The Buffalo Bills played it safe with a pair of starters, while giving their newest receiver more time to get used to his surroundings.
The team held left tackle Cordy Glenn, defensive end Shaq Lawson and new wide receiver Anquan Boldin out of the lineup for Thursday night's preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings at New Era Field. Glenn has been dealing with foot soreness, while Lawson has a groin injury. Boldin has practiced just once with the team since signing Monday.
With Lawson out, Eddie Yarbrough got the start. It didn't take long for Yarbrough to make an impact, either, as he recorded a third-down sack of Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford to end Minnesota's first drive. Seantrel Henderson started at left tackle in place of Glenn.
Also not dressing for the Bills were wide receiver Jeremy Butler (concussion), cornerback Kevon Seymour (foot soreness) and defensive end Ryan Davis (concussion). Running back LeSean McCoy was in uniform, but did not play.
Reggie Wayne's first thought when he heard Boldin had signed with the Buffalo Bills was summed up in a single word: "Perfect."
"Now they've got a veteran presence in that receiving room who can help a Sammy Watkins and get him on track," said Wayne, the former Indianapolis Colts' great turned NFL Network analyst. "At the same time, he's going to be one of those guys who can come in on third down, make a tight catch, keep the chains moving. He's not going to be a guy who's going to take the top off the secondary. But he's going to be a guy who can work the inside ... work in between the hash and the numbers. Just his presence on that team, he can kind of lead the way, show these young players how to be a true professional."
Wayne, who spoke on a conference call previewing the 2017 season, retired at age 37 after the 2015 season. Boldin turns 37 in October.
"I like the signing. I think he can go in and contribute," Wayne said. "I don't see him having an 80-catch year. But if he can get somewhere in the 30s to 50 catches on the year, I think that will be real productive for him."
Wayne didn't hold back when commenting about the Bills' prolonged playoff absence.
"It's their time. Buffalo has been struggling as of late, well, (expletive), for a long time. They're going to need Sammy Watkins to be healthy. I think he sees the writing on the wall," he said. "The Buffalo Bills didn't exercise the fifth year, so this is basically a contract year for him. He needs to be available. Then you've got Zay Jones, who's a pretty good wide receiver. I think he can make some noise. ... The question is: Is Tyrod going to be the guy and how much are they going to unleash him to prove his worth?"
"There's always next year" is a common refrain among Bills fans.
Usually, that phrase is uttered to cope with the disappointment of the present. A 17-year playoff drought will do that. Soon, though, it could take on a different meaning.
A recent ranking of the under-25 talent on every NFL roster put together by ESPN painted an optimistic future picture for the Bills, who ranked seventh in the league.
"The Bills have a few under-25 starters in significant roles this season," wrote Scott Kacsmar. "Sammy Watkins is the team's leading receiver and a quality playmaker when he's healthy, though his presence here matters less for his team than most of these young players because the Bills did not pick up his fifth-year option. Cornerback Ronald Darby charted much better in 2015 than he did last year, but he's starter material. ... Linebacker Preston Brown struggles to stop the run, but has a surprising knack for big plays and led the NFL with 31 defeats in 2016."
Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly will be the subject of an episode of the NFL Network series "A Football Life."
The series, which starts Sept. 15 with an episode centered on former Dolphins great and Kelly rival Dan Marino, is entering its seventh season. A total of 13 episodes will air, with Kelly's set to debut on Friday, Nov. 3.
Kelly led the Bills to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s. He was a five-time Pro Bowler who was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Other former Bills who have been profiled on the show include Chris Spielman, Doug Flutie, Terrell Owens and Marty Schottenheimer.