Buffalo Bills Training Camp Preview: Under-The-Radar Battles To Watch
As the Bills get ready to roll into St. John Fisher in a few weeks, the major position battles are all ready very out in the open.
Over the offseason, I've broken down several fairly well-known competitions to keep an eye on.
But there are still several battles you wouldn't think to watch that could still play a major role over the course of the season.
In this article, I'll be breaking down the top five under-the-radar battles to keep your eye on during camp. They might not be getting much media exposure, but they could still be just as important over the course of the season.
5. Third Defensive End
With Marcus Stroud and Dwan Edwards the starting defensive ends in the 3-4, one might not think to watch the competition for the top reserve. However, there are several reasons to watch that competition closely.
First, rotation will be key across this line. That means the third end will be rotated in quite a bit, and will see a lot of action on game day.
Second, both Stroud and Edwards are no locks to stay healthy for the whole season.
Over the past four years, Stroud has played a full season just once, in 2008. Over those other three seasons he has missed 13 games.
Edwards has played two full seasons over the past four years, but missed a combined 12 games during the other two.
Spencer Johnson and rookie Alex Carrington are the most likely candidates for the third defensive end job, with former first-round pick John McCargo trying to redeem his draft status in the competition as well. I expect Carrington to come out on top.
4. Nickel Corner Back
This position is another one to watch due to Buffalo's past injury history.
Terrence McGee, the Bills' top corner, has not played a full season since 2004, missing a total of 10 games over the past five years.
Leodis McKelvin, starting opposite McGee, is coming off a fractured fibula from last season that forced him to miss 13 games.
If either corner goes down, whoever mans the nickel spot will be forced into starting action this year.
Last year Drayton Florence answered the call when McKelvin went down, but he will be pushed hard by Reggie Corner in training camp. I expect an improved Corner to win this competition.
3. Slot Receiver
With so much attention focused on who will be filling Terrell Owens' shoes opposite Lee Evans as Buffalo's second receiver, the slot job is not getting quite as much attention as it probably should.
With Chan Gailey running the offense, the slot receiver will be a position to keep an eye on.
Just take a look at Gailey's history.
In his nine years as a head coach and offensive coordinator in the pros, Gailey has produced an offense where his third receiver gained at least 350 yards six times, with four of those receivers gaining over 400 yards and two seasons where his third receiver gained over 500 yards.
Roscoe Parrish should have no trouble locking up this job as he is the best fit on Buffalo's roster in the slot, but he may still have to hold off rookie Marcus Easley and whoever loses the competition for the second receiver job between James Hardy and Steve Johnson.
2. Backup Tight End
The backup tight end competition is yet another one to watch because of injuries.
Shawn Nelson is penciled in as the starter currently, with Derek Schouman fighting to get his name into contention for the job.
Last year, Nelson started all 12 games he played in, but missed four games due to a concussion.
Schouman, on the other hand, has missed a total of 27 games over the past three seasons due to knee injuries.
Add that to the fact that Chan Gailey likes to run two-tight end sets often and the backup tight end could be seeing significant playing time this year.
I expect Nelson to remain the starter and Schouman to be his primary backup in the pass-catching tight end role, with Michael Matthews the blocking specialist.
1. Swing Tackle
This battle is, again, due to injury history of Buffalo's projected starters at the tackle position.
With Cornell Green set to start at right tackle, whoever is the primary backup had better be ready for action. Green has played 11 seasons in the NFL, and has only played a full season in two of them. Over his most recent three-year stint with the Raiders, Green had one full 16-game season, and missed a combined 10 games over the other two.
The swing tackle battle really comes down to the starting left tackle battle. If Jamon Meredith beats out Demetrius Bell for the starting job, then Bell will likely take the swing tackle role. If this happens, then Bell would likely get some starts only at right tackle, as Meredith has proven quite durable, never missing a game during his two years as a starter at South Carolina and not missing a game due to injury last year.
If Bell wins the competition, however, then Meredith could wind up seeing extensive action at both spots, with Bell coming off a torn ACL and remaining an injury risk.
Ultimately, I believe Meredith wins the starting gig, leaving Bell to the swing role where he will likely get a few starts at right tackle during the season.