The Buffalo Bills will play the New York Giants in the 2014 Hall of Fame Game, following all-time Bills great, Andre Reed’s induction. With more expectations high as ever for a young and athletic team with game-changing players on both offense and defense, the NFL couldn’t have picked a better team than the Buffalo Bills to play in the first game of the 2014 season.
While key starters will only see a series or two, the depth that has been built throughout the roster should make the game enjoyable from start to finish.
The Bills fielded one of the most exciting defenses in the entire NFL last season under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, registering a franchise-record 57 sacks and forced 29 turnovers in his hybrid, blitz-laden scheme.
This year, the Bills’ defense will look different, as new coordinator Jim Schwartz runs more of a traditional 4-3. However, while many fans have connected “4-3” with the atrocious Dave Wannstedt defense of 2012, Schwartz knows how to give multiple looks within a four-man front.
With key players like Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams sitting on the sidelines for most of the night, I’ll be keeping a close eye on:
Stefan Charles vs. Alan Branch
It’s hard to call Stefan Charles a sleeper when most of the local media has been pumping his name, but the inexperienced tackle out of Canada is looking to make a name for himself.
Alan Branch is nose tackle (one technique DT in 4-3) and is primarily a run stopper. Who will secure the No. 3 defensive tackle role?
Bottom of Roster Linebackers
Following the loss of Kiko Alonso, news broke that Nigel Bradham will be suspended for the first game of the season. The Bills are confident in Ty Powell as a “core” special teamer who projects well to the weak-side.
Randell Johnson is a long, athletic linebacker that projects to the strong-side, but need to make an impact on special teams in order to have a legitimate shot at making the team.
Jimmy Gaines and Stevenson Sylvester are long shots, but Gaines, a Buffalo-native saw time with the first-team during camp last week, but we haven’t heard a peep about Sylvester. Keep an eye out for the duo on special teams units, as well as how, and where they perform on defense.
Ron Brooks, Ross Cockrell, Kenny Ladler
Ron Brooks hasn’t made an impact with the Bills since being the team’s fourth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but from most training camp reports, he appears to be catching on.
The team selected Ross Cockrell in the fourth round this year out of Duke. I’ll be watching to see whether he lines up on the boundary or in the slot.
As for Kenny Ladler, he was a standout safety at Vanderbilt that wound up going undrafted. He projects well to both free and strong safety, so I’ll be keeping an eye on him.