This is the third in a series of previews of the Bills at each position heading into training camp. This installment: running backs.
The Buffalo Bills’ brain trust demonstrated a ton of it in running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss this offseason.
The Bills resisted the temptation to add a significant challenger for the starting running back job in both free agency and the draft.
Now it’s up to Singletary and Moss to show if the faith was warranted.
“We believe that we have the pieces to run the ball better,” Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said before the draft. “Sometimes it’s execution. Sometimes it’s reps.”
The challenge for the Bills and every NFL team is getting enough practice repetitions for the running game in training camp.
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Sure, the Bills practice running plays in the spring. But it’s without pads. It’s not the same. Similarly, NFL teams work on the run game less than the pass game in training camp because of a desire to limit the chance for injury.
The good news this summer is there will be three preseason games. That’s a little more run-game work than the offensive line and running backs got last summer, when the preseason was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Returnees: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones, Antonio Williams, Christian Wade.
Newcomers: Matt Breida (free agent, Dolphins).
Departures: T.J. Yeldon (free agent).
Key number: The Bills were 25th in rushing yards by the running backs at 1,311. Buffalo was 17th in total rushing attempts. Against three good defenses in the playoffs (the Colts, Ravens and Chiefs), the Bills running backs combined for 103 yards on 28 carries (3.67 a carry). Not good enough.
Top position battle: Who’s No. 1 and who’s No. 3?
Someone is going to emerge as the starter for Week 1. Let’s call Singletary the slightest of favorites. Moss was more effective than Singletary down the stretch last season until Moss suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter of the wild-card playoff game against Indianapolis. Singletary got only two carries in that game (compared with seven for Moss) before the injury to the rookie. The Colts’ defense was great against the run, and the Bills opted to call more designed runs by Josh Allen in that game. Allen carried 11 times. That alone could be construed as a lack of faith in the running backs’ ability to produce on the ground.
The expectation is Jones is a lock as the No. 4 back due to his value on special teams. That leaves Williams and Wade trying to do enough to beat out newcomer Breida for the other RB spot on the roster. The 30-year-old Wade arguably is a sentimental favorite due to his compelling story, being a rugby star from England. This probably is Wade’s last shot in Buffalo, given his age and the fact it’s his third Bills training camp.
What to expect: Don’t expect training camp or preseason to fully resolve the question of who emerges as the lead back – even if “lead” only means a 60% share of the snaps. The answer on whether the Bills’ running game has improved isn’t going to be known until at least a month into the regular season, maybe longer.