Everything you need to know, plus what I’ll be watching for Thursday when the Buffalo Bills open the preseason against the Indianapolis Colts at New Era Field.
TV: ABC. Announcers: Andrew Catalon (play by play), Steve Tasker (color analyst).
Radio: Bills Radio Network. Buffalo-WGR 550 AM; Toronto-Fan 590 AM; Rochester-WCMF 96.5 FM and WROC 950 AM; Syracuse-WTKW 99.5 FM and WTKV 105.5 FM. Announcers: John Murphy (play-by-play), Eric Wood (color analyst).
Bills injury report: C Mitch Morse (concussion), CB E.J. Gaines (groin), TE Dawson Knox (hamstring), TE Jason Croom (hamstring), G Jon Feliciano (shoulder), S Micah Hyde (neck).
Here are five things to watch against the Colts:
1. The O-line in front of Josh Allen. Unlike last year, there is no quarterback competition this summer. We all know Allen is the starter. There is some question on what it will look like in front of him, though. Center Mitch Morse, the team’s marquee free-agent signing, remains out with a concussion and is not expected to play. Guards Jon Feliciano and Spencer Long, who have been competing for the starting job at right guard, have also been banged up and are uncertain to play. That has led to second-round draft pick Cody Ford shifting inside to guard. If he stays there against the Colts, it’s an indication the coaching staff is serious about the possibility of Ford’s move from tackle to the inside becoming permanent. “All we can do is evaluate the combinations that are out there,” coach Sean McDermott said. “We can’t evaluate the combinations that aren’t out there because those are hypothetical at this point and that’s not healthy.”
2. Ed Oliver’s debut. The team’s prized first-round pick moved into the starting lineup by the end of training camp at St. John Fisher College. That was expected eventually for the ninth overall selection in the draft, but perhaps not this quickly. McDermott has reiterated that jobs must be earned, not given, and Oliver did that once the pads came on. He gets the chance to take his game to another level against the Colts.
3. Who steps up at tight end? Because of injuries, tight end is the most unsettled position on the Bills’ roster. Presumed starter Tyler Kroft is out with a broken foot. The two players directly behind him on the depth chart – Jason Croom and rookie third-round draft pick Dawson Knox – are both out with hamstring injuries. That has elevated seventh-round draft pick Tommy Sweeney into plenty of reps with the starters. Veteran Lee Smith will likely be the starter, but when the Bills go to two-tight end sets, expect Sweeney to join Smith on the field. Another player to watch will be Nate Becker. The rookie undrafted free agent performed well during the team's open practice at New Era Field. Depending on when the injured players at the position are ready, Becker might be a sleeper for the 53-man roster, at least at the start of the year.
4. Robert Foster's playing time. It's been a slow start to the summer for Foster, who broke out as an undrafted rookie with three 100-yard receiving games in the second half of the 2018 season. Foster has firmly been fourth on the depth chart behind John Brown, Cole Beasley and Zay Jones. There has even been some talk on the sideline about his spot on the 53-man roster not being 100% secure. That seems like a reach, given what he was able to accomplish as a rookie. Still, it's fair to say that Foster hasn't taken as big of a step forward as the team hoped – at least to this point. If he's out of the game before halftime, it will solidify his spot on the depth chart. If he's playing into the third quarter, however, it may raise some questions.
5. Homecomings all around. Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich will serve in that role for the first time in the same stadium that he led the greatest comeback in NFL history as the Bills’ backup quarterback. Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni is a native of Jamestown who went to Southwestern High School. Indianapolis quarterback Chad Kelly is the nephew of Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and played in high school at St. Joe’s. On the Bills’ side, offensive line coach Bobby Johnson was an assistant O-line coach on Reich’s staff last year.
Story topics: Bobby Johnson/ Chad Kelly/ cody ford/ Cole Beasley/ Dawson Knox/ E.J. Gaines/ Ed Oliver/ Frank Reich/ Instagram/ Jason Croom/ John Brown/ Jon Feliciano/ Lee Smith/ Micah Hyde/ Mitch Morse/ Nate Becker/ Nick Sirianni/ Robert Foster/ Sean McDermott/ Spencer Long/ Tommy Sweeney/ Tyler Kroft/ Zay Jones