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Training camp preview

Bills' backfield is overflowing with running backs

This is the second in a series previewing each position on the Buffalo Bills before the July 25 start of training camp.

The Buffalo Bills have an overabundance of running backs heading into the start of training camp.

Last year’s starter, LeSean McCoy, is back for what could be his final season with the Bills. His contract expires after this year.

He’s joined by an entirely new supporting cast. The Bills were active in adding running backs in both free agency and the draft. They started by signing future Hall of Famer Frank Gore to a one-year, $2 million deal.

They doubled down on free agents by signing T.J. Yeldon, a former Alabama star who was a second-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015.

They plucked Senorise Perry from a division rival, signing the former Miami Dolphins player to a one-year contract with an eye on having him contribute primarily on special teams.

Still, General Manager Brandon Beane wasn’t done. He added another running back in the third round of the draft, selecting Florida Atlantic touchdown machine Devin Singletary.

“Competition,” Beane said on the night of the draft about adding Singletary even after the moves he made in free agency. “I don’t know how it’s going to shake out, but in time we’ll figure that out.”

Will there be enough carries to keep everyone happy? Who will get the bulk of the work?

The time to start answering those questions is almost here.

Returnees: LeSean McCoy, Marcus Murphy, Patrick DiMarco (fullback).

Newcomers: Frank Gore (Dolphins), T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars), Senorise Perry (Dolphins), Devin Singletary (draft, third round).

Departures: Chris Ivory (free agent), Keith Ford (free agent).

Key numbers: The Bills ranked ninth in the NFL in total rushing yards last year, finishing with 1,984. That number was inflated, however, as quarterback Josh Allen provided a team-leading 631. McCoy had the worst season of his career, finishing with 161 carries for 514 yards, an average of just 3.2 yards per rush.

What to expect: The Bills are betting big on a return to form for McCoy, who will be 31 at the start of the season. Keeping him around isn’t cheap – he’ll cost $9 million against the salary cap and the team could save more than $6 million by cutting or trading him. For that type of money, much more has to be expected from McCoy.

What happens at training camp if the Bills decide McCoy has lost more than a step? That will loom over the franchise until he proves otherwise.

“In this league, in general, it’s always competition,” McCoy told The Buffalo News at the end of spring practices. “I'm a type of guy, I thrive off of having a big name. So when guys come to my team, they're curious to see, 'How is LeSean McCoy? Is he still a good player?' I mean, I'm a dominant player. I think that speaks for itself. But I'll be in the same role as last year, and I look forward to putting some numbers up and bouncing back from that last season."

Gore has a gold jacket waiting for him in Canton, Ohio, when his playing days are done. Conventional wisdom says that should have already happened, but Gore is still going strong at age 36. His leadership will be a welcome addition to a team that lost Kyle Williams to retirement, but Gore is here for more than just a presence in the locker room. He was in phenomenal shape during the spring.

Yeldon never became the player the Jaguars thought they were getting when they drafted him 36th overall, but he flashed ability as a receiving weapon out of the backfield, making 171 catches in four seasons. As a third-down back, the Bills could do worse.

The wild card is Singletary. On the surface, it’s tough to see how he steals carries as a rookie. The team didn’t draft him in the third round to sit forever, though. Beane called Singletary the “most fun” player he scouted this year, and he’s  drawn comparisons to McCoy. Prediction: Singletary will star during the preseason, since he figures to get the most work and a lot of it will come against third-teamers.

Perry’s path to a roster spot will be keyed by special teams. Seeing him in the No. 32 jersey that nobody has worn since O.J. Simpson has been strange.

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