Updating Buffalo Bills' Key Position Battles Early in Camp
All of a sudden, we are less than a week away from the Buffalo Bills playing a tackle football game. Sure, it's the Hall of Fame game and ultimately means nothing. But still, football!
The Bills wrapped up their first week of training camp practices Sunday night after several days of steamy weather and incredible fan support. After a week's worth of practices, there is plenty to discuss and dissect.
The main takeaway from the first week of practice? Sammy Watkins is pretty decent at football. It won't be a surprise when he becomes the team's No. 1 receiving option.
But there are other position battles heating up as camp moves along. Let's take stock of a few of those battles and update where the competing players stand.
Heading into training camp, Da'Norris Searcy was the favorite to start at safety next to Aaron Williams. So far, Searcy has done nothing to show he is unfit to win the job.
Chris Brown at BuffaloBills.com detailed Searcy's strong early play and said head coach Doug Marrone is a fan of Searcy's versatility. Via Brown, Marrone said, "He's been playing very well and I'm excited about that."
Searcy told Brown his experience playing with the rest of the secondary is giving him a leg up on the competition. Searcy said, "Just being back there with each other every day for the past four seasons now we know how everybody is going to play. Being comfortable with each other back there is great.”
That comfort level can benefit the secondary because each player knows the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates. Because of that, the players can work together to help pick up the slack where someone else might be struggling.
There's still plenty of camp time for another safety to make a run at Searcy's spot. But for now it appears the starting job is No. 25's to lose.
Right tackle is a position battle that some declared over before it even began, but through the first week of camp, that is certainly not the case.
Rookie second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio was a popular pick to overtake Erik Pears at right tackle after Pears struggled in 2013. However, Kouandjio has struggled at the outset of training camp and could be losing ground on Pears quickly.
Joe Buscaglia of WGR said Kouandjio has "struggled to stand out" and Pears has "looked solid" thus far in camp. Buscaglia went on to detail a particularly rough practice for the offensive line as a whole, which would have been Kouandjio's opportunity to gain some ground on Pears.
However, Buscaglia said both players were "downright dreadful" and gave up several sacks during 11-on-11 work. In fact, Buscaglia said that so far, Kouandjio has been outplayed by fellow rookie Seantrel Henderson.
One of the things that could be working in Pears' favor is his health. Brown at BuffaloBills.com talked to Marrone about Pears' play so far. Marrone said Pears is "feeling really healthy" and "has done a very good job so far."
Perhaps Kouandjio is adjusting to the pros slower than we thought he would. He can still turn his performance around, but if he continues to struggle, he could find himself behind Pears and Henderson on the depth chart.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is starting to look like the Bills should have brought in some tight end help after all.
Tony Moeaki has a hamstring injury, and via Hank Domin at Syracuse.com, Marrone said Moeaki would miss "significant time" but not necessarily the rest of training camp. After Moeaki went down, the Bills signed Dominique Jones.
As if that wasn't enough, Scott Chandler left Sunday's practice with a groin injury and did not return, per Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. Rodak said Jones got a lot of reps during practice Sunday, and by the end of practice, the only healthy tight ends were Jones and Lee Smith.
Because of the lack of healthy players, Rodak said fullback Evan Rodriguez got some snaps at tight end during a drill late in practice.
These injuries are a setback for sure, but none of them seem to be too serious. Chandler still has to be the favorite to start, assuming he comes back healthy, but the injury outbreak definitely muddies the situation.
It appears that spots along the entire right side of the Bills offensive line are up for grabs.
We knew there was a competition at tackle, but Marrone told Brown at BuffaloBills.com that there is also a battle going on at right guard.
The major players in the battle are Chris Hairston and Kraig Urbik, who was last year's starter. Brown said Hairston has been getting the majority of the first-team reps at right guard with Urbik working with the second team. Brown did note, however, that Urbik rotated in with the first unit at times.
The offensive line as a whole struggled last season, and as we noted earlier, it still has at the beginning of camp. Hairston could provide a boost to the unit's performance, as he was a starting-caliber tackle before missing last season.
Hairston told Brown he's still got a lot to learn about "the intricacies of playing guard," but that working against the first-team defense is giving him valuable experience. Besides, if you can block Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams consistently, you can block anybody.
If Hairston doesn't pick up the position well enough, Urbik could end up getting the job back. But Hairston can easily win the job if he continues to improve.
And hey, if Urbik doesn't start, the team could always try him out at tight end since the Bills need help there.
After the Bills brought in Corey Graham during free agency, it was assumed he would challenge Nickell Robey to be the team's primary slot corner.
With Leodis McKelvin still working back from offseason hip surgery, Graham has been getting reps in McKelvin's stead during training camp. That has allowed Robey plenty of opportunity to work as the first-team nickel corner.
Brown of BuffaloBills.com said Robey, Ron Brooks and Ross Cockrell have been working in the slot, with that being the main order the players came in. Brown also noted Robey had a sack during the practice he was covering.
Robey has continued to make plays since. During practice Friday, Robey grabbed a tipped pass and took it to the house for a touchdown. If he continues to make plays like that, Robey should have no trouble reprising his role in the slot.
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