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Bills open training camp with plenty of position battles looming

It shouldn't be a surprise that neither Sean McDermott nor Brandon Beane did much reflecting on the end of the Buffalo Bills' 17-year playoff drought after their first season as coach and general manager.

Not only do they share the belief that looking back wastes time and energy that should be invested in looking forward, but they're also keenly aware the roster is hardly that of a legitimate contender.

There are simply too many question marks, so many key areas that need addressing, to feel that last season's 9-7 finish and one-and-done postseason appearance against the Jacksonville Jaguars was the start of a run of sustainable winning.

That's something McDermott and Beane are still trying to build, a process that resumes in earnest Thursday as the Bills begin practice at their 19th training camp at St. John Fisher College.

Both realize it's entirely possible the team will take a step back in 2018 before showing the kind of progress that will last. As McDermott mentioned at last February's NFL Scouting Combine at Indianapolis, "We're not maybe as far along as some people think we are. We've got a lot of work to do." He offered a similar message when asked about managing expectations at last March's NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla.

With no fewer than a half-dozen starting spots up for grabs, including quarterback, saying the Bills have "a lot of work to do" is putting it mildly.

The competition means the 16 camp practices – one of which will be at New Era Field and another at the ADPRO Training Center – carry as much weight as any in recent memory. The same goes for the four preseason games, the first of which is scheduled for Aug. 9 against the Carolina Panthers at New Era Field.

Here's a closer look at the position battles:

Quarterback

By signing his contract Wednesday, first-round draft pick Josh Allen assured himself of not missing any of the practice and meeting time so crucial to his development as a rookie.

The former Wyoming standout might have been third on the depth chart through most of the offseason practices, but there is every reason to believe he'll see a fair amount of first-team reps, as was the case during the final workouts of the offseason. Allen's status as the seventh overall choice and the fact he is far more physically talented than AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman are likely to influence the team's decision-makers to give Allen the keys to the offense as soon as possible.

McCarron, signed as a free agent from the Cincinnati Bengals, is a fierce competitor and has the most experience with four years of backing up Andy Dalton and four starts, including a playoff game. But he and Peterman, beginning his second season after a rookie year that was defined by a disastrous debut, will need to consistently show they are dramatically better than Allen to have a shot at winning the No. 1 job.

Center

After the retirement of Eric Wood, the Bills find themselves with a gaping hole here with no obvious replacement. The primary candidates to fill it, Ryan Groy and Russell Bodine, alternated at the position during offseason workouts. However, those noncontact sessions generally don't do much to allow linemen to separate from each other.

The fact Groy was solid in the seven games he started in 2016 after Wood suffered a broken leg doesn't necessarily give him an edge. None of the Bills' current decision-makers were part of the team then, and Groy must also reprove himself in an entirely new offense installed by new coordinator and former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll.

McDermott and Beane chose to sign Bodine as a free agent from the Bengals, for whom he started every time since joining them as a fourth-round pick from North Carolina in 2014.

After quarterback, this could be the next-most fascinating battle to watch.

Left guard

With Richie Incognito choosing to move on rather than play under a contract paying him nearly $2 million than he received last year, the Bills face another major dilemma on their line. There's no obvious replacement here, either.

Incognito was widely viewed as the best lineman the Bills had and the primary reason they led the NFL in rushing in two of the past three seasons, and ranked in the top 10 in that category last year.

Vlad Ducasse, who spent most of last season as the starting right guard, worked at left guard through offseason practices. Whether that continues through camp remains to be seen, because Ducasse has minimal NFL experience at the position and had his struggles on the right side last year. He could very well find himself off the roster if he doesn't nail down a starting job.

Groy, who also is a dependable guard, could take over on the left side. John Miller, whom Ducasse unseated as a starter last season, is in the mix, along with rookie Wyatt Teller.

Right guard

Depending on what happens at left guard, Ducasse could very well find himself back on the right side.

Miller is also fighting for his roster survival, and it just might depend on his ability to win back the No. 1 spot here or taking over on the left side. Teller is in the conversation here as well.

Your guide to all 90 players on the Bills' training camp roster

Wide receiver

The Bills could do worse than have Kelvin Benjamin, their big trade acquisition last year from the Carolina Panthers, remain their No. 1 receiver. Still, he isn't necessarily an ideal choice.

His injury history, which goes back to his Panther days, is a concern. He's working his way back from knee surgery he underwent after last season. Benjamin also doesn't possess the speed and burst normally associated with a No. 1 target. The Bills would like someone else to fill that role, but the pickings appear slim.

Zay Jones, last year's second-round pick, is trying to climb out of deep hole he entered after a disappointing rookie season, surgeries on his shoulder and knee, and strange behavior that led to an arrest. The Bills placed him on their active/non-football injury list Wednesday.

The rest of the competition is mostly of the second-, third- or fourth-receiver variety.

Jeremy Kerley, a free-agent signee who spent last season with the New York Jets, is a leading candidate to fill the slot position that figures to be even more vital with greater New England-style horizontal route concepts that Daboll has in his playbook. Seventh-round draft pick Austin Proehl should also be in the mix for that role.

Defensive end

For Shaq Lawson, it's either show he can be an effective starter this summer or find himself out of a starting position ... and likely a spot on the roster.

Lawson's two disappointing seasons since the Bills made him a first-round pick in 2016 make him as vulnerable as any player on the team. There are plenty of others gunning to replace him. The most likely candidate is Trent Murphy, signed as a free agent from the Washington Redskins. Murphy is coming back from major knee surgery, and if he stays healthy, he has more than a decent job of starting opposite Jerry Hughes.

The Bills' decision-makers love the work ethic of backup Eddie Yarbrough, a classic overachiever, which means Lawson's tendency to be unfocused and undisciplined doesn't bode well for him sticking around in a reserve capacity.

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The Bills announced Wednesday they released defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi.

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