6 Bills who need to impress vs. the Panthers

Buffalo's first preseason game will come on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers. Here are six players who need to look impressive for various reasons.

The results of preseason games are meaningless. However, for some players their individual performances mean quite a bit. On Friday night, the Buffalo Bills will take on the Carolina Panthers in their first preseason game. Every player on Buffalo will be looking to get noticed, but here are six players who need a strong performance on Friday night for various reasons.

E.J. Manuel

EJ Manuel’s inconsistent play at training camp as of late has him falling slightly behind Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo’s quarterback competition. Manuel has to be just as frustrated as Bills fans who watch him. There have been times at training camp where Manuel has made difficult throws look effortless. On the sixth day of training camp, Manuel was clear winner among the trio competing for the job and his performance in the team’s scrimmage was also considered to be the best by many, yet Manuel has struggled to show consistency on a day-to-day basis. Just yesterday, Manuel completed a pass to a hospitality tent. On Friday, Manuel will be working with the third team offense.

Believe it or not, this isn’t terrible news for Manuel. Generally, the third team offense sees the most time on the field during the first preseason game. Manuel could get up to an entire half of football, depending upon whether or not Matt Simms plays. Manuel may be playing with the third string offense, but he’ll also be playing against a third string defense. If Manuel is a legitimate contender for the starting job, he should be able to pick apart Carolina’s third string defense. If Manuel doesn’t have a good outing, he may find himself as the team’s third string quarterback throughout the preseason.

Bryce Brown

Brown’s chances of making Buffalo’s roster are slim-to-none barring a significant injury to one of the backs in front of him. That said, Friday’s game against the Panthers is an audition for Brown to the NFL’s other 31 teams. Brown showed he could play in the league during his two seasons with the Eagles. During that time, he rushed the ball 190 times for 878 yards (4.6 YPC) and six touchdowns. Brown also had four fumbles over that time in Philadelphia and while he only fumbled once last year, fumbling has been an issue for Brown during training camp.

Starting Friday, Brown needs to show that he can be trusted to hold onto the football. If he can do that, he’ll have plenty of suitors upon his likely release.

Chris Gragg and Matthew Mulligan

Buffalo’s initial depth chart at tight end listed Charles Clay, MarQueis Gray and Matthew Mulligan as the team’s top three tight ends. Rookie Nick O’Leary was listed fourth. Although I had O’Leary as Buffalo’s final cut, it’s likely that the Bills keep him on their roster this season. That means Mulligan and Gragg could be competing for a fourth tight end spot, if the Bills plan on carrying that many players at the position.

Mulligan may not contribute much in the passing game, but he’s a terrific blocker. That goes a long way on a run-first offense. If Mulligan proves to be efficient starting Friday, he has a legitimate shot to make Buffalo’s 53-man roster.

Gragg found himself listed fifth on Buffalo’s initial depth chart. He has decent straight line speed and is certainly a better receiver than Mulligan, but is he better than Clay, Gray or O’Leary in that regard? Simply put, the answer is no. Starting Friday, Gragg needs to show that he can be just as valuable as Mulligan as a blocker.

Cyrus Kouandjio

Kouandjio’s roster spot should be considered safe, but if he wants to win the right tackle job he needs to outperform Seantrel Henderson in the preseason. He’s fallen behind Henderson as of late, but their play in the preseason will go a long way in determining who wins the starting job. The Bills only have four tackles on their roster, so Kouandjio and Henderson will both get a shot to prove their worth starting on Friday.

Mario Butler

Butler is having a terrific training camp for the Bills. Now, he needs to play well in the preseason to win a roster spot with Buffalo. Entering Friday’s game, the Bills will be without Leodis McKelvin and Ross Cockrell. Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby will start, but how many series they play is unknown. Butler will probably play with Ron Brooks on the outside once the starting duo leaves the game. If Butler fares well starting on Friday, he could take one of the final cornerback jobs away from Brooks or Cockrell. 

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