The Bills' first preseason home game takes place at 7 p.m. Aug. 9 vs. the Carolina Panthers. Here's what you need to be paying attention to.
1. The quarterbacks. Duh. Through two weeks of training camp, there has not been a noticeable separation between Nathan Peterman, AJ McCarron and Josh Allen. Who gets the call as the starter? Do both McCarron and Peterman play with the first unit? Can Allen, the rookie drafted seventh overall, show that he deserves more than third-team reps? All of those are important unanswered questions. Coach Sean McDermott said at the beginning of training camp that he would prefer one of the quarterbacks to take hold of the job early. To this point, that hasn’t happened. Maybe it starts Thursday night.
2. Shaq Lawson with the starters. A groin injury has kept Trent Murphy on the sidelines for about a week, meaning Lawson has been with the starting defense. He’s had some good moments in that time. He needs to continue those against the Panthers. In particular, it would be nice to see Lawson’s improvement as a pass rusher. The Bills were pleased with his run defense a season ago, but a first-round defensive end has to apply more pressure in the passing game than what Lawson has in his first two seasons. There has been plenty of speculation about Lawson being a trade candidate. That’s still a possibility, but with Murphy needing to prove he can stay healthy, there is a chance for Lawson to play a significant part on this year’s defense.
3. Does Corey Coleman play? The Bills’ newest wide receiver has just one half-speed practice under his belt after coming over in a trade for Cleveland, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if coach Sean McDermott decides to hold him out. That would mean Coleman likely makes his preseason debut in Week 2 against his former team, which traded the 2016 first-round pick for a ham sandwich (2020 seventh rounder, actually). Whenever he gets on the field, it will be interesting to see if a change of scenery is what Coleman needs to jump start his career.
4. Who takes the starting reps at center? Outside of quarterback, one of the other key competitions for the Bills in training camp has been the starting center job, with Russell Bodine and Ryan Groy rotating daily with the first unit. Plenty has been made about the offensive line losing Eric Wood and Richie Incognito. A good showing from either Groy or Bodine could at least lessen those concerns.
5. What do the new rules look like? Changes to the kickoff and lowering-the-helmet rules have the potential to bring plenty of confusion -- and frustration. Bills special teams coach Danny Crossman called this the most important preseason in his 17 years in the NFL in terms of the kicking game, given how different the rules are. Included in the change: Members of the kicking team must be evenly distributed, five on each side of the ball, and can not get a running start. The receiving team must have eight players within 15 yards of where the ball is being kicked, and two man-wedge blocks are prohibited.
As for the lowering-the-helmet rule, it states: "“It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area – lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul. Violations of the rule will be easier to see and officiate when they occur in open space – as opposed to close line play – but this rule applies anywhere on the field at any time.”
Speaking at training camp last week, NFL referee Shawn Smith admitted "It’s an adjustment for the players and an adjustment for the officials. We really can’t tell you how difficult it will be until we actually get some live snaps where we see this in action."
For the Bills and Panthers, that comes Thursday.