When the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions closed the 2013 preseason at Ralph Wilson Stadium it was strictly a junior varsity affair.
Nearly all the Buffalo regulars, including the entire offensive line, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and defensive stalwarts Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Kiko Alonso, sat it out. So did the Lions stars Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh.
It might be a little different tonight, at least from the Bills’ standpoint.
A sluggish offensive performance by the first unit and a 1-3 record on the Buffalo side in the preseason may mean at least some token playing time for some of coach Doug Marrone’s regulars tonight to brush up on shortcomings that came up in last week’s 27-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Marrone made no definite assertions but it’s likely select regulars will get in a series or two against the Lions. That would seem to include starting quarterback EJ Manuel.
“We still plan on playing our guys,” Marrone said, looking ahead to the last warmup before the regular season opener in Chicago on Sept. 7. “Obviously, I’m not looking at playing them very long into the game. We’ll get in there, and the guys that have some nicks we will keep out, and the guys that have to work through some things we may put in there.
“It’s not going to be something where I’m looking to keep them in there for a very long period of time.”
It figures that if Manuel is going to get any meaningful reps against the Lions, he will do it surrounded by some regular offensive linemen, backs and receivers.
Aside from looking for offensive improvement, Marrone and his staff will be keeping an eye on several position battles that will determine who will be on the 53-man roster on Saturday.
“There are still some jobs that are out there that are on the line. There’s competition out there,” Marrone said. “There are a lot of things going on, so hopefully the competition stuff separates, makes the decision a lot easier that night.”
The key roster decisions seem to be the interior offensive line – guards and center – along with wide receiver and backups on the defensive line.
Left guard Chris Williams did not play against Tampa Bay and did not practice Monday and Tuesday because of back issues. Rookie Cyril Richardson filled in, and Marrone indicated that the rookie will end up as the swing man and perhaps a future starter at guard.
That could mean that either former starter Kraig Urbik or backup Doug Legursky will be the odd man out. Which one ends up as the backup center could determine the outcome.
The Bills seem to have a surplus of wide receivers and defensive backs, commodities that could be trade material in the hours before the mandatory NFL roster cutdown.
Last season, Buffalo opened the season with two quarterbacks, four running backs and eight offensive linemen. An educated guess would see an additional player in each of those areas this time.
On the defensive side, the Bills started the 2013 season with 12 defensive backs on the opening roster, but that included injured Jairus Byrd and Stephon Gilmore. Ten DBs would seem the likely number this time, with Corey Graham potentially swinging from corner to safety as needed.
Four specialists started the 2013 season, but it seems unlikely that number will be more than three this time – kicker Dan Carpenter, snapper Garrison Sanborn and a punter, either Brian Moorman or newcomer Jordan Gay.
Thirty-five players who opened last season with the Bills are still on the active roster and it looks like most of them will still be around next week.