This week’s Bills Mailbag is loaded with questions about Devin Singletary’s showing in the preseason opener against Indianapolis, Stephen Hauschka’s struggles, Josh Allen’s development and plenty more. Let’s get right to it …
Davey asks: It seems like Devin Singletary is the best running back. Are they going to keep him at third string respecting the veterans, or make him the starter because he’s the best back?
Leon Segre Garcia asks: Save Singletary and Christian Wade. Cut T.J. Yeldon asap?
Eli Padilla asks: Do we have a good problem at the running back position with Singletary and the way Wade showed up in his first-ever preseason game? Is it clear the pecking order at wide receiver? The defense is already in midseason form!
Jay: Davey, I do believe that the Bills will keep Singletary as the third running back, at least for now. The pecking order throughout training camp has been LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Singletary, Yeldon, Senorise Perry, Marcus Murphy and Wade. I don’t see that changing real soon. Singletary flashed some of his potential against the Colts, but it’s premature in my mind to suggest he’s the best running back on the roster. The Bills have come this far with McCoy, it makes sense to see what he can do behind a rebuilt offensive line.
To Leon’s question, Yeldon did himself no favors against the Colts, losing a bad fumble. He also doesn’t bring anything to the table on special teams, so if the Bills end up keeping only four running backs, Perry might have the upper hand. It’s worth noting Perry also looked good on offense against the Colts.
As for Wade, his 65-yard touchdown run was one of the cooler things I’ve seen – preseason or not. His speed at the end of the run was genuinely impressive, and it was fun to see the way his teammates reacted. The best bet for Wade is an exempt spot on the Bills’ practice squad, which would allow him to continue to learn the game in an NFL setting. After Thursday night, he deserves that.
To Eli’s question, I agree with calling the running back depth a good problem to have. Injuries tend to happen at that position. As for the wide receivers, more on them later …
Rick McGuire asks: Stephen Hauschka has been struggling somewhat since late last season. I know he took a nasty cheap shot in the Jets game last year, but I have a different theory I’d like your opinion on. Hauschka’s holder in 2017 was punter Colton Schmidt. Hauschka thrived that season. However, the Bills switched holders to Corey Bojorquez and then Matt Darr during the season last year. That’s when the struggles began. Bojorquez is the current holder. A kicker relies on his holder for success and confidence. Could this be a contributor to Hauschka’s struggles?
Jay: Sure, it could be a contributing factor, but I don’t believe it explains all Hauschka’s struggles and shouldn’t be used as an excuse. There is a tendency to over-complicate things in football. This is a prime example. Snap the ball, set it down, kick it. Simple, right? Whether it’s Bojorquez or Schmidt doing the job, that shouldn’t be that hard. Let’s also remember that Hauschka’s struggles didn’t just start at the end of last season, when he missed 42- and 43-yard field goals short in the final two weeks. His success rate on field goals dipped to less than 80 percent for the first time since 2011, when he became a full-time starter.
Sean McDermott was asked Friday if he’s worried about Hauschka and gave a one-word answer: “No.” Unless Hauschka turns it around during games soon, though, that answer might change.
Scotty Plummer asks: Does Zay Jones make this team? Do you think Josh Allen’s development is on point?
Jay: Yes, Jones makes the team. He’s consistently been among the top four wide receivers at practice and is coming off a productive second season (56 catches, 652 yards, seven touchdowns). I understand this question might be reactionary after Jones had a bad drop against the Colts that cost Allen a touchdown pass, but I’m not cutting him because of that.
As for Allen, I do think Allen’s development is on track. I liked some of what I saw against Indianapolis, particularly when it came to being patient in the pocket and not bailing out at the first sign of trouble. There were a couple throws to Jones that were off-target, and I’d expect that’s just something you’re going to have to live with with Allen. There were also a couple throws that other quarterbacks in the NFL can only dream of making. The first preseason game was a step in the right direction for Allen.
IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: Andre Roberts was signed for his special-teams ability, but has had a good camp and a lot of time running with the starters. Do you think his playing time is sending a signal to some other wide receivers about their lack of security on the roster, or do the Bills really plan on using him more?
Jay: I think it can be a little bit of both. I’ve had Roberts firmly on my 53-man roster from the time he was signed as the fifth receiver whose greatest value is on special teams. As the question points out, though, the Bills have used him more and more among the top four receivers, along with John Brown, Cole Beasley and Jones. That’s pushed Robert Foster out of the top four.
It’s certainly within reason that promoting Roberts is being used by the coaching staff as a way to coax more out of Foster, who had such a promising end to 2018. More so, however, I believe the Bills simply think Roberts can be a weapon for them in certain packages on offense, and are using him as such.
Gerald Beamish asks: Can we move on from Russell Bodine? He was terrible in Cincinnati and he is terrible here!
Jay: It’s possible. Thursday can only be described as terrible for Bodine. He got bumped from the starting lineup, then fired a shotgun snap over the head of Matt Barkley with the second-team offense. Making matters worse, Bodine suffered an oblique strain and will be out for an undetermined amount of time. Cutting him would save the Bills $1.9 million in base salary. I project that’s what will happen.
BillsDynasty716 asks: Do you honestly think we’ll have a competent offense this year? I don’t.
Jay: That depends on how you define competent. Do you want the offense to become a top-10 unit? That would be a big jump from where it finished last year, which was 30th. If competent means closer to league average, that’s a more realistic goal. The offseason centered on putting better pieces around Allen. That was accomplished. It’s time to take a step forward.
Ed Helinski asks: In your estimation, are the Bills’ current reserves actually quality depth?
Jay: It depends on what position you’re talking about. As mentioned above, the depth at running back is strong. I’d also say the secondary falls into that category. There are capable players among the reserves at both cornerback and safety. Defensive tackle is another spot where the depth looks good. Even quarterback, with Matt Barkley looking comfortable in the backup role, looks to be sufficient.
The depth along the offensive line and at tight end? Well, that doesn’t look so good right now. The Bills even tried to address that Friday by trading defensive end Eli Harold to the Philadelphia Eagles for offensive tackle Ryan Bates. The Bills need to get healthy quickly at those two positions.
Luigi Mike Speranza asks: Mitch Morse: Huge contract, huge concussion history. Four years of concern ahead. Did Brandon Beane pull the trigger too quickly? Would other general managers have shied away?
Skip asks: The head coach and general manager talked a lot about deciding to get along even when they disagree strongly. Do you believe McDermott was strongly against Beane signing Morse since availability was absent from his resume?
Jay: No, he didn’t pull the trigger too quickly. Morse was the consensus best or second-best center in unrestricted free agency, according to every such ranking (Matt Paradis being the other). Bringing in a player like that requires a general manager to act quickly. It’s impossible to know what other general managers would have done. My thinking is that at least some of them would have been worried about Morse’s concussion history, but that’s pure speculation, since I’m not privy (shout out to Doug Whaley) to their medical reports.
The Bills can’t say anything right now about Morse because he’s in the NFL protocol, but clearly they have to be worried about what’s going on. They made him the highest-paid center in the NFL because they believed he would be a huge part of a rebuilt offensive line.
As I wrote last week, maybe Morse gets back to play all 16 games. If that happens, this becomes an afterthought. For now, though, it looks like a major concern heading into 2019.
(Programming note: I misquoted Skip in last week’s mailbag, so I wanted to make it right and run his question again. My answer is the same, though. There’s no way Beane and McDermott would have been at odds about such a significant investment.)
Mark Ricotta asks: We haven’t heard too much about quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey this preseason. How has he impacted Josh Allen’s development/performance so far? Are there any obvious examples to highlight? I know it’s just preseason, but curious minds want to know.
What in the world happened with the Sabres’ salary-cap situation? At the start of summer, the Sabres looked to be in great salary-cap shape and were able to make a couple of solid trades/signings with cap room left. Then, seemingly overnight, they’re over the cap. For a team that is on the playoff fringe, at best, this is a terrible situation. I would guess trade leverage has decreased, as well. Did Jason Botterill botch the cap situation? Did the arbitration rulings catch him off guard?
Jay: There isn’t a specific thing I can point to and say “Dorsey has made Allen better at this,” but that’s a question to file away for the quarterback at some point. As I mentioned earlier, though, I thought Allen did a nice job in surveying the field against the Colts. It’s a safe bet that’s something Dorsey and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll are working with the quarterback on.
As for the Sabres, my guy Lance Lysowski would be better off handling this question, but I’ll give it a shot. The Sabres being over the cap at the moment reminds me of when the Bills were up against the cap toward the end of their playoff drought. It was fair to wonder how in the heck that was possible. The Sabres have perhaps the worst contract in the league with Kyle Okposo making $6 million each of the next four years. They are also paying Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons a combined $3.1 million in 2019-20, for reasons I couldn’t possibly understand.
The good news is, there are several contracts coming off the books after this season. Deals for Vladimir Sobotka, Larsson, Girgensons, Zach Bogosian, Matt Hunwick and Marco Scandella, among others, will free up more than $17 million in space. That doesn’t help the immediate future, though, and I still believe Botterill has at least one more trade in him before the start of the season. This team still needs a second line, and shipping out Rasmus Ristolainen seems like the only way to get at least one piece of that, be it for a center or right winger.
Thus concludes my Sabres takes – check out Lance’s mailbag for way more. Thanks for all the questions this week!