Buffalo Bills: Key Position Battles in Training Camp
Photo Credit: Getty Images Arthur Moats is in a battle to start at the strong side linebacker position
Heading into the second week of preseason football, the Buffalo Bills still have plenty of battles at key positions. Both starting and backup jobs are up for grabs, and the Bills coaching staff is waiting for players to step up and emerge as victors.
We'll take a look at which players are in contention at these key positions and who currently has the inside track to the job.
Second Wide Receiver
Donald Jones plans on starting for the Bills in 2012
Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE
His 2011 season started off slow against the Chiefs and Raiders, but Jones emerged with a big game and timely catches against the New England Patriots. Jones finished the game with five receptions for 101 yards and helped the Bills end a 15-game losing streak to the Patriots.
Donald Jones' biggest asset is clearly his speed, and he's shown a lot more consistency in terms of catching the ball during training camp.
Jones hasn't been spectacular in training camp, but he's done enough to hold onto his starting job.
The bottom line is that most of the Bills wide receivers haven't done enough to challenge for the job.
One wide receiver who has stepped up for the Bills is journeyman Derek Hagan.
Derek Hagan is entering his eighth NFL season and has impressed the Bills a lot with his route running. Hagan finished his 2011 campaign with the Bills on a high note, catching six passes for 89 yards in the season finale against the Patriots.
At the start of training camp, Hagan was in a battle for a roster spot in general, but now he is virtually a lock to make the team. It's been apparent at training camp that Hagan fits with the Buffalo Bills offense.
In an interview with Mark Ludwiczak of CBSSports.com, Hagan said the following:
I put in a lot of work to get where I'm at and I'm thankful to be here... Obviously I've played for different teams, but the way I'm feeling now I have not felt this way before. I'm just feeling real good with this offense, with this coaching staff, with the players around me, with Fitz just knowing that I know he's going to look my way and throw me the ball.
When asked about the second wide receiver position, Chan Gailey said, “We're going to play a lot of guys."
It's pretty apparent that the wide receiver spot is still wide open for the taking. Expect the Bills to start the season with Donald Jones as their Z receiver, but don't be surprised if Derek Hagan and impressive rookie T.J. Graham cut into Jones' snaps.
Right Defensive End
Mark Anderson was listed as the starting right defensive end on the Bills first depth chart
Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE
When the Bills released their first depth chart on August 4, Mark Anderson was listed as the first-team right defensive end. This shouldn't come as a surprise due to Anderson's excellent training camp.
Anderson, who is known mostly for his ability to get to the quarterback, has been excellent against the run during training camp. In a piece by Sal Maiorana of DemocratandChronicle.com, defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt had this to say about Anderson:
“He’s got the quickest feet of any defensive linemen we’ve got,” Wannstedt said of Anderson, who plays at about 35 pounds less than the 290-pound Williams. “The guy’s got extremely quick feet. I didn’t realize he has as good a first step, which you’ve got to have to be a really good pass rusher.”
Anderson's main competition for starting right defensive end is Chris Kelsay. Kelsay has played well during training camp, but has been outplayed by Anderson.
Kelsay has been a starter since 2004, but it appears that will not be the case in 2012. That said, Kelsay is still going to receive plenty of snaps per game. While Mark Anderson has looked good against the run in training camp, Chris Kelsay is the best defensive end against the run.
Mark Anderson will likely be the Bills' starting right defensive end, but Chris Kelsay will receive almost as many plays per game.
Shawne Merriman, who is also practicing at right defensive end, will get a few snaps a game, but nowhere near as many as Mark Anderson and Chris Kelsay.
Veteran Kirk Morrison hopes to win the strong side linebacker job
Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE
Most fans believed that Kirk Morrison would be starting as strong-side linebacker for the Bills after he re-signed in the offseason.
Morrison, a veteran 4-3 linebacker, posted over 100 tackles each of his first five seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
In one season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Morrison finished with 89 total tackles.
Last year, Morrison's signing came right before the season began, and he never fully had an opportunity to play due to Kelvin Sheppard's emergence.
Morrison, however, has found himself in a real battle for the role of strong-side linebacker.
Arthur Moats, known most for ending Brett Favre's consecutive games played record, has emerged as the likely favorite to win the role.
Moats, entering his third season with the Bills, has been asked to take on many roles with the team. He has played as an outside and inside linebacker, defensive end and special teams contributor.
This year, Moats was told that he would exclusively play at outside linebacker, and he has thrived ever since. Dave Wannstedt has had high praise for Moats, per DemocratandChronicle.com:
“Arthur Moats and Kirk Morrison are in a battle, and to be quite honest with you, Arthur gets the nudge a little bit,” Wannstedt said. “They're going to split time (Thursday) in the game, but Arthur might have outperformed him a little in training camp. We've got some competition there and how it unfolds, the games will determine that.”
Moats is happy to have the edge, but knows that there is still work to be done.
“So far so good, but the main thing is to keep improving,” he said. “You want to strive for perfection and I just want to keep getting better. It was good to hear (Wannstedt) have that confidence in me, but you still don’t want to get complacent, you want to continue to improve.”
According to the BuffaloBills.com practice notes, Moats and Morrison are both rotating in with the first-team defense, but Moats is getting more reps.
Moats will likely win the starting job, and having a veteran like Morrison as a backup gives the Bills excellent depth.
Cordy Glenn has come on strong as of late
Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE
The left tackle position is one of the most interesting battles the Bills currently have. Rookie Cordy Glenn and second-year player Chris Hairston are both battling to win the starting role with the team.
This is a battle that will probably go all the way to the Bills' last preseason game.
When the Bills issued their first depth chart for the 2012 season, Hairston was listed as the starting left tackle. Chris Hairston started seven games in 2011 as the Bills left tackle, but he's been playing both left and right tackle during training camp.
While Hairston was playing right tackle, Cordy Glenn was getting all of the first-team snaps at left tackle. His strong play as of late shows that he's truly benefited from the extra repetitions.
As training camp concluded Wednesday morning, Glenn was praised by Bills journalist Chris Brown, per the Bills practice notes. He wrote, "Second-round pick Cordy Glenn held his own in the left tackle competition during camp, which will continue now at One Bills Drive."
It seems that Cordy Glenn, the Bills' 2012 second-round draft pick, has the inside track to the starting role at left tackle. If this is the case, Glenn will have to show consistency in the regular season, or Chris Hairston will get an opportunity to start at left tackle for the Bills.
Vince Young is the most athletic QB on the Bills roster
Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE
The role of backup quarterback is another battle that will likely not be answered until the end of the preseason. Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young have both had their moments during training camp, but neither has been consistent.
Thigpen came into the Bills' first preseason game after Ryan Fitzpatrick played poorly. In his time on the field, Thigpen completed three of eight passes for 38 yards and one interception.
While Thigpen knows the Bills offense thoroughly, the talent just doesn't seem to be there anymore.
Vince Young came in as the Bills' third-string quarterback against the Redskins. He wasn't much more impressive in the passing game. Young only completed five of eight passes for 50 yards.
While neither quarterback impressed in the passing game, Vince Young showed off his talent as a running quarterback. Young was the Bills' leading rusher of the night with five rushes for 37 yards.
On Friday night, the Bills play the Minnesota Vikings, and Vince Young will get his first opportunity as second-string quarterback. If Young wants to create separation, it'll start with an impressive game against the Vikings.
Over the last two weeks of the preseason, look for Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young to both get one more opportunity at backup quarterback. It's highly unlikely that both quarterbacks make the team, and from a talent standpoint, Vince Young brings a lot more to the table than Tyler Thigpen.