If there’s one rule of thumb that football fans need to follow it is to not read too deeply into the results on the scoreboard from preseason games.
While the third game is typically considered the final tune up for a team’s starters, the Bills entered their 2013 slate with the opportunity to see a handful of potential starters in extended auditions during their 44-20 win over Indianapolis.
E.J. Manuel was the greatest beneficiary of the extra playing time as he ran Buffalo’s offense for the entire first half while Kevin Kolb served as the emergency quarterback due to missing time last week with a knee injury and family issue. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Manuel made the most of his opportunity, but the extra playing time certainly won’t hurt his progression.
The shining moment of his day came on a surgically precise two-minute drill to give the Bills the halftime lead. The 92-yard drive likely served as a nice confidence boost for Manuel as the 92-yard trek was really the first evidence of the swagger that was on display during his most impressive games at Florida State.
Assuming he has the upper hand in the quarterback competition, I’d say that Manuel didn’t do anything to hurt his status on the depth chart. He took care of the football and even showed how dangerous he can be outside of the pocket on a pair of runs. His touchdown pass to Dorin Dickerson was perfectly thrown and served as a perfect cap to his preseason debut.
Manuel was somewhat limited to start the day, as the Bills featured a run-heavy look to start their possessions. In addition to the majority of run calls, Manuel was a little cold off the bat when putting the ball in the air. It wasn’t until his final couple of series when he started to heat up. He had his fair share of flaws; double clutching a few throws and getting a little too cute with others. Perhaps it was a case of nerves more than anything else and Friday’s matchup against Minnesota will serve as the link in the chain for Manuel.
The real fireworks came in the second half when Buffalo’s backups proved to be more skilled than Indy’s backups (or perhaps the backup’s, backups in many cases). Jeff Tuel put on a passing clinic with Brandon Kaufman and Marcus Easley as the greatest beneficiaries to the air attack. Tuel’s 212 yard assault helped the Bills run away with the game, but the results were much more about his, and other player’s, effectiveness in a game setting.
While it is only one game, there is likely a growing assumption that Tuel will need to be considered for a spot on the 53-man roster given that it may be difficult for the Bills to sneak him through to the practice squad. Whether they decide to use a roster or practice squad spot on the rookie, don’t delve too deep into the delusion that he is suddenly going to unseat Kevin Kolb as the backup. The Bills are going to want, and need, a veteran quarterback on the roster and Kolb is going to be that guy.
Interestingly, a number of starters saw a god stretch of playing time on Sunday, with only a select few getting the yank after a series or two. As expected, Mario Williams and C.J. Spiller made brief cameos as each of the stars have little they need to prove in preseason contests. Kyle Williams also was used sparingly while other starters like Kiko Alonso, Alex Carrington, Marcell Dareus, Stephon Gilmore, Fred Jackson, Manny Lawson and Aaron Williams were all held under 20 plays on the day.
I’m curious to see where the reps fall over the next two games as the traditional extended audition should come against the Redskins, but some of the roster holes might dictate more time for players come Friday at the Ralph.
Receiving Battle Heats Up
Sunday’s game certainly helped to shake out the battle for roster space at wide receiver. Thanks to Stevie Johnson’s injury, Chris Hogan grabbed reps with the number one offense and made a few nice grabs during his time. Robert Woods, who is likely written in the starting lineup with pen, also had a nice day catching the ball. The real beneficiary was Marcus Easley who had a game-high seven grabs for 94 yards. As someone who most had on the outside looking in, Easley may have edged into the conversation for the sixth wide receiver spot with Hogan and Da’rick Rogers with his play.
Rogers on the Decline
The fact that Rogers only saw one target isn’t too big of a deal. He was on for over 20 snaps but with 17 different players catching passes, at least one or two guys will suffer. While he managed to score a touchdown, his complete and utter lack of effort on Dax Swanson’s fumble recovery TD won’t win him any fans on the coaching staff. That couples with the reports that Rogers has shown more than a few mental lapses in camp and I wonder how that might affect him moving forward – especially with Chris Hogan seeing first team reps.
Fullback in the Fold?
General consensus was that the Bills wouldn’t keep a fullback this year. However, Frank Summers saw a number of first team snaps as a road grader for C.J. Spiller and also saw plenty of time on special teams. I assume that if Summers continues to impress that he may snag a spot from one of the tight ends fighting for space. My money would be on Mike Caussin.
Help in the Defensive Backfield
Stephon Gilmore is good, this much we know. Ledois McKelvin is good sometimes, but not always. And it seems that anyone else behind those guys are pretty much a complete toss up. Ron Brooks got torched yesterday, so I’m sure many fans aren’t pleased with him, but the general depth at corner is a real concern moving forward. I’d assume the Bills bring in a veteran before the start of the year. Key word: assume.
Five Thoughts for Next Week
– E.J. Manuel will again start and will probably play into the second quarter. Kolb will carry the game to the second half and Tuel will mop up against the Vikings.
– Kendall Gaskins might just be the new preseason fan favorite running back (who eventually gets cut). I’d like to see him get more reps with the second and third units in the event that he could supplant Tashard Choice.
– I’m not reading too much into Dustin Hopkins getting the first go with kicks yesterday. When Rian Lindell gets the first go-around on Friday I assume everyone will realize the rotation the team is working with.
– I didn’t think much of Buffalo’s offensive line play on Sunday. Here’s hoping Friday brings better results.
– I have an inkling that Aaron Williams will stick as a starting safety once Jarius Byrd returns. Just seems to be more versatile than Searcy at this point.