Buffalo Bills' 5 Players Facing Make-or-Break Training Camps
The Buffalo Bills will be opening up training camp on Sunday, the first team in the NFL to do so. These extra practices should be a blessing for the organization, as it has a number of players it will need to make tough decisions on before the start of the season.
These players are entering a make-or-break training camp that could have a major impact on their career. Some of the players in this slideshow are fighting just for a spot on the 53-man roster, while others are competing for starting jobs and looking to be more than just role players.
These are the five Bills players who are entering a make-or-break training camp this year.
The third-year pro has a number of factors working against him in keeping a roster spot on this team. The Bills have brought in a lot of talent this offseason with the additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams, pushing Graham down the depth chart.
When players start sliding down on depth charts, they need to find a way to show they are worthy of a roster spot. This is why players like Marcus Easley and Chris Hogan are in better positions to make the roster than Graham, because both of these players have made an impact on the special teams unit.
Graham will have a lot of work to do in training camp in finding a way to get another chance after two lackluster seasons with the Bills. Entering this year, Graham is averaging 27 receptions and 341.5 yards per season and only three career touchdowns.
Graham is certainly one player who faces an uphill climb and will need to have a strong training camp if he hopes to keep his spot on the 53-man roster.
Chris Hairston will need to have a strong training camp to prove not only that he can contribute on the football field but also that he can stay healthy for a whole season. The fourth-year tackle missed the entire 2013 season when the Bills placed him on the non-football illness list. He has yet to play a full 16-game season in his professional career due to injuries.
Another reason Hairston will need to have a strong camp is that he is a holdover from the Buddy Nix-Chan Gailey regime. The offensive line has seen four new additions this offseason, making roster space limited, and Hairston may end up being on the outside looking in.
The one thing Hairston does have in his favor is his versatility, as he can line up at both left and right tackle and has even gotten some practice time at right guard this offseason. If he shows he is capable of playing all three positions, he should have a pretty good chance of making the roster.
Da'Norris Searcy is not in danger of necessarily losing a roster spot, but he has a great chance to prove he is a starting NFL safety. With the departure of Jairus Byrd, the team is looking for a player to step up and play alongside Aaron Williams. Searcy would love to win this spot, as he is entering a contract year in 2014 and is hoping to secure a big contract next season.
The veteran will have to hold off second-year safeties Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks. A.J. Devine of BuffaloBills.com broke down the safety battle, and one would have to assume Searcy is the favorite. He has the most experience of the three and played well last year when he filled in for the injured Byrd.
The area he might be the most valuable, though, is in the hybrid linebacker/safety role, which he played at times last year. Per Devine's article, he said:
That is extra value to my play,” Searcy said of his hybrid position last season. “I don’t want that to leave, I like that role for me. But if it does, then I’ll just play safety. I have no problem with that either.
Jim Schwartz may look to Searcy to help, particularly on third downs and in passing downs, now that Kiko Alonso is lost for the season due to the ACL injury. No matter what role, the Bills will certainly be looking to Searcy to be a major contributor on this defense in 2014.
Similarly to Searcy, Nigel Bradham isn't necessarily fighting for a roster spot but rather a prominent role in this defense. The injury to Kiko Alonso has created an opportunity for another linebacker to step up, and Tim Graham of The Buffalo News points to Preston Brown as the player the coaching staff hopes will step up.
By no means is Brown guaranteed the spot, and I would expect Bradham to put up a good fight for the starting linebacker position for the majority of training camp. Toward the end of last season, Bradham started to see regular playing time, starting two of the final four games, and made his presence felt in the run game. In May, Pro Football Focus named Bradham their Secret Superstar and gave him a plus-6.3 grade against the run.
The third-year linebacker out of FSU has played in every game the past two seasons but will be looking for a much bigger role in 2014 and taking his career to the next level.
When the Bills drafted Chris Gragg in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft, they knew they were getting an athletic but raw tight end who needed time to develop. This training camp is where the rubber may meet the road for Gragg, with the team already having Scott Chandler, Lee Smith and Tony Moeaki on the roster.
The Bills could carry all four tight ends on the 53-man roster, but that means they would limit depth elsewhere on the roster, like at wide receiver or along the offensive line. This is not the likely, or ideal, scenario, which means Gragg and Moeaki will be battling it out for that third tight end spot.
Gragg is the more explosive receiver and has potential on his side, while Moeaki is a more well-rounded tight end but has battled with injuries the past few seasons. This training camp will be important for Gragg to show he has developed enough that the Bills can start to use him more on Sundays.