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Inside the Bills: With spring practices complete, a 53-man roster projection

Brandon Beane showed last summer that roster building in the NFL is never complete.

The Buffalo Bills' general manager shocked the league when he traded away wide receiver Sammy Watkins and cornerback Ronald Darby in separate transactions. So plenty could still change between today and Sept. 9, when the Bills open the 2018 season in Baltimore.

For now, here's a look at how the team's 53-man roster projects. Competition for jobs at wide receiver and defensive end should be of particular interest during training camp at St. John Fisher College.

Quarterbacks (3): Nathan Peterman, AJ McCarron, Josh Allen.

Cuts: None.

Analysis: Earlier this spring, I was asked for a “surprise cut” candidate. I went with Peterman, figuring the Bills could decide to go with just two quarterbacks. After minicamp, however, I’d like to retract that. Peterman had a solid spring. So solid, in fact, he might have a slight edge in the competition with McCarron to be the starting quarterback. Coach Sean McDermott maintains that he’s going to stick with a similar reps plan once training camp starts, meaning Peterman and McCarron rotate with the starters and Allen sees most of his time with the third team.

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Running backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Travaris Cadet, Taiwan Jones.

Cuts (2): Marcus Murphy, Keith Ford.

Analysis: This should be a spirited competition during training camp for the two jobs behind McCoy and Ivory. Cadet looked good in spot duty in 2017 and has good hands coming out of the backfield. He had 40 catches as recently as 2016 with New Orleans. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is expected to install a Patriots-style offense, which means running backs will be used as receivers (think about James White in New England). Jones gets the fourth and final spot based on special teams. He’s a candidate to be the team’s kick returner and is on the coverage units.

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Fullback (1): Patrick DiMarco.

Cut: Zach Olstad.

Analysis: Olstad has a great story – he’s working as a bus mechanic before training camp starts – but DiMarco is one of the best players in the league at his position.

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Wide receivers (6): Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Ray-Ray McCloud, Rod Streater.

Cuts (7): Quan Bray, Kaelin Clay, Malachi Dupre, Robert Foster, Cam Phillips, Austin Proehl, Brandon Reilly.

Analysis: For a position that has fans panicking, this wasn’t easy. The toughest cuts here are Reilly, last year’s preseason darling, and Proehl, a seventh-round draft pick who made some nice plays in the spring, including a 70-yard touchdown catch from Allen on the final play of practice. Foster is an undrafted free agent from Alabama who looks the part physically, while Clay spent some time with the Bills last year and made enough of an impression for the team to bring him back. For now, the top three of Benjamin, Jones and Kerley looks set – although Jones’ offseason has to have the team concerned. Holmes and McCloud make it for special teams, with the rookie having a chance to be the primary punt returner. Streater gets the final spot after making several impressive catches in the spring. He was on his way to earning a roster spot last year before getting hurt in a preseason game at Philadelphia.

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Tight ends (3): Charles Clay, Nick O’Leary, Logan Thomas.

Cuts (3): Khari Lee, Jason Croom, Keith Towbridge.

Analysis: The Bills went with four at this position last year, keeping Lee primarily for blocking. They don’t have that luxury this year. Minor knee surgery cost Thomas some valuable time in the spring, but he should be 100 percent at the start of training camp. He’ll have to hold off Lee for the third and final spot.

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Offensive tackles (4): Dion Dawkins, Jordan Mills, Marshall Newhouse, Conor McDermott.

Cuts (5): De’Ondre Wesley, Mo Porter, Josh James, Gerhard de Beer, Ike Boettger.

Analysis: There doesn’t look to be much drama here. The only question is whether the team keeps three or four at the position. Newhouse and McDermott would be in competition for the final spot in that case. Newhouse has played some guard in the spring, which gives him the versatility Sean McDermott likes. McDermott stuck on the 53-man roster all last season, so clearly the coaching staff likes him.

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Interior offensive line (5): John Miller, Vlad Ducasse, Wyatt Teller, Ryan Groy, Russell Bodine.

Cut: Adam Redmond.

Analysis: While there is a good competition going for center between Groy and Bodine, both players look safe for the 53-man roster. Miller has bounced back from being benched in 2017 to hold a starting job throughout the spring. Teller looks safe as a fifth-round draft pick.

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Defensive ends (5): Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough, Owa Odighizuwa.

Cuts (4): Mat Boesen, Terrence Fede, Marquavius Lewis, Mike Love.

Analysis: The Bills were busy at this position in the offseason, adding Muprhy, Odighizuwa and Fede as free agents, while also re-signing Yarbrough. That has set up a healthy competition for jobs. Odighizuwa made the biggest move in the spring, getting some time with the first team in front of Lawson as Murphy recovers from ACL surgery. Lawson has said all the right things about taking a jump in his third pro season, but consider me skeptical until he does something noteworthy in the regular season. Fede is the toughest cut here as a free-agent addition from Miami, but the pass-rush of Yarbrough and potential of Odighizuwa puts them ahead.

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Defensive tackles (4): Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Adolphus Washington.

Cuts (2): Rickey Hatley, Tenny Palepoi.

Analysis: This is another position we can just fast forward to September. Barring injury, there doesn’t seem to be any way this changes. Williams, the team leader, said this spring he was impressed by the job Phillips and Washington did during practice. If that keeps up, the team can limit the number of snaps both Williams and Lotulelei have to take.

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Linebackers (6): Tremaine Edmunds, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano, Tanner Vallejo, Julian Stanford, Ramon Humber.

Cuts (3): Xavier Woodson-Luster, Corey Thompson, Deon Lacey.

Analysis: Could Alexander be a surprise cut in training camp? He turned 35 last month, and there would be a cap savings of $1.75 million if he’s released. The Bills would miss his presence in the locker room, but it’s a possibility. If he does earn a spot, chances are his playing time will come mainly on special teams. Edmunds and Milano look secure as the every-down linebackers, while Vallejo, Stanford and Humber all project as key contributors on special teams. Thompson is a practice squad candidate.

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Safeties (4): Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Rafael Bush, Siran Neal.

Cuts (3): Dean Marlowe, Kelcie McCray, L.J. McCray.

Analysis: This is another position without a lot of drama. Poyer and Hyde proved to be one of the best duos in the league last season, while Bush was targeted early in free agency to be the top reserve. Neal was added in the fifth round and brings versatility to the position. It would take a huge move from Marlowe or either of the McCrays to earn a spot.

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Cornerbacks (5): Tre’Davious White, Vontae Davis, Phillip Gaines, Taron Johnson, Lafayette Pitts.

Cuts (3): Breon Borders, Ryan Carter, Levi Wallace.

Analysis: It figures to come down to Pitts or Borders for the fifth and final spot. Borders was signed off the Raiders’ practice squad by the Bills in December. Pitts played mostly on special teams last year after being claimed off waivers from the Jaguars. Wallace is a good candidate for the practice squad who went from being a walk-on at Alabama to being a starter in the Crimson Tide secondary. The starting jobs are set with White and Davis, while the biggest competition at camp will be for the nickel job between Gaines and Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick.

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Specialists (3): Reid Ferguson, Stephen Hauschka, Colton Schmidt.

Cuts (2): Cory Carter, Corey Davis.

Analysis: Davis made a compelling case for a longer look by drilling a 65-yard field goal during minicamp, but Hauschka is coming off a great season. Ferguson might be the safest player on the roster – there isn’t another long snapper.

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