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Training Camp questions: How many running backs are enough?

The News will examine 10 questions facing the Buffalo Bills leading up to the start of training camp.

By Jay Skurski

News Sports Reporter

Anyone wondering why the Bills would consider adding veteran running back Reggie Bush need only think back to last year’s training camp.

Buffalo went to St. John Fisher College with LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Karlos Williams, Boobie Dixon and Bryce Brown atop the depth chart. Then all of them got hurt. At the same time.

Players like Bronson Hill (who?), Cierre Wood (who??) and Ricky Seale (who???) ended up on the roster.

That freak occurrence might be extreme, but it goes to show that in the NFL, there’s no such thing as too much depth.

The Bills haven’t even reported to camp yet this year, and there is already a reason for the tire-kicking on Bush. Second-year running back Karlos Williams has been suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for flunking a drug test. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Jonathan Williams got busted for driving while intoxicated in Arkansas.

McCoy didn’t have the greatest offseason, either, after being investigated for his role in a bar brawl in Philadelphia in February. No charges were ultimately filed, and McCoy will not face NFL discipline for the matter, but it was another example of a headline the team will undoubtedly prefer he stop making.

There’s also the issue of McCoy’s health. A hamstring injury suffered during camp last year lingered into the regular season and eventually cost him two games, then a knee injury kept him out of the final two meaningless games.

This spring, McCoy was limited during spring practices because of an ankle injury. It’s not believed to be serious, but another sign that the team would be wise to limit his workload as much as possible during training camp.

The Bills are going to need McCoy healthy come Sept. 11, and also have a backup plan set. That could very well end up being Bush. The Buffalo News’ Vic Carucci reported Tuesday that the two sides are “working out the deal points,” of a contract, according to a league source.

Bush, 31, played in just five games last season with the San Francisco 49ers. His season was cut short when he slipped on concrete surrounding the field in St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome during a Week Eight game against the Rams and tore his ACL. He’s suing the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Convention regarding the safety of the field.

Bush did an interview with USA Today last week, and addressed the speculation about joining the Bills.

“I know everybody’s been texting me and asking about Buffalo, but as of right now, I haven’t made a decision,” he told the paper. “But if the opportunity is there, obviously, Buffalo is the most known one right now. But we’ll see. I’m still trying to figure out what’s going to be the best opportunity for me and my family.”

If Bush does decide to sign with the Bills, he figures to be McCoy’s primary backup for at least the first four games. What happens after that when Karlos Williams returns to the lineup is a question the Bills will have to answer regardless of whether they sign Bush.

The possibility also exists that the team is so fed up with Karlos Williams’ act – his drug suspension came after he showed up to spring practices so overweight the team held him out of drills – that they decide to move on entirely. That would be a powerful statement after he gained 613 total yards and scored nine touchdowns as a rookie.

Karlos Williams can practice and participate in preseason games, so the Bills can delay any decision on his roster status until after his suspension is served.

In the interim, the team will report to St. John Fisher on Friday with McCoy, Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams, James Wilder Jr. and Boom Herron at running back.

Based on how the 2015 season, Gillislee figures to get the first shot at the No. 2 job. He carried 47 times for 267 yards and three touchdowns in five games, although his Week 17 effort against the New York Jets – 24 carries for just 28 yards – was uninspiring. Gillislee was at his best when he didn’t have to be the feature back, though, and as long as McCoy is healthy he won’t have to.

Jonathan Williams’ status hasn’t been discussed by the team publicly since his arrest earlier this month, but it’s safe to say it didn’t improve his standing on the depth chart.

Wilder Jr., 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, is a close physical match to Williams (6-1 and 230 – before the weight gain). They were also former teammates at Florida State who now could be competing against each other for a roster spot.

Herron, meanwhile, played four games for the Bills last year, gaining 37 yards on 11 carries. Barring injury, he’s a long shot for playing time on offense.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com

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