Well, that was…interesting.
After an absolutely abysmal first half of football by both the offensive and defensive reserves, a miraculous 25-point fourth quarter secured the Buffalo Bills a 28-27 victory over the Chicago Bears last night. Despite the victory, there were likely more players who hurt their chances of securing roster spots than those who helped.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the winners and losers from yesterday’s affair and make a few minor revisions to our 53-man roster projection.
Following a first half that produced zero points on offense (the second time in two games the Bills went into the locker room with a goose egg at halftime), it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to leave this section blank, save for one name: Logan Thomas.
As one of five tight ends who are all very much in the conversation to make the final roster, Thomas was easily the most reliable target for McCarron, hauling in three catches for 40 yards. No, that stat line doesn’t exactly jump out at you but considering how much trouble the team had moving the ball, it may have just secured him a job.
Another perceived winner from last night’s affair was reserve running back, Travaris Cadet. In what has become a very crowded backfield, Cadet has held his own, and while he could still end up being cut, his play in the preseason may have caught the eye of another GM looking for veteran depth.
On defense, the pickings are even slimmer. Rookie safety Siran Neal was hot-and-cold, but given the fact that he was the team’s most consistent tackler (despite a 15-yard penalty for leading with the head), and due to the Bills’ lack of depth at safety, he is likely a lock for the final 53.
Like so many others, Breon Borders struggled badly in the first half but a very strong second half performance could put him back in the conversation for the team’s final cornerback spot. At the very least, the second-year man out of Duke earned himself a role on the practice squad.
The final “winners” from last night’s contest are special teamers. Incumbent punter Colton Schmidt held his own against veteran newcomer Jon Ryan, but was it enough to win him the job? Maybe, but similar to Cadet, Schmidt could end up finding a job elsewhere if he is indeed cut.
In the return game, Ray-Ray McCloud displayed some of his versatility. Given how awful the Bills have been returning the football over the past several years, the rookie may have secured himself the final wide receiver spot because of his skill set on special teams.
Despite a Frank Reich-esque type of fourth-quarter comeback, A.J. McCarron did not put himself in a favorable position last night. With the starting quarterback competition likely down to Nate Peterman and Josh Allen, McCarron played the entire contest.
Whether the team was putting the veteran on display for a trade or if they were truly giving him a chance to prove himself after missing last week’s game is now irrelevant. They’ll be lucky to get anything more than a seventh-round pick for him at this point, and nothing he did last night showed that he is the best quarterback on the roster.
The question now becomes; what do they do with him? The smartest decision may be to hang onto McCarron for the season as the third-string QB. His salary isn’t remotely restrictive and you can never have too many viable options under center. It’s not as though the Bills have a glut of talent at another position that they would need his roster spot for.
On defense, Mike Love was a player who, leading up to last night, had played quite well with the second team; perhaps well enough to earn a roster spot. Unfortunately, he may have played himself off of the roster bubble, missing several tackles while proving ineffective against the Bears’ reserve offensive line.
Overall, the Bills defense made Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott’s decisions much more difficult last night. Nobody truly jumped out and stole a job with their performance. From a depth perspective, there are quite a few positions that remain a “toss-up” as it pertains to the final roster.
Because last night’s tilt was the last time we’ll have the chance to evaluate the roster before the final-53 are revealed, the following observations more about the preseason as a whole, not just the Bears game.
From what we’ve seen of the first-team offensive line, it’s difficult to justify how both John Miller and Vlad Ducasse better than Wyatt Teller at this point. There is no way that the rookie should be kept on the bench this season in favor of those two. As the only offseason addition to the unit, McDermott needs to utilize Teller as part of the solution, especially if veteran reinforcements cannot be found via free agency next week.
One “under-the-radar” competition that hasn’t received a whole lot of coverage is the battle for starting cornerback across from Tre White. Vontae Davis has been downright dreadful during preseason action and Philip Gaines has outplayed him. It seems that his age and injury history have caught up to Davis as he clearly is not the pro-bowl level talent from a few years ago.
The starting defense as a whole was actually pretty abysmal throughout the preseason. Because of the fact that Leslie Frazier was able to do more with less last season, he gets the benefit of the doubt for now. He’ll need to hold out hope that the starters stay healthy, because despite the fact that defense was the team’s sole focus in the offseason, the overall depth is shaky at best.
The Final 53
Despite the fact that the Bills’ final preseason tilt left fans with more questions than answers, we’ll take another crack at what the final roster could look like. Keep in mind, that given the team’s weakness on the offensive line and paltry depth at linebacker, Beane and company could very well sign a free agent or two instead of retaining one of the current players on the team.
Players who did not appear on the list from last week will appear in bold.
QB: Peterman – Allen – McCarron
RB: McCoy – Ivory – Murphy
WR: Benjamin – Jones – Holmes – Coleman – Kerley – McCloud
TE: Clay – Thomas – Croom – O’Leary
OT: Dawkins – Mills – Newhouse – Wesley
OG: Teller – Miller – Ducasse
C: Bodine – Groy
DE: Hughes – Murphy – Lawson – Yarbrough
DT: Williams – Lotulelei – Phillips – Washington
LB: Edmunds – Alexander – Milano – Humber – Vallejo – Stanford
CB: White – Davis – Gaines – Johnson – Wallace – Borders
S: Hyde – Poyer – Bush – Neal
ST: Ryan, Hauschka, Ferguson
PS: Proehl, Reilly, Boettger, Ford, McDermott, Love
Editor’s babble: What exactly DID we see last night? Truly one of the stranger games in Bills history and we’ve seen a few of them over the years. Thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his insightful contributions to our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @Sciandra Sports.