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 »This Week in History
Buffalo Bills
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

  Inside Slant | Notes, Quotes | Strategy and Personnel | Player Wire

  UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS:



QUARTERBACKS:
Starter - EJ Manuel. Backups - Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, Matt Simms.

The great conundrum for the Bills, as it usually is. Is there anyone on the roster who can play the most important position competently? Head coach Rex Ryan has said from day one that he was going to conduct a true competition, may the best man win. And because there's no favorite, it will be a fluid situation on a daily basis throughout the practices and preseason games.



RUNNING BACKS:
Starters LeSean McCoy, FB Jerome Felton. Backups Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, Karlos Williams, FB John Conner.

McCoy will be the focal point of the offense, and if he stays healthy, he could carry the ball 300 times this season, something he did his last two years with the Eagles. The Bills have depth, but it's uncertain how things will shake out. Long-time veteran Jackson, the oldest running back in the NFL, figures to make the team, but he is in decline, and given his expected diminished role, it wouldn't be a shock if he gets cut in camp. If Jackson makes it, it's quite possible Dixon might go if the rookie Williams can prove he can handle a heavy special teams load. Felton is expected to beat out Conner as the team's lone fullback.



WIDE RECEIVERS:
Starters Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods. Backups Percy Harvin, Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin, Dezmin Lewis, Deonte Thompson, Justin Brown, Tobais Palmer, Marcus Thigpen, Caleb Holley, Andre Davis.

The Bills have several options in the passing game, provided there's a quarterback that can distribute the ball. Watkins is coming off a solid rookie season and should make a jump this year, especially now that he has Harvin to draw some of the double coverage away. Harvin is a player that must be accounted for, and Watkins should benefit from more one-on-one matchups. Woods is a solid No. 2 possession receiver, and Hogan had a breakthrough 2014 season and proved to be a reliable target. The odd man out could be the speedy Goodwin who simply hasn't been able to stay healthy in his first two years.



TIGHT ENDS:
Starter Charles Clay. Backups Chris Gragg, Nick O'Leary, Marqueis Gray, Chris Manhertz, Clay Burton, Matthew Mulligan.

The Bills spent big money to bring in Clay, and he gives them a weapon they have rarely had, a tight end who can make plays down the field and create mismatch issues. Clay will also play a key role in helping to free Watkins because he will occupy a safety in the middle of the field. The depth here is weak. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman likes involving tight ends in his offense, but he may be hamstrung because Gray and Gragg are inexperienced, and O'Leary is a rookie who can't block at all.



OFFENSIVE LINEMEN:
Starters LT Cordy Glenn, LG John Miller, C Eric Wood RG Richie Incognito, RT Cyrus Kouandjio. Backups Kraig Urbik, Cyril Richardson, Seantrel Henderson, Daryl Johnson, Alex Kupper, William Campbell, DJ Morrell, Tyson Chandler.

During the offseason program, Kouandjio overtook Henderson at right tackle and he will enter camp No. 1 on the depth chart. However, the pads go on and Kouandjio has to prove he can compete, something he failed to do last year as a second-round pick as he lost out to the seventh-round choice, Henderson. Glenn and Wood are locked in, and both are coming off sub-par years and need to bounce back. The Bills addressed their awful guard play by signing Incognito as a free agent, and drafting Miller in the third round and plugging him in as the starter from day one. Urbik will be the guard/center backup, but the Bills need to find a third tackle.



DEFENSIVE LINEMEN:
Starters DE Mario Williams, NT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DE Jerry Hughes. Backups Jarius Wynn, Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, Andre Fluellen, Alex Carrington, Justin Hamilton, Jeremy Towns, Cedric Reed, Erik Williams.

Head coach Rex Ryan runs a 3-4, but with Mario Williams and Hughes playing as rush ends, it will look an awful lot like a 4-3 with Dareus and Kyle Williams on the inside. You may see Hughes drop into coverage occasionally, but Mario will always be going up field. This is the Bills' most dominant unit, the key to back-to-back 50-sack seasons, a first in franchise history. The two Williams' and Dareus made the Pro Bowl last year, and an argument could have been made for Hughes, too, and the Bills knew that, which is why they re-signed him before he hit the free-agent market.



LINEBACKERS:
Starters Nigel Bradham, Preston Brown, Manny Lawson. Backups Michael Buchanan, Randell Johnson, Ty Powell, Jimmy Gaines, Andrew Hudson, Tony Steward, A.J. Tarpley.

Bradham and Brown are going to be the two inside linebackers, while Lawson will play on the strong side. The thing to remember about this defense is it will be tough to call it a 3-4, or even a 4-3 because the roles will be different for several players. It's easier to call it a 7-4 defense. There will be seven guys in the first two levels, and they will switch positions and line up all over the place depending on the call. Brown will call the signals from the middle, similar to what he did last year as a true 4-3 middle linebacker. Bradham has to readjust his thinking. He excelled last year on the outside, but now has to move inside where he struggled a bit in 2013.



DEFENSIVE BACKS:
Starters CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Leodis McKelvin, SS Corey Graham, FS Aaron Williams. Backups CB Ron Brooks, CB Nickell Robey, CB Ronald Darby, CB Ross Cockrell, CB Mario Butler, CB Rod Sweeting, CB Cam Thomas, SS Duke Williams, SS Jonathan Meeks, S Kenny Ladler, S Bacarri Rambo, S Wesley Miller.

Ryan needs his corners to cover one-on-one, and he knows he has one in Gilmore. McKelvin has always been inconsistent, and he's been injury prone the last two years, so that bears watching. Aaron Williams is now in his third year at safety and has become a reliable leader. The loss of Da'Norris Searcy leaves a gap at strong safety, and it will be a tough battle all summer between Graham, Duke Williams, Meeks and Rambo. The veteran Graham may have the inside track just because of his experience, limited as it might be at safety. Robey will probably be the nickel corner. Darby, the second-round pick, will have to fight to get on the field beyond special teams.



SPECIAL TEAMS:
K Dan Carpenter, P Colton Schmidt, LS Garrison Sanborn, KOR Jordan Gay, PR Leodis McKelvin, KOR Marquise Goodwin.

Carpenter was one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL last year, while Schmidt had a solid season, mainly because he dropped 31 punts inside the 20-yard line to overcome a mediocre net average. One of the interesting things in camp will be whether Gay can maintain his roster spot. Last year, the Bills kept him active for every game and he produced a 60 percent touchback rate on kickoffs. It's uncertain what Ryan's feeling will be on that matter, but it would seem Gay will have to have a great camp to solidify his spot. The return game is wide open. McKelvin and Harvin will likely be a part of it, but Goodwin's tenuous stature could knock him out of the mix.

PERSONNEL TRACKER

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)

LB Stevenson Sylvester (not tendered as UFA).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all signed)

CB Ronald Darby (2/50): $4,569,690/4 yrs, $2,611,125 guaranteed/$1,583,412 SB.

G John Miller (3/81): $3,055,120/4 yrs, $680,120 SB.

RB Karlos Williams (5/155): $2,495,252/4 yrs, $215,352 SB.

LB Tony Steward (6/188): $2,403,828/4 yrs, $123,828 SB.

TE Nick O'Leary (6/194): $2,399,688/4 yrs, $119,688 SB.

WR Dezmin Lewis (7/234): $2,346,528/4 yrs, $66,528 SB.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

WR Justin Brown: ERFA; terms unknown.

DT Corbin Bryant: ERFA; terms unknown.

WR Marcus Easley: UFA; $7M/4 yrs, $1.7M SB/$2.2M guaranteed.

K Jordan Gay: Potential ERFA; terms unknown.

WR Chris Hogan: ERFA; terms unknown.

DE Jerry Hughes: Potential UFA; $45M/5 yrs, $7M SB/$22.15M guaranteed.

DE Jarius Wynn: UFA; $2.2M/2 yrs, $250,000 SB.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

DE Alex Carrington: UFA Rams; terms unknown.

QB Matt Cassel (trade Vikings).

TE Charles Clay: Transition FA Dolphins; $38M/5 yrs, $10M SB/$24.5M guaranteed.

FB John Conner: Not tendered as UFA by Jets; terms unknown.

FB Jerome Felton: UFA Vikings; $9.2M/4 yrs, $2.6M SB/$4M guaranteed.

DT Andre Fluellen: Not tendered as UFA by Lions; terms unknown.

WR Percy Harvin: FA Jets; $24M/3 yrs (voids to $6M/1 yr); $3M SB.

T Wayne Hunter: FA; terms unknown.

G Richie Incognito: FA; $1M/1 yr, $100,000 SB.

RB LeSean McCoy (trade Eagles).

TE Matthew Mulligan: Not tendered as UFA by Titans; terms unknown.

QB Matt Simms (waivers Jets).

QB Tyrod Taylor: UFA Ravens; $3.35M/3 yrs, $400,000 SB/$1.15M guaranteed.

PLAYERS LOST

TE Scott Chandler (released).

LB Larry Dean: UFA Buccaneers; $745,000/1 yr.

T Chris Hairston: Not tendered as RFA/Chargers; $685,000/1 yr, $25,000 SB.

QB Kyle Orton (retired).

G Erik Pears: UFA 49ers; $4.7M/2 yrs, $500 SB/$1M guaranteed.

LB Keith Rivers (released).

S Da'Norris Searcy: UFA Titans; $23.75M/4 yrs, $4.5M SB/$10.5M guaranteed.

TE Lee Smith: UFA Raiders; $9.1M/3 yrs, $1.6M SB/$3.1M guaranteed.

LB Brandon Spikes: Not tendered as UFA/Patriots; $1.1M/1 yr, $25,000 SB/$25,000 RB.

RB C.J. Spiller: UFA Saints; $18M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$9M guaranteed.

QB Jeff Tuel (released).


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