Here's what to watch for in Saturday night's preseason game between the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium:
1. Who will be the receivers after the presumptive top three of Jordan Matthews, Zay Jones, and Andre Holmes? Matthews will make the trip, but isn't expected to play as he recovers from a chip fracture in his sternum. That opens the door for more opportunities in the wide-open competition for what figures to be a minimum of three other openings at the position.
Brandon Tate's value is limited to his return skills. Whether that's enough to secure a roster spot, especially with him entering his ninth NFL season, remains to be seen. Undrafted rookies Brandon Reilly and Daikiel Shorts got the attention of coach Sean McDermott with their strong showings at Philadelphia last week, but will they be able to gain some traction?
Walter Powell is in a tough spot because he faces a suspension and doesn't seem to have done much to make a strong case he's still worth keeping around.
2. Vlad Ducasse at right guard. It's a big deal that McDermott, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and offensive line coach Juan Castillo chose Ducasse over incumbent John Miller, the starting right guard for the first two games, in the traditional tune-up for the real thing.
Miller has been part of a unit that helped the Bills lead the NFL in rushing the past two seasons, but he has been far from great. The coaches clearly think they can do better, and want to find out if, in fact, Ducasse provides an upgrade. Ducasse hardly has built up sterling credentials the past seven seasons in the league, but he is much larger (6-foot-5 and 329 pounds to Miller's 6-2, 303-pound frame).
3. Dion Dawkins at left tackle. This could very well be where the rookie lines up for the Sept. 10 opener against the New York Jets and possibly one or more regular-season games beyond that. Cordy Glenn will make the trip and is supposed to be progressing, but he won't play against the Ravens and when he will play remains uncertain.
Seantrel Henderson gives more experienced depth, but will be suspended for the first five games. Consequently, McDermott, Dennison and Castillo are anxious to see how Dawkins performs in the most important game on the preseason schedule. Dawkins will be with the starting offense, against solid defensive starters, into the third quarter.
McDermott believes the exposure to left and right tackle has "created a nice foundation for Dion. ... We expect him to put his best foot forward, just like the rest of our guys out there so I look forward to watching him."
4. Sorting out the cornerback situation. The only lock is rookie Tre'Davious White starting. After that, there are only questions as to how things will shake out at the position.
It doesn't help that Kevon Seymour, who is competing for the other starting spot as well as for an inside role, is day-to-day with a shoulder injury he suffered in practice. But his absence gives E.J. Gaines and Shareece Wright more opportunities to show what they can do working outside and inside.
5. Reggie Ragland's immediate future becoming clearer. Cyber buzz about LeSean McCoy on the trading block appears baseless, as McDermott made clear and the running back said he has been told by the coach and General Manager Brandon Beane. However, the potential for a Ragland trade continues to be strong. It's hard to imagine the Bills wouldn't try to get something for a 2016 second-round draft pick who has been buried on the depth chart at middle linebacker mainly because he is a bad fit for their defensive scheme.
How much -- or how little -- Ragland plays against the Ravens is going to speak volumes about whether he factors into the team's plans for this season. McDermott noting that Ragland started "from a position of deficit" because of the major knee injury he suffered last season is ominous.
6. Nathan Peterman's progress. He has performed well enough through training camp and two preseason games to soar past T.J. Yates and gain a firm grasp of the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Tyrod Taylor. Although I believe it would make sense for Peterman to get some time with the starters Saturday night, especially because there's a very real chance he could find himself in the No. 1 role at some point during the season, the plan is to continue to have him work with the second-unit offense.
Playing through most of the second half against the Ravens, Peterman can build on his solid showing against the Eagles. He probably won't change any opinions about who the Bills' starting quarterback should be, but he can at least reinforce the confidence the coaches have that he's ready to be only one snap away when the regular season begins.