The Biggest Winners and Losers of Bills Camp, Preseason so Far
Coming off their first preseason game, there are still some big question marks about how the final 53-man roster will shake out. On the other hand, there is also some good news for certain players.
Even though there is still some time before the regular season kicks off, some players are starting to separate themselves from the pack while others face a challenging road before the standings start to count.
Here are some of the Bills' biggest winners and losers from training camp and the preseason so far.
Winner: Shawne Merriman
Veteran pass-rusher Shawne Merriman is a winner for the simple fact that he actually seems healthy and ready to contribute. After undergoing surgery to repair his Achilles, he’s been fully cleared and even saw some live game action in the Bills’ preseason opener.
But Merriman also makes the winners list because he’s been performing well and earning playing time.
According to Bills lead journalist Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, Merriman “spent a good deal of time at the right end position in the team’s first nickel package.”
Any contributions the Bills can get from Merriman in 2012 would be a bonus, as he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a few years now. If he can stay off the injury report and be a part of the team’s excellent defensive line rotation, he should have many opportunities to make plays on passing downs.
He certainly seems motivated to help the team and show he still has something left in the Lights Out tank.
Loser: Torell Troup
After coming off of back surgery, 24-year-old defensive tackle Torell Troup was hoping to finally see consistent playing time in 2012. The Bills drafted him in the second round in 2010, but since then he’s battled nagging injuries.
Chris Brown provided a detailed breakdown of Troup’s recovery and his plan for “redemption” on the team’s official website, noting the lineman’s goal of proving he can compete in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Troup still isn’t going at full speed, which is affecting his reps and playing time on defense. When asked how his recovery was progressing, Chan Gailey said the following in a press conference after practice:
Slowly. Not as fast as any of us would like, including him. It is real slow. It is two steps forward and one step back on him. And that is frustrating for everybody.
Troup has a lot of talent. And as a high draft pick, the Bills are growing more and more anxious to figure out what they have in him.
While his roster spot may not be in serious jeopardy, the defensive line is deep this year, and the Bills can’t wait forever. At the very least, the fact that he’s still missing time is hurting both Troup and the defense.
Winner: Derek Hagan
After ending the 2011 season on a high note (seven catches for 89 yards in the finale), wide receiver Derek Hagan is picking up this year right where he left off.
The 27-year-old journeyman seems to have finally found a home in Buffalo, as he continues to take advantage of opportunities in camp.
He’s definitely caught his head coach’s attention. Chan Gailey had this to say about his performance during training camp (via BuffaloBills.com):
(Hagan) is taking advantage of his opportunity. Derek Hagan is working his rear end off out there. It is a great thing to see. He wants to make this football team and wants to be a big part of our offense. He has done a good job. He made some big plays out there today. He is making a real bid to be a near lock.
After spending time throughout his career with the Dolphins, Giants, Raiders and now the Bills, Hagan if finally hoping to carve out a permanent role for himself. By all indications so far, he’s succeeding in doing so.
His attitude, work ethic and motivation are all working to his advantage, but he's also been consistently making plays and taking advantage of every opportunity.
Loser: Marcus Easley
Respected Bills beat writer Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo reported on Sunday that wide receiver Marcus Easley has been struggling. In fact, Buscaglia claims he wouldn’t be surprised “if they elect to cut him when we get to that point of the season.”
For Easley, it’s been a difficult road. He’s battled health issues since entering the league in 2010, meaning he’s missed a lot of time with this offense and his teammates.
To make matters worse, the Bills have some young, exciting depth at the position. Primarily in Easley’s way is the up-and-coming Derek Hagan and the explosive rookie T.J. Graham. With Steve Johnson, Donald Jones and David Nelson locks to make the roster, Easley needed to set himself apart.
Apparently he has, just not in a positive way.
Easley’s release would be unfortunate for the young wideout, but Buffalo is trying to sift through a deep position right now to field the best of the best each Sunday. Time will tell if he can start to make improvements before it’s too late.
Winner: Ron Brooks
Rookie cornerback Ron Brooks has been rising during camp, and that became even more apparent with his strong performance in his NFL debut against the Washington Redskins.
Brooks had an interception, but more importantly he played physically, stuck with his receivers and flashed his excellent speed.
After getting overshadowed at LSU behind other stars in the secondary, Brooks has seemingly gone under the radar with the Bills, too. It’s not surprising, considering Buffalo also drafted Stephon Gilmore in the first round and signed marquee free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to bolster a now sturdy defensive line.
But Brooks is doing his best to make sure people take notice. He continues to make plays, and if he can keep that up, he’ll be another young talent to add to an increasingly strong secondary.
He’s certainly doing his best to push for slot duties, competing with teammates Justin Rogers, Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee. The competition is a positive for the Bills’ defense as a whole.
Loser: Terrence McGee
Despite being cleared to practice and participate in camp, veteran corner Terrence McGee recently expressed concern over his roster spot, according to Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
You can see it in his body language as he stands on the sidelines, a cooling towel over his head, watching the young cornerbacks like Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Justin Rogers, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks taking reps, some of them his, pushing him closer and closer to the brink of extinction.
When healthy, McGee has been a terrific defensive back for the Bills. Unfortunately, his health concerns just won’t seem to go away, as he’s had difficulty getting back to 100 percent.
With some new young talent in the secondary, the 10-year Buffalo Bill will need to prove he can contribute. His veteran leadership would definitely be an asset to the defense if he can do that.
But there’s a chance he might not be healthy enough to convince the staff of keeping him on. If that’s the case, it would be an unfortunate ending to his career with the organization that drafted him in 2003.
Winner: Ryan Fitzpatrick
While Ryan Fitzpatrick may not have had the strongest game in Buffalo’s preseason opener, head coach Chan Gailey gave him the keys to the offense. The Bills worked out of the no-huddle, and Fitz had the green light to call his own plays, according to the Bills’ website.
Although the entire first team wasn’t in sync during its 15 consecutive passing plays, knowing that Fitz has that level of Gailey’s trust is telling.
Gailey is one of the game’s best offensive minds, and for him to relinquish some of his play-calling decisions to Fitz means he believes in his starting quarterback.
The preseason is for shaking off the rust and working out the kinks, and that’s what happened against Washington. Expect things to smooth themselves out over the next few weeks.
When they do, Fitz will have plenty of weapons at his disposal and plenty of familiarity with the offense in order to shine in 2012. Gailey has the utmost confidence in him, and Bills fans should too.
Loser: Vince Young/Tyler Thigpen
The news isn’t so good on the quarterback front behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen have failed to establish themselves thus far, making Plan B at quarterback a worrisome situation.
For Young, the problem is adjusting to the offense, according to Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News. He’ll need to learn how to make his reads, get rid of the ball quickly and make sharp, accurate throws in order to succeed.
For Thigpen, the issue has been accuracy, per Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Buffalo. It’s a little disconcerting because of Thigpen’s familiarity with Chan Gailey and his experience in the Bills’ offense.
Ultimately, the fact that neither of these backups has made any noticeable strides is bad news.
There’s still some time between now and the start of the regular season, but Buffalo’s staff has to have its fingers crossed that one of these guys will step up to claim the No. 2 quarterback job.
If not, those fingers will instead be crossed for Fitz’s health.