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Buffalo Bills Preseason Preview: Players, Storylines To Watch Against Carolina Panthers

The Buffalo Bills will look to build upon last week’s loss to the New York Giants in the 2014 Hall of Fame Game, as they take on the Carolina Panthers in their second preseason contest of the year. Although the Bills weren’t able to secure a victory in the team’s first live action of the 2014 season, several players throughout the roster made plays, in attempts to earn a job on the final 53-man roster.

The Bills still have a few starting jobs that appear to be open for taking, while a handful of backup roles are also up for grabs. Here at BillsMafia.com, we’ll highlight and break down some key position battles, players and story lines to follow against the Panthers.

Position Battles

Starting Right Guard: Kraig Urbik vs. Cyril Richardson

Kraig Urbik’s starting job has been in jeopardy ever since Week 14’s match-up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he had such a poor showing that the coaching staff inserted J.J. ‘Unga into his right guard spot for seven snaps. The team added Chris Williams in free agency to secure the left guard position, while they’ve been testing rookie fifth-round pick, Cyril Richardson at both guard spots. Swing tackle Chris Hairston was even seeing first-team reps in rotation with Urbik, but on Sunday, it was Richardson who generated buzz.

Richardson played in 29 offensive snaps while Urbik played 26, and the rookie out of Baylor had a good outing—consistently getting a push in the run game, while showing the ability to stay in front of defenders in pass protection.

Urbik has been splitting first-team reps with Richardson this week, with the Hairston-at-guard experiment likely over.

Keep an eye on the right side of the Bills’ offensive line Friday night, as we could see either Urbik or Richardson begin to run away with the job.

Backup Defensive Tackle: Stefan Charles vs. Landon Cohen vs. Corbin Bryant

Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Alan Branch are essentially locked into the top of the defensive tackle rotation, but Stefan Charles, Landon Cohen and Corbin Bryant are fighting for the last spot on the depth chart.

Charles has the most upside of the three, with probably the most positional versatility as well. He played 28 defensive snaps, making three tackles (all stops) and generating two QB pressures.

 

Cohen had an impressive outing on Sunday, racking up five tackles (three for stops) in his 12 defensive snaps. Bryant, who has seemingly been overlooked by most fans and analysts,  played 32 snaps with the second and third-team defensive units, but didn’t do much to stand out from his competition.. It will be interesting to see which of the three gets the longest look this week, as rosters have to be trimmed down to 75 players soon.

Panther To Watch

Kelvin Benjamin

Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin will likely face off against CB Stephon Gilmore for a series

Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin will likely face off against CB Stephon Gilmore for a series

The Panthers have arguably the worst collection of wide receivers in the NFL right now, and will be relying heavily on the services of 6’5” 240-pound rookie Kelvin Kenjamin, the team’s first-round pick. Benjamin only played two seasons at Florida State, so he’s less experienced than fellow rookie Sammy Watkins, who played just 10 snaps last week, so it’s certainly possible that we see more of Benjamin than we did of Watkins.

Benjamin will likely be facing off with Stephon Gilmore or Ron Brooks initially, and could get some reps against guys like Michael Carter or Mario Butler if he plays more than 1-2 series’.

What I Expect The Bills To Improve On:

Run Defense

Statistically, the Bills fared well against the Giants’ rushing attack, holding New York’s stable of backs to just 3.2 yards-per-carry on 38 attempts. However, Buffalo’s defense missed seven tackles that led to several carries in which significant chunks of yards were picked up.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on linebacker Randell Johnson, the team’s seventh-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, who had a pretty solid outing as the second-team “SAM” linebacker, outside of two plays in which he took bad angles on the ball-carrier. Undrafted rookie linebacker Jimmy Gaines will also need to step up, as the Buffalo-native whiffed on three of his four tackle attempts.

Timing/Rhythm on Offense

The Bills’ offense looked sloppy and inconsistent as a whole, as all three quarterbacks went to their first read far too often. Just 11 of the team’s 24 completions were to wide receivers, despite the Giants defense’s lack of disruption. It’ll be important for EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel and Thad Lewis to not only get into their drops quickly, but to go through second-and-third reads, before dumping the ball off when the primary target isn’t open.

Final Words

In preseason, the final result of the game isn’t as important as the quality and consistency of the product that’s put on the field. With quite a few jobs up for grabs, we’ll see the best out of the bottom-of-the-roster players that are looking to make the team. 

What will you be watching for from the Buffalo Bills on Friday’s game against the Carolina  Panthers? Let us know in the Comments, or take the conversation to Twitter (@RQUINN619)


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