As organized team activities (OTAs) begin, there are some positional battles in Buffalo that stand out more than others.
First off, let’s start with the glaring weakness—a completely revamped offensive line.
The first position up for grabs is the left guard spot. Four people are in a battle, including veteran Kirk Chambers, offseason pickup Seth McKinney, and second-year guy Demetrius Bell. The guy I’m going with, though, is going to be rookie Andy Levitre.
So much has been said about this young man since the Bills drafted him in the second round. First off, the Bills must have thought highly of him, as they traded two of their picks to move up in the second round and pick Levitre up.
"I'm coming in to compete for a spot, and wherever my competition lands me, if I'm a starter that's great, but ultimately I want to be a starter for this team," Levitre said.
One thing the Bills like about Levitre is his versatility. Head coach Dick Jauron feels that he could add a lot of depth to the team as a potential starter at either guard or tackle.
“We may leave them (Levitre and Wood) alone. It just depends on how it goes, but as it moves along we know they have flexibility," Jauron said.
On the other side of the ball, first-round pick Eric Wood looks to fill the right guard position from day one, but he’s not willing to slack off because the position is already his.
"I know they want me to come in and compete, and that's what I'm going to do," Wood said, "I have a lot of respect for the guys that are here and I have to come in and earn my spot. I don't want a penciled in starting spot until I've done something on the field."
He and Levitre have already spent time together looking over the playbook, and they look to be a solid foundation for the Bills offensive line for years to come.
Let’s take a further look at one of Buffalo’s deepest positions.
Wide receiver T.O. will obviously start at wide out. He showed up for OTAs with a crowd of screaming fans in red, white, and blue, and a VH1 camera crew who is shooting his new reality show. His mere presence will be great motivation for some of the younger receivers Buffalo has on the depth chart to gain some knowledge from the lengthy veteran.
The Bills will have Lee Evans starting on the opposite side of T.O., followed by veteran Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, James Hardy, Justin Jenkins, and Steve Johnson.
Hardy, who had a disappointing rookie season and ended the season on IR with a torn ACL, looks to stand out in this year’s offseason post-rehab and mirror the skills that made T.O. effective his entire career. Also, it would be intriguing to see Steve Johnson make this group, as he has great size (6’2, 202).
Johnson came in at the end of the season last year and started two games as the fourth receiver, filling the role that Hardy left open after the injury. He filled in well and scored two touchdowns in limited playing time.
The Bills look to have a heated battle between two great players, Dominic Rhodes and Fred Jackson. With Rhodes coming in to replace Marshawn Lynch for the first three games, he has stated before that he is not content with playing as a backup.
"I don't even look at myself, ever, in any situation, as a backup," Rhodes said, "My mind-set is always that the opportunity [to start] is always there. I compete to start. I don't go anywhere trying to sit on the bench. That's not my thing. I want to be on the field, playing and competing. That's why I play this game."
But Jackson is not willing to relinquish the position that he worked so hard to get last year, complimenting Lynch while running for 571 yards on 130 carries and three touchdowns, and receiving 37 times for 317 yards, career highs in each category.
To top that off, Jackson is looking to prove to critics that he is worth signing a four-year extension that will keep him a Bill for years to come. His dedication to the team shined through when he said this about Lynch being out the first three games:
"I'm not too happy about the way that it's going down, that I'm going to be in the starting role in the first three games, but it's the dream of every kid who plays football. They want to go into the season knowing they're the starter and that they have to carry the load. I'm excited about it and I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
The Bills look to solidify the tight end position this offseason and develop players into effective go-to guys over the middle of the field that can block well. Especially with rumors of them instilling a no-huddle offense, the presence of a sure-hands tight end that can step out a few yards and be a quick receiver is necessary.
They went out and drafted fourth-round pick Shawn Nelson, who is said to be a steal, and will fight the two Derek’s, Fine and Schouman, and second-year man Jonathon Stupar.
Look for Nelson to snatch this position from the veterans as the opening day starter.
The Bills secondary should also be hotly contested as they added depth at both the free safety and cornerback positions.
Second-round pick Jairus Byrd will push the likes of George Wilson and Ko Simpson. I see Simpson grabbing this position, with Byrd playing a fill-in role.
Veteran free agent Drayton Florence looks to solidify the role as nickel corner vs. Ashton Youboty and second-year guy Reggie Corner.
It will be interesting to see where Aaron Maybin fits in at the defensive end position. Behind Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsey, and Ryan Denney, he'll probably go in when the Bills are looking to get some quick speed and an increased pass rush.
Defensively, the Bills added much more depth and will be able to substitute often to get fresh legs out there in the effort to reduce injuries that have plagued this defense for the past two years.
Here’s my prediction of the Bills depth chart come opening day:
Base 4-3 D