QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Trent Edwards. Backups - J.P. Losman, Gibran Hamdan.
Edwards exited training camp still No. 1 on the depth chart but it's still a tenuous No. 1 until he proves his durability and that he can succeed in new coordinator Turk Schonert's system that won't be nearly as bland as Steve Fairchild's. Edwards, whose strengths are his decision-making and leadership, threw eight TDs last year in going 5-4 as a starter, but four of his scores came in one game against Miami. Still, his 1,630 passing yards were most by a third-round rookie QB in NFL history (Dan Fouts had 1,126 in 1973). He was also sacked just 12 times, generally showing where to go with the ball. A thigh bruise cost him some valuable preseason game reps, but he looked good in a quarter of play against Pittsburgh. As for Losman, he's set to play out the final year of his contract and with 31 career starts, he's good insurance. He proved his worth with a steady showing at Indianapolis in the preseason and his attitude, a concern to his coaches and teammates entering camp, was nothing but positive.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Marshawn Lynch. Backups - Fred Jackson, Xavier Omon, FB Darian Barnes.
Lynch, the team's 2007 first-round pick, was as good as advertised -- a poor man's LaDainian Tomlinson. The former Cal star ran for 1,115 yards, second most ever by a Bills rookie, topped only by Joe Cribbs' 1,185 yards in 1980. In Buffalo's new offense, he figures to be more of a factor in the passing game (he had just 18 catches) but nothing to that effect was on display in the preseason. With Lynch as the designated workhorse, there's not a big need for a No. 2, but Jackson steps into that role vacated by Anthony Thomas. Last year, the Division III free agent from Coe College chipped in 490 all-purpose yards, including 115 yards rushing against Miami. Meanwhile, veteran battering ram Barnes will fill the traditional blocking fullback role that was eliminated the past two seasons.
TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starter - Robert Royal. Backups - Derek Schouman, Derek Fine.
Yet another offseason went by with Buffalo failing to seriously address its need for an elite pass-catching tight end. Still, Royal looks to improve on his 25-catch, three-TD season. Coming off knee surgery, he showed he's capable with a two-TD catch game against Pittsburgh in the preseason. He's also a valuable blocker. Schouman has good H-back skills and was pushing Royal until sidelined by a knee problem in camp.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Lee Evans, Josh Reed. Backups - James Hardy, Roscoe Parrish, Justin Jenkins, Steve Johnson.
Evans' production dropped from a career-best 82 catches to 55 last season but opponents shouldn't be fooled. The lightning fast fifth-year pro is among the NFL's underrated stars and he should benefit greatly by stability at quarterback and the addition of 6-6 rookie Hardy who can draw some attention away. Evans' 233 catches is more than all-time Bills receiver Andre Reed (229) had through four seasons. Hardy, meanwhile, gives Buffalo the ability to create matchup problems, especially in the red zone. He had 36 TDs at Indiana. With Hardy on board, Reed, a steady if not flashy possession player with good run-after-the-catch ability, can return to the slot in three-wide looks and the speedy Parrish will get his opportunities. He had a very strong camp but was bothered by a knee problem late. But his raw speed has to be feared and few players are as tough.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Jason Peters, LG Derrick Dockery, C Melvin Fowler, RG Brad Butler, RT Kirk Chambers. Backups - Duke Preston, Jason Whittle, Matt Murphy, Demetrius Bell, Patrick Estes, Langston Walker.
This easily could've been Buffalo's best front wall since its Super Bowl teams of the early 1990s. Walker has shifted from right to left and the inexperienced Chambers has taken over the right tackle job. On a positive note, Fowler had his best season at center since joining the Bills from Cleveland three years ago. And Butler, a fifth-round pick in 2006, emerged to end the revolving door at right guard. Whittle, a 10-year veteran who missed most of last year with a hamstring tear, was a key re-signing. He can back up all three inside positions.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LDE Chris Kelsay, RDE Aaron Schobel, LDT Marcus Stroud, RDT Kyle Williams. Backups - DE Ryan Denney, Bryan Copeland, Chris Ellis, DT John McCargo, Spencer Johnson.
The Bills made moves to shore up their leaky run defense with the addition of Stroud and Johnson. Stroud, 6-6, 310, earned three Pro Bowl trips with Jacksonville and his surgically repaired ankle has held up well so far. If he's anything close to the player he once was, he'll be a huge improvement anchoring the middle of Buffalo's 4-3, which was undersized with the departed Larry Tripplett. As a fifth-round pick in 2006, Williams, a whirling dervish of energy, has outperformed first-round pick McCargo so far. If Buffalo's interior holds up, its ends will fare better in pass rush. Pro Bowler Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay combined for a disappointing 9.0 sacks last year but Kelsay looks to be much improved after surgery to repair a torn tendon in his ankle. Denney, a key reserve, is also back after two ankle surgeries. Rookie third-round pick Ellis (22 sacks for Virginia Tech) should contribute.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Kawika Mitchell, MLB Paul Posluszny, SLB Keith Ellison. Backups - MLB John DiGiorgio.
This unit is vastly improved with the addition of veteran playmaker Mitchell from the Super Bowl champion Giants and the return to health of Posluszny from a broken arm. At 6-1, 253 pounds, Mitchell brings much needed quickness, size and toughness on the outside. Posluszny was the leading tackler in Penn State history who had his rookie NFL season cut short after three games. He should excel if Stroud plays well in front of him. Ellison and DiGiorgio are two overachieving athletes who earned valuable playing time the past two years as emergency replacements.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Terrence McGee, RCB Jabari Greer, FS Ko Simpson, SS Donte Whitner. Backups - CB Leodis McKelvin, Jon Corto, Ashton Youboty, Reggie Corner, S George Wilson, Bryan Scott, John Wendling.
After losing veteran Nate Clements in free agency, Buffalo allowed an average of 238.4 passing yards per game in 2007, most in club history. McKelvin, the 11th overall pick in the draft, restores some of that speed and size to neutralize the opponents' top receiver, but he'll need time to learn the pro game. He was unable to unseat Greer in camp, as Greer, who had 17 pass breakups in 13 emergency starts last season, rose to the challenge. Manning the other corner is six-year vet McGee, who rebounded nicely from an off year with 86 tackles, four interceptions and 23 pass breakups. The safeties are 2006 draft gems Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson. The hard-hitting Whitner is on the cusp of a Pro Bowl and Simpson looks to rebound from a broken ankle.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Brian Moorman, PK Rian Lindell, PR Roscoe Parrish, KR Terrence McGee, PR/KR Leodis McKelvin.
The Bills have ranked among the best special teams units in the NFL the past four seasons under coach Bobby April and this year won't be any different. In fact, the team's return games could be even stronger with McKelvin in the mix. McKelvin had a 95-yard TD kickoff return in the preseason. Lindell (84.17 percent) is Buffalo's all-time most accurate kicker, Moorman (43.07) the all-time punting average leader and McGee (5,358) the all-time kickoff return leader. Parrish (16.3 yards), meanwhile, led the NFL in punt return average. Buffalo lost some key coverage men, but Wendling is back after leading the team in coverage tackles with 24.
Positional Analysis: Buffalo Bills
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