The Buffalo Bills are trying to turn the tide after seven straight losing seasons and 12 seasons finishing out of the playoffs. The hunger to win has become a team-wide famine, but not everyone will survive the hunt for roster spots.
Even in the early stages of camp, it's important to make a good impression and to build momentum, to prove that you're capable of producing, not just on occasion, but on a consistent basis as well.
The NFL season may not have started yet, but with 90 names on most rosters and only 53 roster spots available, the competition has already begun. These are the names of some winners and losers from Bills training camp.
The Bills' search for a No. 2 wide receiver may not be over, but it looks like Donald Jones has the lead in the race to line up opposite Stevie Johnson.
Jones was an undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State, an FCS school in Ohio. He played in 15 games in 2010 with five starts, catching 18 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown.
He won the camp battle last year and subsequently won the praise of head coach Chan Gailey who according to The Buffalo News said, "Donald has not made as many big plays yet but I think as time goes on he's going to continue to be a bigger and bigger part of our offense."
He neither made big plays nor became a bigger part of the offense, hauling in 23 catches for 231 yards and a touchdown. After looking back on his game log, he hauled in one pass for 48 yards, two passes for 18 yards and not a single pass longer than 10 yards other than those three.
He missed eight games with two separate ankle injuries. But having won the No. 2 spot for now, the Bills are hoping to get a few more big plays out of him.
Marcus Easley's struggle with a heart condition is a gut-wrenching story and many were rooting for him this offseason in training camp. The early composition of the Bills' depth chart lists him as the seventh wide receiver.
That would leave him, most likely, off the roster.
It's interesting because early reports from Bills camp indicated he was rolling with the first-team offense according to the team's official website. You have to wonder how things changed so quickly.
There is yet time for him to battle it out with Ruvell Martin for what would be a potential sixth roster spot at wide receiver. Martin is a journeyman in the NFL, with six years of experience on four teams, including two years floating around between NFL Europe and practice squads.
He's never made an earth-shattering impression (except for that one year with the Amsterdam Admirals), but seasoned veterans can be difficult to oust in camp battles.
After hope sprung eternal in spring and summer, Easley will have his work cut out for him just to make the roster.
The Bills have been hoping for years that McKelvin would step up and be a lockdown corner for them on the outside. That hasn't happened yet. Perhaps it's time, now, to see what he can give the team in the slot as the team's third cornerback.
That's exactly where he's listed on the depth chart—right behind 2011 second-round pick Aaron Williams and 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore.
His talents may be better suited for an inside role, as well; via Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com:
"He has great quickness and great speed and the only trouble he has had is with the deep ball and you don't get many deep balls in the slot," said Gailey. "So you're trying to let him do what he does best without him having to worry about something that he's struggled with in the past."
Gailey has also referenced the plan to get McKelvin's confidence up and not giving up big plays always helps in that effort.
It may not be the starting job he had hoped for, but even as a third cornerback, he will practically still be a "starter" with so many offenses predicated on spread pass attacks. McKelvin's move to the inside is a win-win for the player and the team.
If the current depth chart were the final cuts, the Bills would be bidding adieu to their fourth-round pick from this past April.
Somehow, I don't see that happening. But anything is possible.
The simple fact that Brooks is currently listed at the very bottom on the cornerback depth chart isn't promising for the young player.
He was consistently buried in the depth chart at LSU, but his presence on one of the best defenses college football had to offer last year couldn't be ignored.
As of right now, though, his presence is being ignored on the Bills roster. According to the Bills' official website, Brooks has seen reps in the slot and outside at practice, but his impact should be limited to special teams in his rookie season...if he makes the roster.
He was a potential cap casualty entrenched in a roster bubble battle. It was safe to say, Dwan Edwards had a lot to lose.
His role will be significantly decreased this year, with Kyle Williams returning from injury and the 4-3 alignment creating less of a need for big two-gapping defensive linemen. There will still be a role for him in this defense, though—energy management.
According to Dave Wannstedt, per Sports Illustrated:
[Spencer] Johnson, [Chris] Kelsay [and Dwan] Edwards were all starters last year and they could play for a lot of teams. ...the way offenses are going now, our depth is going to give us a chance. With the hurry-up offenses and the spread offenses now, teams are running more plays than they have in the past, and I think depth at that position is key.
With him on the roster, the Bills still have the option of mixing it up with some 3-4 fronts, but under Wannstedt, who heavily favors the 4-3, it's not likely the Bills will be running that front very much anymore, if at all.
Williams and Dareus will get tired at times, so the Bills will be happy to let Edwards play his part in the defense as a rotational interior pass-rushing presence.
For years, Terrence McGee has been a fixture in the Bills secondary. But the Bills have begun changing their culture and although McGee has always been a class act in his tenure in Buffalo, he is part of an era of struggles.
That really has nothing to do with it, though. The Bills have brought in several young cornerbacks competing for spots.
McGee has even admitted concern over his roster spot, per the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
"I'm at the back of the line right now," the 10th-year veteran said the other day. "There are guys way in front of me right now." ...McGee is still not 100 percent healthy after suffering a torn patellar tendon in his knee last year against Dallas. He was limited during OTAs and mini-camps, and his goal of being ready to go full-bore in training camp was not met.
"They're trying to give me some reps because I haven't done any of this since November, I haven't covered anybody," he said. "I'd be lying if I said I was 100 percent right now; I'm not, but I'm getting there so I'm just trying to get into it slowly at camp."
McGee is currently listed as the fourth cornerback on the depth chart, but it's early in camp and there's plenty of time for that to change, especially if he can't get healthy.