Evaluation of ‘bubble’ players most important issue for Bills

Photo of TE Logan Thomas from ESPN.com.

Another NFL preseason is about to conclude with more questions than answers about the quarterback position for the Buffalo Bills. That sentence alone could fit any number of unremarkable seasons in this football team’s entire history. Reality bites hard.

If McDermott’s goal was to be a buzzkill for fans getting ahead of themselves, he succeeded in quashing any chance of becoming delusional with putrid performances by both lines during the preseason. We all know how treacherous Bills’ preseasons are – mostly because we’ve watched a lot of bad football over the years before the games count.

What if anything can we gain from watching Buffalo’s last preseason game on Thursday?

Not much if you’re looking for answers about starters. This game is all about getting to the 53-man roster and not letting go of a potential gem. The bubble guys can often make or break a season because they are usually (but not always) unknown commodities.

Players like Logan Thomas, Brandon Reilly or Tanner Vallejo certainly aren’t locks to make the Bills’ final roster. However, any one of them might blow up on another team if given the right opportunity. So the last preseason game is really all about evaluation, not necessarily competing against an opponent.

Photo of LB Tanner Vallejo from Zimbio.com.

That stated, what might we learn from the last preseason game? As I write this, it’s not clear who will be the starting quarterback when the Bills face the Bears in Chicago on Thursday evening. Usually the starting quarterback plays little if at all in this game, but after witnessing a line shuffle experiment in the middle of what is usually the “dress rehearsal” game last week it’s hard to imagine what McDermott has in mind for this game.

There are tough decisions to be made at various positions, especially at tight end and wide receiver. Marcus Murphy all but extinguished any talk about Travaris Cadet or Taiwan Jones grabbing the third running back spot. In fact, Murphy should be considered an important resource in Daboll’s multiple scheme. The dude is a beast and will push Chris Ivory for playing time.

If Charles Clay’s contract wasn’t such a cap hit, I could see a scenario where the Bills move on from him with Nick O’Leary, Logan Thomas and Khari Lee at the tight-end position. Clay is the most versatile and talented tight end on the roster but he’s been playing on literally one knee for the last few years. Clay will stay and contribute as much as his one good leg will let him.

Photo of WR Kelvin Benjamin from ESPN.com.

The wide receiver group is largely a blur behind Kelvin Benjamin. It will be interesting to see who they keep and who Buffalo might pick up after other teams trim their rosters this weekend. Who will throw the ball to these candidates is anybody’s guess at this point. If McCarron gets the nod, it may signal the end of his short tenure as a Buffalo Bill if McDermott decides to ride with only two quarterbacks this season.

However, the position I’m most concerned about at this point is the CB position opposite Tre’Davious White. Vontae Davis was the presumed starter, but he’s looking shaky this preseason. Hopefully it’s because he’s getting used to the scheme, but one has to be concerned at this late date that Phillip Gaines is challenging him at the position. I fully expect Buffalo to scour the waiver wire for corners when teams cut down to the 53 man roster.

The bottom line is this preseason is like dozens of others we’ve seen over the years. We end up with more questions than answers, going into the regular season on a wing and a prayer. It’s become even more difficult to draw any conclusions about the team when coaches vary how they decide to use the preseason.

The Chicago Bears (Bills opponent on Thursday) haven’t played any starters during the entire preseason, and apparently the Los Angeles Rams decided to do the same thing. Then you have guys like Browns’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzing and scheming to satisfy his ego while starring on HBO’s “Hard Knocks”.

Photo of Browns’ Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams from 923thefan.radio.com.

Considering all the variations of priorities during the preseason around the NFL, perhaps the best approach for this last game is to just watch specific players.  Here are the players I’ll be focusing on as we wrap up another meaningless preseason and the questions I’ll be asking about each of them:

  •  Cornerback: Will Tre’Davious White even play? He should, given how undisciplined and out of position he was against the Bengals. How will they evaluate Phillip Gaines and Vontae Davis with or without White in the lineup? Buffalo is so thin at corner, I’ll be putting prayer beads around a picture of White all season. I expect to see this position fortified after roster cuts.
  • Tight Ends: I’m literally foaming at the mouth to see how OC Brian Daboll will be utilizing the tight end position in his offense. TEs have been the forgotten men over the history of this franchise and it’s exciting just to think about how they might actually be used in a creative way. Clay is vital, costly, but limited in how much he can be used. All Nick O’Leary does is make big plays. Logan Thomas is a gem the team would be loathe to lose, and Khari Lee has shown serious chemistry with QB Josh Allen. This battle is anybody’s guess in terms of what could happen.
  • Wide Receiver: More prayer beads surrounding a picture of Kelvin Benjamin this season. At this rate I may have to dedicate a whole room in our house for long sessions of transcendental meditation. I’ve read all the debates on Twitter about who should be the FAB FIVE (?) WRs and frankly, I’m completely clueless about who should make the roster. There’s Kelvin and then there’s all the rest. I’ll leave the general managers on Twitter to decide the fate of this group.
  • Quarterback: Last but not least. By process of elimination it makes sense for AJ McCarron to get the start, since he has missed time with a shoulder injury. McDermott also needs to give McCarron the chance to play his way back on the team, because if he doesn’t have a good game, his career in Buffalo might be short-lived. I fully endorse McDermott waiting until the last minute to announce who will start against the Ravens on opening day. Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen are two VERY different QBs, so having to prepare a scheme against both is advantageous. My bottom line hasn’t changed. Nathan Peterman has played well enough to start the season. Josh Allen needs to be brought along slowly, especially with the number of difficult away games early in the season. Start Peterman and let my favorite Wyoming ‘homie’ quarterback sit back and learn.

Finally, if you had any hope a real contest might happen between the Bears and Bills to wrap up the season, kiss those hopes goodbye. Buffalo and Chicago have a regular season meeting on Nov. 4 at New Era Field, so neither team will be showing much of anything in terms of schematics.

Editor’s babble: The end of this Bills’ preseason leaves me with more questions than I started with… and that’s exactly how McDermott would probably like all of us outside the locker room to feel. After tonight’s game, I’ll probably be even more confused. Good news is after decades of experience, this old Bills fan detaches from outcomes and just enjoys the ride. If you can stand more from a righteously-admitted cupcake blogger, you can find me on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO. 

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BuffaloFAMbase.com. She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.

3 Replies to “Evaluation of ‘bubble’ players most important issue for Bills”

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  2. Thanks Robyn,

    Murphy looks like a great pick-up as he shows the ability to wait for his blockers, make his cut and accelerate..

    I think TE O’Leary’s time is up in Buffalo it will be a tough cut as they will keep Lee for his blocking.

    As far as WR., Zay, Reilly, Ray Ray , Kerley and Streater (I’m not sure how many they will keep) make the team..

    I know both lines have struggled but I’m worried about Lotulelei, I haven’t seen him make a play all pre-season and one blocker has been handling him. Hopefully, he is saving it for the season but it could be a lost investment.

    Vontae Davis looks slow and can’t make the cut to catch up to the WRs. He isn’t close to the player he once was…

    There is no doubt the Bills will be scouring the waiver wire for upgrades and additions to their taxi squad–:)