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One preseason game is in the books for the Buffalo Bills. What did it mean for some of the team’s ongoing position battles? Let’s start there with this week’s Bills Mailbag …
Sam Ruggiero asks: The biggest competitions in training camp are at No. 2 cornerback and middle linebacker. I’m guessing at the moment it’s Kaiir Elam and Terrel Bernard, respectively. What’s your guess?
Gerry in Lewiston asks: Where do you see the battles at guard, starting linebacker, wide receiver and defensive end going? Is it too early to get a real grip on any of these battles?
Jay: To be fair, Sam submitted his question before Terrel Bernard suffered a hamstring injury at the end of training camp. That kept him out of Saturday’s preseason opener against the Colts, and listening to coach Sean McDermott after the game, it doesn’t sound like Bernard’s return is going to be all that soon. Because of that, the middle linebacker job by default belongs to Tyrel Dodson at the moment. Bernard will have to play some serious catch up when he gets back into the lineup for that to change. At No. 2 cornerback, Dane Jackson made a gifted interception against the Colts and played the reps you would expect from a starter, but I’m not convinced there is a favorite for that job yet. The reality is, the Bills really need Kaiir Elam to win it, and are likely to give him every last chance – and then maybe one more – to do so.
Bills safety Micah Hyde made his first appearance in a game Saturday since suffering a season-ending neck injury in September 2022.
As for right guard, even though O’Cyrus Torrence started over Ryan Bates on Saturday, I still think it will be the veteran who occupies that spot Sept. 11 for the season opener against the Jets. McDermott isn’t fond of rushing rookies into the lineup, and Torrence admitted last week in an interview with The Buffalo News that adjusting to the new techniques being taught by offensive line coach Aaron Kromer has proved to be a challenge. Torrence is certainly the future at right guard, but in my view, it will take some more time before he’s ready to occupy that position.
I don’t see much intrigue in the wide receiver competition. The top six of Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty, Khalil Shakir and Justin Shorter looks fairly set. Perhaps Isabella can force his way into that conversation during the remainder of the preseason. More on him later. Defensive end is a position I could see General Manager Brandon Beane tweaking through a trade at the end of the summer. If Von Miller starts the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, the team can keep Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Leonard Floyd, Boogie Basham and Shaq Lawson as the top five. If Miller is ready to play, though, that creates a logjam at the position that Beane could attempt to alleviate through a trade.
John Jarzynski asks: I really liked Andy Isabella coming out of college a few years ago, but he hasn’t been able to stick. What chance do you give him of making the Bills?
Jay: Isabella had a solid preseason debut with the Bills, tying for the team lead with three catches for 42 yards. His 30-yard reception in the second quarter was the team’s longest play of the game. That Isabella got into the game in the first half shows where he is on the depth chart. He also returned three kicks for 48 yards and one punt for 5 yards. That many opportunities shows the Bills are giving him a serious look. I’d say he still has an uphill climb ahead of him, but two strong performances in the next two exhibition games could really strengthen Isabella’s case.
David Reading asks: As we come down to final cuts, what’s the difference between releasing and waiving a player? Does one provide any more or less protection in terms of future rights to the player, compensation from another team, or preserving a contract?
Jay: A player with three or fewer accrued seasons of NFL experience gets waived at final cuts, meaning he has to pass through the waivers process before becoming a free agent. An accrued season is defined as six or more games on a team’s 53-man roster, injured reserve or the physically-unable-to-perform list. Waivers at the start of a new season follow the current year’s draft order, so in this case, the Chicago Bears have the first priority, followed by the Houston Texans and continuing through the rest of the draft order (the Bills are No. 28). Let’s say the Bills waive rookie cornerback Alex Austin. That would mean any of the league’s other 31 teams can put a claim in for him, and he would be awarded to the team highest on the priority list. That team would then inherit Austin’s four-year, rookie contract. It’s not uncommon at final cuts for waived players to be claimed by multiple teams. If a player is claimed off waivers, he immediately goes on the 53-man roster of the team that claimed him. If a waived player goes unclaimed, he immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent. The Bills will surely hope that some of the players they waive at final cuts Aug. 29 make it through the waivers process and become free agents who they can then sign to their practice squad.
A player who is released has four-plus years of accrued NFL experience. He is not subject to waivers and immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Matt D. asks: In light of the Bills drafting multiple players from the University of Florida over the last two years, do you think this is just a coincidence, the influence of a regional scout, or some relationship with Florida coaches? I recall talk of McDermott having respect for the Pitt coach when the team drafted Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin.
Jay: I’ve not asked Brandon Beane this question, but it is a good one. My initial thought is it’s coincidence, given that none of the players drafted – O’Cyrus Torrence, Justin Shorter and Kaiir Elam – come from the same position group the way that Hamlin and Jackson did out of Pitt. I wouldn’t ruled out the possibility of a scout or a relationship with the Florida coaching staff having some sway, though. It’s a good question for Beane the next time I talk to him.
Luigi Mike Speranza asks: On paper, this team seems loaded at every position. Credit to Brandon Beane. What are the top two positions that you believe need more scrutiny?
Bills fans stressed about what might happen if Allen were to suffer an injury when the games start to count likely don’t feel better after Saturday’s 23-19 victory.
Jay: I’m as worried as everyone else about middle linebacker. The second position that doesn’t seem to be getting as much attention, but is still a concern, is swing tackle. The depth behind starters Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown looks to be severely lacking.
Dan De Federicis asks: In your opinion, which players on the Bills’ current roster give the best interviews?
Jay: It’s not exactly frequent that Stefon Diggs does speak, but when he does I find his answers to be worthwhile. There are times I get frustrated when we don’t here from Diggs – like after last year’s playoff loss to the Bengals – but I can also appreciate that when we do, he’s going to have some compelling answers. We’re lucky as media members that the Bills have several good interviews on the current roster. Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Mitch Morse and Dion Dawkins are all on that list. Dawkins, for what it’s worth, won the inaugural Kent Hull Stand-up Guy Award last year, which the Buffalo chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association awarded to him for his cooperation and respect in dealing with the local media.
Jeff Miller asks: If Gabe Davis takes a step up, as expected, Dalton Kincaid meets expectations and Khalil Shakir improves, won’t that cut into Stefon Diggs’ numbers – which was his bone of contention? They don’t make seven figures to be decoys.
Jay: As they say, Jeff, winning cures everything. Diggs said at the start of training camp his problem has nothing to do with how many targets he gets. Nor should it, since the Bills throw him the ball more than just about any other wide receiver in football. It’s also not like a dip in production is going to do anything to Diggs’ bank account, either. He just signed a massive contract extension last offseason. As long as the team is winning, I don’t see Diggs creating a problem if his numbers go down slightly.
Charles asks: Where was Leonard Floyd?
Jay: Floyd, a defensive end, played 12 defensive snaps against the Colts and did not make it onto the stat sheet. I wouldn’t worry about that too much, though. He’s firmly been in the top four defensive ends throughout training camp. His roster spot should be secure.
Thank you for all the questions this week! As a reminder, they can be submitted via email to email@example.com or on Twitter to @JaySkurski.
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