CAPACCIO: Four big questions facing the Bills as training camp begins

July 24, 2018 - 11:53 pm

Wake up!  Your nearly seven-month hibernation is finally over and football season is here.

Bills players report to training camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester Wednesday.  They hit the field for the first time on Thursday, and when they do, here are four big questions I’ll be looking to find answers to:

1. How far away is Josh Allen from being ready to play?

As of this article being written, Allen has yet to sign his rookie contract.  But once the seventh overall pick gets inked and into camp, all eyes will be on him.  We all know that his arm is plenty strong enough to play in the NFL, but is he able to show enough accuracy, poise in the pocket, and consistency to be in the conversation to play sooner rather than later?  And if he is, can he beat out A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman for the starting QB job?  Allen will have every opportunity to win the gig, just as the other two will.  But he’ll have to show early-on that he warrants enough time with the starters to continue to show what he can do.  Some think he should sit the whole year and learn.  Some think he should play right away.  There’s no right answer.  Every situation is different.  The trick for head coach Sean McDermott and his staff will be figuring out what works best for their hopeful future franchise QB.

2. Who is going to catch passes from the wide receiver spot?

The Bills have thirteen wide receivers on their roster.  But outside of Kelvin Benjamin, none of them are locks to be regulars on offense.  Zay Jones had that bizarre incident at a downtown L.A. apartment complex then missed all of minicamp after undergoing knee surgery.  Andre Holmes has great height (6’ 4”) and is a valuable special teams contributor, but he lacks the speed to separate and is carrying a salary cap number of $1.75 million.  Brandon Reilly was the darling of last year’s camp and preseason, leading the team in both receptions and yards, but has yet to appear in an NFL regular season game.  Jeremy Kerley looks to be fairly safe as (at least) the slot receiver, but turns 30 in November and caught a total of 27 passes for only 217 yards last year with the Jets.  Rod Streater looked like he was going to be a contributor last year then got hurt in preseason, was released, and didn’t play at all for any team.  There’s late-round picks Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl, undrafted free agents Cam Phillips and Robert Foster, and Malachi Dupre and Quan Bray from last year’s practice squad.  Kaelin Clay provides speed but has primarily been a punt returner throughout his career, grabbing only six catches in three seasons.  There’s your thirteen.

3. How will the offensive line shake out?

There are so many ways the new-look line could line up opening week in Baltimore.  Dion Dawkins is the only lock at any position, being anointed the full-time starting left tackle after the team traded Cordy Glenn before the draft.  Throughout most of OTAs and minicamp Vlad Ducasse and John Miller lined up as the two starting guards while Russell Bodine and Ryan Groy rotated at center and Jordan Mills mostly started at right tackle.  Veteran Marshall Newhouse played both inside and outside.  Rookie Wyatt Teller (guard), De’Ondre Wesley and Conor McDermott (tackles) were all backups in the spring, but will look to push for starting jobs at camp.  There's a lot of uncertainty with this group.

4. Where’s the linebacker depth?

The signing Tuesday of Keenan Robinson signals that the team still wants - and needs - more competition at the linebacker spot.  Rookie Tremaine Edmunds will almost certainly start from Day One in the middle.  Matt Milano is penciled in on the weakside, but he missed both the team’s playoff game in Jacksonville and all of minicamp with separate hamstring injuries.  35-year old Lorenzo Alexander is the starter on the strong side.  But if any of these guys can’t go, who fits into their places?  And what can we expect from the next-man-up?  Ramon Humber worked in for Milano during the spring, and can also play the middle, but he lost his starting job to the rookie last year.  Before the team drafted Edmunds, Tanner Vallejo was penciled in at MLB.  Xavier Woodson-Luster, Julian Stanford, Deon Lacey, and Corey Thompson are all simply fighting for roster spots at this point, let alone backup linebacker roles.

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