This is the third of 11 articles targeting all position situations for the Buffalo Bills entering the 2008 season. The third entry will deal with the tight end position.
It seems ideal for the Bills to try to instill in their passing game a solid tight end who can make plays and force the defense to have a linebacker specifically shadowing the tight end on the field.
In 2007, the Bills received a very slight increase in production from the tight end position.
In '07, their core combined for 54 catches for 485 yards and five touchdowns went up from 30 catches for 280 yards and three touchdowns from the previous season.
The loss of Michael Gaines, however, takes away much of that yardage in 2007.
The decision to move back to a "true fullback" offense, ending officially the one-year trial of placing a tight end in the fullback position to save a roster spot, will force the Bills to maintain one less tight end on the roster.
They will likely keep three up for the season unless the fullback ploy proves disastrous.
Robert Royal is a lock, of course. He is the starter at the position for the Bills and will be the catalyst should the Bills prove successful in finding the tight end in the passing game.
He is also a sound blocker, with his 6-foot-4, 255 lb frame.
From there, nothing is certain. The Bills have six other tight ends tentatively under contract. One of those six is Kevin Everett, who is a non-factor barring yet another unforeseen miracle.
That leaves the team with five players and only two spots on the 53-man roster.
Tim Massaquoi, a former seventh round draft pick, received limited work on the field in his first season. It would be a long shot for him to make the team.
The most likely scenario for the Wolverine would be a year on the practice squad with the potential to move up should an injury occur.
Derek Schouman, also a former seventh round draft pick, is a more mobile tight end and is slightly undersized.
However, this, one would think, would be ideal for the Buffalo Bills, whose offensive line should not need the assistance of a sixth man.
If he makes the team, he has to be the current favorite to step in as the No. 3 man. Bills’ fans would likely see him on the majority of special teams’ plays and on third and long situations when Royal needs to take a breather.
Derek Fine, the Bills' second fourth round pick in this year's draft, was considered a reach where he was taken. However, it isn't surprising that they did select him.
The Bills went out and signed three fullbacks. Two through free agency prior to the draft, and the other signed as an un-drafted FA post-draft in their attempt to move away from the H-back offense.
However, only one of the three has legitimate NFL experience.
Derek Fine is an H-back coming out of college. He has extensive experience at the fullback position, despite being a "true" tight end. Given his potential value to the team, it wasn't as much of a stretch as it seemed.
He was rated by "draft guru" Mel Kiper as being the 19th best tight end in the draft and was taken as a stretch in the fourth round.
However, he was a solid tight end for the Jayhawks. He also performed well on the back end of the passing game, picking up his assignment and protecting the quarterback from blitzes.
He will have to work for it, but he should be kept on the roster by the Bills. If the fullback they go with perform poorly, he will be optioned into the H-back role once more.
Teyo Johnson and Courtney Anderson, the two remaining tight ends, are both giants at the position. Both 6-foot-6 and over 260 lbs, they will be competing with Schouman and Fine for the final two spots.
Assuming the Bills don't elect to have four tight ends on their roster as well as the fullback, one of these two is certain to spend the season on the Practice Squad or waived before the season starts.
It'll come down to which of the two differentiates himself from the other. Both are blocking tight ends, and both are ideal in running situations, but it is NOT ideal to maintain them together.
It will be Robert Royal, either Derek Fine or Derek Schouman, and either Teyo Johnson or Courtney Anderson on the Bills' roster this season.
Royal provides the receiving threat coupled with sound blocking. The Derek's both provide speed and agility in the passing game with average blocking.
The two big men each give the team the ability to send four wide outs on the field and still feel comfortable that their quarterback will be protected.
It'll come down to which two of the four want it more, which only works in the favor of the team as competition inspires improved play.