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Buffalo Bills
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

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

  UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS:



QUARTERBACKS:
Starter Tyrod Taylor. Backups EJ Manuel, Cardale Jones.

Taylor made tremendous strides in his first year as an NFL starter, but before the Bills lavish him with a long-term contract, there's still much to prove. Primarily, he has to find a way to start utilizing the middle of the field, and he has to do a better job of avoiding contact on his scrambles. That said, Taylor has the Bills in a better quarterback situation than they've had in recent memory if he continues to grow as a player. Manuel is in his last year as a Bill and will only play if Taylor gets hurt. If Jones gets on the field this year, that means you may as well kiss the season goodbye because he's not ready to play in the NFL.



RUNNING BACKS:
Starters LeSean McCoy, Jerome Felton. Backups Karlos Williams, Jonathan Williams, Mike Gillislee, Boom Herron, James Wilder Jr., Glenn Gronkowski.

Injuries sabotaged McCoy's first season in Buffalo, and they also sent up a warning flare that the rich contract extension the Bills gave him may very well prove to be a mistake. He's the best back on the team, but he's clearly lost some traction from his great Eagles years. Karlos Williams first needs to get in shape, and then he has to stay in shape because he won't be playing the first four games. He was suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Jonathan Williams, who was arrested on suspicion of DWI in mid-July, seems ready to take Karlos' reps, and the same goes for Gillislee who was somewhat impressive late last year when he was pressed into duty. The Bills led the NFL in rushing in 2015, and that will be the goal again in 2016.



WIDE RECEIVERS:
Starters Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods. Backups Leonard Hankerson, Greg Little, Greg Salas, Walter Powell, Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin, Dezmin Lewis, Kolby Listenbee, Jarrett Boykin, Gary Chambers, Davonte Allen.

Watkins' health has become a perpetual issue, and there's a chance he could miss significant training camp time. As long as he's ready for the regular season, that shouldn't be much of a worry, but whether he can stay healthy for 16 games certainly is. Woods is a solid No. 2, but he lacks explosiveness. Behind those two, the Bills have a dark hole of mediocrity, so they hope veterans like Hankerson, Little, or Salas can step up, or perhaps Lewis a seventh-round draft pick in 2015. Rookie sixth-rounder Listenbee might make a push. This is not a strength of the roster, and the Bills could struggle to move the ball in the air.



TIGHT ENDS:
Starter Charles Clay. Backups Chris Gragg, Nick O'Leary, Jim Dray, Blake Annen.

Of course, what would take the pressure off the receiving corps is for Clay to emerge as the downfield threat the Bills thought they were getting when they overpaid for him in free agency last year. He was slowed by injuries and Tyrod Taylor's unwillingness to throw over the middle, but Clay needs to help his quarterback and become more of a weapon. Depth is weak here, too. Gragg and O'Leary are average at best, and Dray is nothing more than a blocker, this year's version of Matthew Mulligan. Greg Roman loves utilizing tight ends, but there's not much to work with here.



OFFENSIVE LINEMEN:
Starters LT Cordy Glenn, LG John Miller, C Eric Wood, RG Richie Incognito, RT Jordan Mill. Backups T Cyrus Kouandjio, G Cyril Richardson, T Seantrel Henderson, T Marquis Lucas, T Chris Martin, T Justin Renfrow, C Fernando Velasco, C Robert Kugler, G Ryan Groy and G Jamison Lalk.

The play of Glenn, Incognito, and Wood was the key to Buffalo leading the NFL in rushing last season. Now, that trio has to keep it going and not regress, and it will be interesting to see how that goes now that Glenn and Incognito have been given shiny new contracts. It might be tough for Incognito, at 33 years old, to be better than he was last year.

The right side is where the concern comes. Line coach Aaron Kromer is confident that Miller will only get better the more he plays, and that may be the case, but right tackle is a mess. Mills will begin as the starter by default, with Henderson and Kouandjio in backup roles. All three would be the weakest link on this line. In reserve, there doesn't appear to be anyone who will push any of the first seven guys on the depth chart.



DEFENSIVE LINEMEN:
Starters NT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DT Corbin Bryant. Backups DE Adolphus Washington, DT Jerel Worthy, DT Justin Zimmer, DT T.J. Barnes, DT Lavar Edwards, DE Leger Douzable and DE Cedric Reed.

Dareus needs to have a bounce-back season after struggling with the concepts of Rex Ryan's defense, and the expectation is that he will. Williams has to prove he still has something left after sitting out the final 10 games because of a knee injury. And Bryant has to prove that he can be a solid starter rather than a reliable backup. The guy to watch, of course, is Washington, the rookie third-round pick who could supplant Bryant as the starter by the end of camp if he stays healthy and proves to be a quick study. Beyond those four, the depth is sketchy, though Worthy has potential as a 2012 second-round pick of the Packers, and Barnes has ties to Ryan from their days together in New York.



LINEBACKERS:
Starters ILB Reggie Ragland, ILB Preston Brown, OLB Jerry Hughes, OLB Manny Lawson. Backups ILB Zach Brown, ILB Randell Johnson, 0LB IK Enemkpali, OLB Bryson Albright, OLB Lorenzo Alexander, OLB Max Valles, ILB Jamari Lattimore, ILB Kevin Reddick, ILB Eric Striker, DE Shaq Lawson.

The loss of Shaq Lawson to injury for the first half of the season was a disappointing blow for the Bills, and it looks like Manny Lawson will have to fill that void, a tough task for a 32-year-old. Hughes should have a big year now that he's used to the defense, and coach Rex Ryan thinks Preston Brown is ready to become the true quarterback of the defense. Ragland, the Bills' second-round pick, has all the tools to become a long-time starter in the NFL, especially if he proves he can cover on passing downs. Free agent signee Zach Brown will provide solid depth on the inside, and Enemkpali and Alexander will have chances to stick as outside depth players.



DEFENSIVE BACKS:
Starters LCB Stephon Gilmore, RCB Ronald Darby, SS Aaron Williams, FS Corey Graham. Backups CB Nickell Robey, CB Kevon Seymour, CB Mario Butler, CB Sterling Moore, CB Sammy Seamster, CB Corey White, CB Javier Arenas, FS Robert Blanton, SS Duke Williams, FS Jonathan Meeks, DS Colt Anderson, DS Jonathan Dowling.

Assuming Gilmore doesn't sit out the season in protest, he will be playing to prove he's worthy of the huge money he wants in impending free agency. There's no reason to think he won't have a big season, unless he gets hurt, which is always a possibility. Darby had a great rookie year, and now he has to keep going, something Ryan expects from him. Aaron Williams has to prove to himself that his neck injury will not be a lingering worry. Mentally, that will be a tough hurdle to get over, but he has confidence that he can do it. Graham gets the nod as the other starter, but his best days are certainly behind him.

Robey has been an effective slot corner, but his spot isn't a given. Seymour, the sixth-round rookie, got a lot of time in mini-camp with Gilmore away, and Moore and White are both NFL vets who weigh more than 200 pounds, nice size to have for the sub packages. The Bills signed Blanton and Anderson as free agents, and Duke Williams and Meeks have been loitering in backup roles in Buffalo for several years without ever doing much to warrant major playing time.



SPECIAL TEAMS:
K Dan Carpenter. P Colton Schmidt, LS Garrison Sanborn, K Jordan Gay, K Marshall Morgan, LS Reid Ferguson, KOR Marquise Goodwin and PR, Javier Arenas.

Carpenter's job is probably safe, but you never know. If Morgan has a big camp, don't rule out the Bills saving some money and getting rid of Carpenter after his puzzling 2015 season, when he missed six extra points. Gay's job is also tenuous as a kickoff specialist because Ryan isn't overly thrilled having to use two spots at kicker. Schmidt is a solid punter who will not be challenged in training camp, nor will Sanborn as the long snapper. One of the big things that will have to be determined is who the return men will be. Now that Goodwin did not make the Olympics, he'll be in camp from the start and could earn the kickoff job. Arenas could make the team solely on his return ability.


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