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Tough decisions await Bills on cut-down day

It’s harder to make the Buffalo Bills in 2019 than it was in 2018.

That’s exactly the way General Manager Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott want it.

“If you’re building your roster the right way, that’s what you want,” McDermott said after Thursday night’s preseason finale, a come-from-behind, 27-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. "You want those tough decisions, you want people to be looking at your roster and instead of us looking at everyone else’s and saying we need this piece and that piece -- we still do that, don’t get me wrong – but you do feel better when there’s greater levels of competition and position battles. Those guys have embraced that and that willingness to compete even though being teammates and I think you saw that in the preseason.”

Case in point: Eddie Yarbrough.

The third-year defensive end has appeared in 31 games over the last two seasons for the team. This summer, however, Yarbrough has been relegated to the third team. He played 57 snaps in Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Vikings, a game that usually features players who have a shaky future with their team.

If Yarbrough’s time with the Bills is coming to an end – a league source said Friday he had not heard either way, with the deadline for 53-man rosters to be set coming at 4 p.m. Saturday – he went out with a strong showing.

Yarbrough made 10 tackles, including two for losses.

“It was a blast. You know, I love these guys,” Yarbrough said in the victorious locker room. “I love this town. I love my team. To go out there, especially with how close this unit is – even though the reality of this business with the cut down to 53 (is coming) -- but just how close everybody is, this is truly a special unit.”

Yarbrough’s uncle, Raymond Jackson, was a cornerback drafted by the Bills in 1996. He offered Yarbrough some advice when he entered the league a few years ago.

“He always told me, playing in these games, all you want to do is go out there and put your best foot forward, and make it hard,” Yarbrough said. “As long as you do that, and it's the reality of the business, you're going to be all right.”

It’s safe to say Yarbrough’s performance Thursday night did that. There could be a path to the 53-man roster, too, after the team placed Mike Love on injured reserve earlier this week. For that to happen, Yarbrough will have to convince the coaching staff to keep five defensive ends, since the top four of Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson and rookie seventh-round draft pick Darryl Johnson are thought to be safe.

“For me, I'm going to treat it like any other 24 hours, call my mom and dad, talk to them about the game,” Yarbrough said of his plans leading up to cut day. “If you give it your best effort, you should be able to sleep like a baby at night because you know you've done everything you can and that's all you can ask of yourself.”

If nothing else, Yarbrough put some good film on tape against the Vikings. That could lead to a job somewhere else if he doesn’t make it in Buffalo.

“Great to see him make a couple of those plays,” McDermott said. “We’ve had Eddie since he was basically in his first year. … To watch him grow over the years, it’s been fun and he’s given us – he’s a warrior, and he gives it all. He puts it on the line every week and every day in practice. So that’s why he got the results he got tonight.”

Case in point No. 2: Marcus Murphy. The Bills’ sixth-string running back aided in the comeback with a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“To see Marcus come out and really give us that lift was awesome,” McDermott said.

Murphy has averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 49 rushing attempts over two seasons with the Bills, but has been running behind LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon and Senorise Perry all summer. That speaks to the depth accumulated by Beane – and the tough decisions that await.

“We just wanted to fight to the end,” Murphy said of the players on the field Thursday night.

For Yarbrough, Murphy and the rest of the Bills on the roster bubble, that fight is over now. All that’s left is the wait.

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