With training camp just around the corner, there are a few positional battles going on in Orchard Park to keep an eye on this preseason.
What potential impact will these battles have on the blue and red? How could these battles potentially shake out? Which position battles need to be resolved quickly, and which can potentially remain open for a while?
I attempt to answer these questions here, in great anticipation for the start of the 2009-10 NFL season.
The back-up running back to Marshawn Lynch will actually start the season as the Bills' No. 1, as Lynch serves his three-game suspension due to his run-in with the law in the offseason.
The choice of back-up is not only important for the aforementioned factor, but also because Lynch is prone to injury. During his first two seasons in the league, Lynch has missed four games due to injury, making it even more likely that the backup running back will see a good amount of playing time.
Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes will be battling for this important position.
Jackson is key because of his speed. He's a quick cutter, and has the ability to keep defenders at a far distance. Last year, Jackson rushed for 571 yards on 130 carries (averaging 4.4 yards a run).
He also reached the end-zone three times. He knows the Bills' offense like the back of his hand and has proved to the coaching staff that he belongs on the field.
In last season’s finale against the New England Patriots, Jackson rushed the ball 27 times for 136 yards against one of the best run stopping defenses in the league.
In addition, Jackson is a big threat in the backfield. He also has a great and consistent pair of hands.
Former Indianapolis Colt Dominic Rhodes is battling against Jackson for the position. He played in 15 games last season, with four starts, and rushed for 538 yards on 152 attempts. He also showed that he could reach the end zone still, cashing in on six rushing touchdowns.
He's also a beast out of the backfield.
Prediction: This will shuffle out quickly. Fred Jackson will beat out Dominic Rhodes.
Depth Chart: Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, Dominic Rhodes, Xavier Omon, Bruce Hall
Fourth-round pick Shawn Nelson out of Southern Miss was called the "steal of the draft" by many NFL analysts. Nelson's an extremely gifted athlete and a great receiver at a position that has been virtually non-existent on the Bills' roster for years.
Nelson is battling for the starting tight end position with "the two Dereks", as I have dubbed them—Derek Schouman and Derek Fine. Both are former second day draft picks by the Bills in '07 and '08, respectively.
Schouman started 12 games for Buffalo last season, but completed only 15 passes and one touchdown. Neither of the Derek's are great blockers, and both have missed time due to injury, so there's no reason why the coaching staff wouldn't have their eyes peeled on Nelson.
Despite Nelson's promise, he seems to be struggling with complex routes and the pro-style offense. He'll have to pick up the pace in order to take the starting role this season.
Prediction: Nelson will learn the ropes in the next few weeks and start at tight end.
Brad Butler is penciled in to start, so far, but I believe Kirk Chambers can definitely make a run for Butler's position. If you remember, Chambers saw playing time last season when Jason Peters was a holdout.
Look for Chambers to impress this preseason. Also, Chambers could also start for either Eric Wood or Andy Levitre at OL if they do not impress in camp and the preseason.
Another interesting position battle to keep an eye on throughout training camp is at the weak side linebacker position between incumbent starter Keith Ellison, rookie Nic Harris, and one year man Alvin Bowen.
Ellison has the most experience, but he hardly has the skill set to be the optimal man for the job.
Since there are three hungry candidates, this position battle should prove to be interesting.
Prediction: Nic Harris for the job.
After Evans and Owens, the WR depth chart gets a little tricky. Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, James Hardy (who will be on the PUP list for a while), and Steven Johnson are all likely to make the team's final 52-man roster, and with that, there's sure to be some battling past the preseason for these coveted roles.
That's why we have training camp, folks—there is finally a trove of talent and some good depth behind the Buffalo Bills, and the only way to decide between the great field personnel choices we have made is to test them time and time again on the field.
All of these positions will shake out in the next few weeks, some faster than others, and some being longer, more calculated decisions.
One thing is sure, though—the Bills will have a fine squad come September.