All that remains are three minicamp practices before the Buffalo Bills head out for summer vacation.
Next week's mandatory sessions will wrap up the team's spring. Coach Sean McDermott has used the practice time reporters have been able to view to mix and match plenty with his lineups. There are wide-open competitions at quarterback, wide receiver, interior offensive line and depth defensive end. We won't get too much clarity on who the favorites are for those positions until the pads come on at St. John Fisher College.
Let's get to this week's mailbag.
Rick McGuire asks: With our tight end group being average at best, do you think there could be a possibility of signing free agent Antonio Gates as a capable veteran back up, if not starter? I think even at his age (38), he could still provide solid numbers and be a great locker-room guy.
Jay: That feels like the move of a team that feels like it’s closer to Super Bowl contention than most believe the Bills to be. I also have a hard time seeing how Gates would be excited about that possibility, unless he was desperate for any NFL job. At this point in his career, he’s far more likely to sign with a contender for a better chance at a ring. The Bills are better off trying to develop Logan Thomas and the other young tight ends on their roster than signing Gates to be, at best, a second option behind Charles Clay.
Brendan Sweet asks: Who is your early sleeper pick to make an impact this year for the Bills? Conversely, who is your surprise training camp cut? What is your 40 time, because the Bills might need to give you a look at slot receiver.
Rick McGuire asks: I've been hearing a lot of positives about undrafted free agent wide receiver Robert Foster. What are your observations so far and could he be a surprise sleeper for our offense this year?
Jay: I’m genuinely curious what my 40 time would be. I have no clue, other than to say it wouldn’t be good. I did leg out a triple in slow-pitch softball a few days ago, though. As for a sleeper, I’ll give you two – both from Alabama. Receiver Robert Foster, whom Rick mentions above, and cornerback Levi Wallace both have the physical attributes NFL teams look for. Foster plays a position of need, as Brendan mentions, and ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine at 6-foot-2. He also has a brief history with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll from their time together last season. As for a cut, I’ll go with Shaq Lawson. The former first-round draft pick is saying all the right things about what he needs to do to turn his career around in his third season, but I’m skeptical. It’s well documented what has happened to players brought in under the former front office, and Lawson was a project of Rex Ryan. At this point, I’m not even sure it would be a surprise if he was cut, although it would probably still qualify because he was a first-round selection.
“scotty beam me up” asks: Who will be the starting center and who will be the replacement for Richie Incognito?
Jay: Russell Bodine and Ryan Groy have shared starting reps at center during spring practices. That will be one of the more interesting camp battles to watch. I liked what Groy did replacing Eric Wood the second half of 2016, and was surprised he didn’t get more of a chance to start last season. If I had to pick one now, it would be him, but the coaching staff may not agree. The replacement for Incognito right now looks like it will be veteran Vlad Ducasse, who is moving from right guard over to the left side. That opens a hole in the starting lineup at right guard and could mean John Miller gets his job back.
Brian Tichy asks: Does Brandon Reilly have a chance of making the team as the fourth or fifth WR?
Jay: You have a chance of making this team as the fourth or fifth wide receiver, Brian. So, yes, Reilly has what I would call a very good chance. How many receiver jobs are guaranteed at this point? Kelvin Benjamin is one, then after that it’s wide open. Most would assume that Zay Jones will still have a spot, since giving up on a second-round draft pick after just one year is unusual. Counting on Jones for much of anything at this point feels like a reach after the tumultuous offseason he’s had. Veteran Jeremy Kerley is the early favorite for the slot receiver job, but maybe rookie draft pick Austin Proehl or Ray-Ray McCloud can push him. Even if the top three are Benjamin, Jones or Kerley, that leaves two or three jobs wide open.
Justin White asks: How does Zay Jones look thus far and are the Bills planning on him making the big leap in year two, being a stronghold No. 2 wide receiver?
Jay: We haven’t seen Jones on the field this spring because of knee surgery. He also had a shoulder operated on earlier this offseason, and in between was that bizarre, naked arrest in Los Angeles. There’s no way the Bills should be planning on him making a big leap after that type of offseason. Rather, it would be a pleasant surprise if he were able to give them any sort of meaningful production. That’s why receiver is the biggest positional need on the roster. I wouldn’t rule out a trade in trying to address it. General Manager Brandon Beane has shown he’s aggressive in that regard if he thinks it will make his team better.
“Huggy Bear” asks: Hey Jay, are you concerned with the fact AJ McCarron is not the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback? Because if he can’t beat out Nathan Peterman we might as well ride with Josh Allen.
Jay: I’m not concerned. There is so much time before the start of the season, and I try not to draw any sort of conclusions about what takes place in late May or early June. We need to see all the quarterbacks in training camp and the preseason game before formulating a better idea of who should start. Peterman, for what it’s worth, had a good practice Thursday. So did McCarron and Allen.
Chris asks: I understand Peterman was a fifth-round flier and after one game we decided he was not good. How long do you give Allen until you say he’s a good quarterback or bust? 32 games?
Jay: I’d use the same timeline coaches seem to get – three years. Depending on how much Allen plays as a rookie, we could have a pretty good idea after next season, but I’d still give him 2020 to make sure.
@santosnoel asks: I believe in never wasting a year, shooting for the Super Bowl every year and building your team in that fashion with the right system in place. So, can our defense and LeSean McCoy carry us into the playoffs again and then win the Super Bowl, or will we suffer because of QB inexperience?
Jay: I was with you until you added the Super Bowl part of it. I’m not ready to put the Bills anywhere close to that category. Could they sneak into the playoffs again similar to last season? That’s possible, but I’m not predicting it. I think the Bills are rebuilding. That they were able to make the playoffs while doing so was impressive. I do agree that the defense should be the strength of the team, particularly in the secondary, and that McCoy can have another big season even at the age of 30.
Bryan asks: Who is the starting QB by week 8?
Jay: I feel like this question is begging for Allen to be the answer. My honest answer is “I don’t know,” but if I’m choosing right now I’ll go with Allen. I do think McCarron will start at the beginning of the season, but with how tough the schedule is early, I could see the team struggling and making a switch to Allen for a spark.
Josh Allentown asks: What is the percentage chance that Peterman is the Week 1 starter?
Jay: My answer last week would have been 10 percent. I’m boosting it this week. I’ll say he’s got a 20 percent chance, while McCarron and Allen are at 40 percent. Peterman did not look out of place at all in Thursday’s practice.
Gabe Toro asks: What is your Buffalo News password?
Jay: Way to shoot your shot, Gabe. Thanks for all the questions this week.