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Jay Skurski's Bills Mailbag: Are three quarterbacks a lock for the 53-man roster?

When was the last time a preseason game generated this much buzz?

I wouldn't be surprised if there are 60,000 people in the stands Sunday when the Buffalo Bills host the Cincinnati Bengals at New Era Field. The highlight, of course, will be rookie quarterback Josh Allen working with the starters – an excellent opportunity for him to win the starting role for the season opener.

There is also the return of Cordy Glenn and Preston Brown, as well as what should be a really cool moment when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton takes the field after his heroic touchdown pass last year that clinched a playoff berth for the Bills. The outpouring of support from Bills fans to Dalton's foundation after the game remains one of the best sports stories I've seen.

So there's plenty to get to in this week's Mailbag. Here we go ...

Rick McGuire asks: Josh Allen hasn't really "opened it up" yet in my opinion. He's throwing a lot of dink and dunk passes for 5-20 yards, it seems like. Is this the plan so to give him confidence, or might we see him show us why he's a Bill this Sunday and air it out 30, 40, 50 yards downfield?

Bob Franasiak asks: For the regular season, start Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman or AJ McCarron? Love your column!

“Josh Allen” (presumably not that Josh Allen) asks: Are three QBs on the 53-man roster a lock?

Jay: Let’s not forget Allen threw a pair of passes that traveled 60-plus yards in the air in the preseason opener, including one on his very first attempt. Neither of those passes connected, either. We all know he can make that throw – defensive coordinators included. What’s more important, in my mind, is his accuracy on those short to intermediate throws that Rick is talking about. Those will make up the bulk of any quarterback’s throws in a game. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Bills’ passing attack can be described as elementary during the preseason. That’s true of any team.

Thanks, Bob. I’m going to respectfully hold off on answering this until after Sunday’s game. I will say that if Allen holds his own with the starters, it will be hard to see how the coaching staff keeps him off the field. We all know it’s going to be his team eventually. If they feel he’s ready now, there’s no reason to delay it.

The good news is if Allen isn’t ready, Peterman has looked up to the job. McCarron’s injury might have taken him out of the mix to be the starter at this point, but he’s still an important voice in the quarterback room. The Bills know that if Allen and/or Peterman flame out, McCarron will be able to handle the job. He’s also a good teammate who will do whatever is necessary to help whoever is ahead of him on the depth chart.

“Beast of the East” asks: When should we expect to see Khalil Mack in a Bills uniform?

Greg J. asks: Is the possibility of acquiring Khalil Mack a pipe dream for Bills fans?

Fletcher Doyle asks: Is there any reason to believe the Bills would have any interest in trading for Khalil Mack?

Jay: Two different takes on the same topic there. The idea that the Raiders could do the unthinkable and trade Mack is starting to pick up steam. Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports addressed the topic this week in a video on the website, saying “The Buffalo Bills, the moment the Raiders were to say, 'Hey, you know, who's interested in Khalil Mack?' They would be all over that. And they've done their due diligence.”

La Canfora also listed the Jets, Colts, Packers and Bears as teams he is “continually hearing” are tied to Mack.

It still feels unlikely that the Raiders would really move their best player, but Mack’s holdout shows no signs of ending. La Canfora predicts Mack is willing to sit out at least two regular-season games. If his holdout drags deep into September, perhaps Jon Gruden becomes fed up enough to entertain offers. The question then becomes, what would it take to acquire a player of Mack’s caliber? Would the Bills, or any other team, be willing to pay what would figure to be a substantial price?

Mack is holding out in the first place because he wants a new contract. Any team trading for him would seemingly give that to him, and the contract figures to be in the range of $20 million per year. The Bills, if you’re wondering, have the cap space next year to do something like that.

As to the last question, hi, Flick. Thanks for checking in. The Bills having an interest in Mack makes complete sense. Their pass rush was weak in 2017, and he’s one of the best two or three players on the planet in that regard. That he went to college here is an added bonus, but is far down the list of reasons why the Bills should have an interest in him.

Jeremy asks: If the guards continue to struggle, can you see Ryan Groy moving to left guard or right guard and keeping Russell Bodine at center?

Jay: Not right now. Vlad Ducasse and John Miller have been starters since training camp began. With the competition between Groy and Bodine still going on, it wouldn’t make sense to add another change to the offensive line. The way I could see Groy moving to guard is if either Ducasse or Miller suffered an injury – or if their play at the start of the regular season was deemed unacceptable by the coaching staff. If either of those things happened, Groy could slide over and Bodine would then start at center. That’s one reason why I believe that even the loser of the Groy-Bodine competition is still safe for the 53-man roster.

Tony M. asks: What is status of AJ McCarron? Is Week 4 of the preseason going to be a tune-up week for the starters , i.e. starters playing at least a half, or will it be treated like a typical Week 4 preseason game, with many first stringers not playing?

Jay: He continues to be a limited practice participant. I would think that makes him unlikely to take the field Sunday against Cincinnati. Coach Sean McDermott said McCarron is still dealing with shoulder soreness after being hurt in the second preseason game. With rookie Josh Allen starting against Cincinnati, the team seems to be giving him a chance to win the starting job for Week 1. It’s unclear where that would leave McCarron.

As for Tony’s second question, don’t plan on seeing many – if any – starters in the lineup against the Bears. Teams use the third preseason game as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. The fourth game is made up mostly of players who will be unemployed a few days later. It remains one of the biggest ripoffs in all of professional sports that fans have to pay full price for that sham of a game.

Greg asks: Aside from the quarterback battle, what has been the most intense positional battle at camp/practice?

Nate Gerard asks: Who will be starting No. 2 and No. 3 receivers?

Jay: The center competition is an easy choice because it’s just two players competing for one spot, but the more interesting competition overall is at wide receiver. We all know Kelvin Benjamin is safe as the No. 1 receiver. Zay Jones working with the first team as quickly as he has after coming back from knee surgery would seem to indicate he’s also secure. Jeremy Kerley looks like a logical slot receiver who has NFL experience. To Nate’s question, I see them as being the second and third options.

Andre Holmes has gotten plenty of work with the first team. He’s a key contributor on special teams, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s a roster lock. Then there’s Corey Coleman. The Bills traded a 2020 seventh-round draft pick to Cleveland for him. That’s not much in terms of compensation, but it’s still something. You have to think Coleman has a good shot at landing a spot. Then it becomes a question of how many receivers the team will keep?

If it’s six, that means Rod Streater, Brandon Reilly and Ray-Ray McCloud are fighting for one job. You could say the same about Kaelin Clay, Cam Phillips, Robert Foster and Malachi Dupre, but they appear to be buried on the depth chart.

Sam Ruggiero asks: Jay, do you think this Sunday’s game could be an audition for one of the Bengals’ wide receivers? Like maybe, hmm, Tyler Boyd? Just sayin’.

Jay: Good thought, Sam. A month or so ago, I mentioned the Bengals as a team to keep an eye on if the Bills were to look for help at receiver from outside the organization. Cincinnati has some intriguing players behind top option A.J. Green. The Bengals will surely want to give 2017 first-round draft pick John Ross every chance to succeed after his rookie season was a major disappointment. That could mean someone like Boyd hits the open market. It’s definitely a consideration, but less so in my mind after the Bills traded for Corey Coleman.

“Beast of the East” asks: Last year the Bills made a bunch of trades before the season. Could you see them making a move/moves again this year?

Jay: With Brandon Beane as the GM, you always have to anticipate that. It’s entirely possible the 53 players chosen for the roster next Saturday are not all on the team Sept. 9 against Baltimore. We could see some trades after the fourth preseason game, as teams try to get something of value for a player they would otherwise cut. The reason the Bills, or any other team, might trade an asset for one of those players, as opposed to trying to sign them as a free agent, is because they wouldn’t have to compete with other teams for their services.

Paul Catalano asks: Who is your sleeper to make the team?

Jay: I’ll go with offensive lineman De’Ondre Wesley. He has gotten steady work with the second team throughout the summer, pushing Conor McDermott down the depth chart. Veteran Marshall Newhouse has the ability to kick inside, which could make Wesley the team’s swing tackle on game days. Wesley has seven games of NFL experience, coming with the Baltimore Ravens back in 2015. If he’s able to land on a spot on the 53-man roster, that will be an impressive comeback story.

Brendan Sweet asks: If Josh Allen starts all 16 games what will the Bills’ record be? And what is your prediction for his stats for the season?

Jay: It sounds weird to say (or type, in this case), but I don’t think the quarterback is going to have a huge impact on the team’s record. I expect them to win between six and eight games this season. I think that happens if Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman or AJ McCarron starts. That’s more a reflection of my belief in the talent surrounding those quarterbacks. The performance by the offensive line against Cleveland gave me serious pause, as did the effort by the starting defense against the run. We all know the wide receivers have a ton to prove. This roster doesn’t look to have enough talent on it yet to again be a playoff team. Of course, I said the same last year and was proven wrong. Even if my expectations for 2018 are not high, that doesn’t mean I’m down on the long-term outlook for this team. Obviously, if Allen flashes promise as a rookie, that bodes well for the future. I say all the time the best thing that can be said about the current front office and coaching staff is that there is a vision in place. We’ll see if it works, but at least there is a plan.

Rkmoore80 asks: Who do you think has the edge in the punting competition?

Jay: I have to say Colton Schmidt right now, just because he has been here. Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman has worked with Schmidt for years, and knows what he’s capable of. Bringing Jon Ryan is a sign that the Bills want to push Schmidt. It’s possible Ryan can unseat him, but he’s got a lot of catching up to do to make that happen.

JW Mills asks: If Tremaine Edmunds continues to struggle, who is the likely No. 2 to fill the role?

Jay: That would probably be Tanner Vallejo, but there’s no chance in my mind that the Bills make that switch. There will be some growing pains for Edmunds, but he’s going to get every opportunity to work through those. His physical tools are off the charts. Short of an injury, I don’t see him losing snaps to any other player on the roster.

Robert Goodwin asks: How is Terence Fede looking? Fellow Marist grad would appreciate an update.

Jay: He has lined up mostly with the second team throughout the summer, which gives him a good chance of making the 53-man roster. The top four defensive ends are Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Trent Murphy and Eddie Yarbrough. Murphy’s uncertain status with a groin injury may mean that the team keeps a fifth player at the position. Fede has a good chance at being that player if that scenario unfolds.

Bill Perry asks: We don't hear much on Chris Ivory. Is his spot secure, how's he look, and is he really the No. 2?

Jay: I agree he has had a quiet preseason thus far, but he looks good in practice. He’s secure as the No. 2 behind LeSean McCoy. The Bills really like the physical style Ivory brings to the position. He runs really hard and figures to be a nice change of pace to McCoy. He’s going to be an important part of the offense in 2018.

Eric DuVall asks: Has all of the attention paid to his feet made Josh Allen in any way self-conscious about his taste in cleats?

Jay: Ok, I think we’re done for this week (nice to hear from you, Eric!). Thank you for all the questions!

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