UNC, where he only served as a running back in his senior year. It was believed his biggest contributions would come on special teams, where he has a bit more experience and value, but he was the first choice to serve as C.J. Spiller's back-up when Fred Jackson went down in 2011, but picked up just four carries over the final seven games of the season.
During those seven games, Tashard Choice earned 23 carries. He was a bell-cow with 3,365 rushing yards under Chan Gailey when the two worked together at Georgia Tech and was seen as little more than an insurance policy when he was added in late November, but his familiarity with Gailey's system could be beneficial to his chances of making the roster. He stormed onto the NFL scene in 2008, but struggled to produce the explosive plays that made him a great complementary back in Dallas.
His ability—or inability—to rediscover that potential, and to show that he has rediscovered it in camp, will play a big role in whether or not he makes the roster.
Jarron Gilbert vs. Lionel Dotson vs. Dwan Edwards vs. Spencer Johnson
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Jarron Gilbert's proudest moment in the NFL so far came in a swimming pool...or out of it. He has played just five games in the NFL, but has kicked around three different practice squads and 53-man rosters in his time. He hasn't been a great success at defensive tackle, and it got to a point where the Jets even tried him out at tight end. He will probably land on the practice squad again.
Lionel Dotson has played in just 12 games in his four-year career and is also practice squad eligible. He did, however, play five games last year, but was only called up after the Bills had been ravaged by injuries to both Williams and Torrell Troup had both been lost for the season.
Dwan Edwards and/or Spencer Johnson could get the axe if the Bills can't re-work their contracts; their salaries relative to their role in the defense don't match up as well as they did when each was brought in as 3-4 defense ends. Both are talented, though, so the Bills could look to get one or both back on reduced deals.
Much like at running back, the Bills are loaded with top-end talent at defensive tackle in Marcell Dareusand Kyle Williams. However, the Bills also have a solid core of backups. With Torrell Troup and Alex Carrington almost locks for the roster, that leaves the rest of the defensive tackles in the thick of a heated battle for the fifth spot, if the Bills even elect to carry so many.
Kamar Aiken vs. Ruvell Martin vs. David Clowney
I'm sure any of these receivers would do somersaults through the air to make the roster. If that's the case, Ruvell Martin may have a head start on the competition.
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The battle of wide receivers will bear watching from top to bottom.
Of course, we know Stevie Johnson will occupy one of the top spots, and several others will compete for playing time on the outside opposite Johnson, but the Bills' lack of solid depth at the position last year was one of many ultimate factors in their downfall.
David Clowney and Ruvell Martin have the experience edge in the competition. Clowney has three years of experience, while Martin boasts six years in the NFL.
Of the three receivers, Martin has the most special teams value, but he is less valuable as a true wide receiver.
Kamar Aiken, on the other hand, was labeled as a training camp sleeper by BuffaloBills.com. He, like so many receivers on the Bills roster, has the size they will be looking for in an outside receiver. He spent much of 2011 on the practice squad, but was called up in late November. With a year's worth of both experience in the system as well as polish as a route-runner, he could push for that final receiver spot.
Lee Smith vs. Kevin Brock
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The Bills are carrying five tight ends, but only name of particular note: Scott Chandler. The second (and potentially third) roster spots at tight end are up for grabs, but the presence of tight end-fullback Dorin Dickerson could really put the squeeze on the other guys competing for spots.
Fendi Onobun and Mike Caussin could both be candidates for the practice squad, as neither has played more than the 16-game maximum for a player to be placed there, which leaves Kevin Brock and Lee Smith in the thick of the battle.
Brock was another player labeled as a camp sleeper by BuffaloBills.com as a late-season add with big potential in the passing game and marginal potential as a blocker.
Smith, on the contrary, is a much better blocker than a pass-catcher. There could be value in that skill set, however, with Dickerson serving as more of an H-back and Chandler a more well-rounded tight end. Smith could be the blocking tight end that rounds out the roster.
Brock was called up from the practice squad when Smith went down with a season-ending injury in December, which could mean Brock will return to his rightful place on the practice squad this season with Smith back at full health.