The Buffalo Bills (1-0) face the Chicago Bears (1-0) in Week 2 of the 2021 NFL Preseason on Saturday at 1 p.m. Buffalo is coming off a 16-15 victory over the Detroit Lions last week and the team hopes to learn more about their roster as we inch closer to final cutdowns with the regular season approaching.
Last week, several players were impactful and made strong cases for themselves either as starters or key role players. On the flip side, there were others who failed to live up to the buzz they generated during the offseason.
With that said, here’s a look at five players to watch when the Bills face the Bears at Soldier Field.
RG Cody Ford
Cody Ford was one of the most polarizing players on Buffalo’s roster entering training camp. After two underwhelming and injury-plagued seasons with the team, many believed the former second-round draft pick had earned the dreaded “bust” label. But throughout the offseason and early portion of training camp, general manager Brandon Beane expressed confidence in the former Oklahoma standout he traded up to snag in the 2019 NFL draft.
Against Detroit, Ford showed just why the Bills’ coaching staff was reluctant to give up him. The 6-foot-4, 329-pounder looked sharp in pass protection and was surprisingly effective in the run game.
Not a big gain but I like the work by Ford and Brown on this Power run pic.twitter.com/RE58UfOCYQ— Cover 1 (@Cover1) August 18, 2021
He played the entire first half of the game and his effectiveness on pull blocks paved the way for a handful of chunk plays by Buffalo’s running backs. Ford was impactful as a pass blocker also, anchoring well against defensive tackles to maintain a clean pocket for quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Davis Webb.
On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll talked about what goes into the evaluation of interior offensive linemen and praised Ford for his strong out against the Lions.
“He knew what to do and when to do it,” Daboll said of Ford’s performance. “He kept the depth of the pocket most of the night. He protected inside out. He got movement at the line of scrimmage. We try to make it as clean as we can so the players understand what their role is, how they’re being evaluated. He played with toughness and grit. But once we get going against Chicago here in a couple of days, he’s going to have a couple of good players to deal with.”
While Daboll says there is still competition for both of the starting guard jobs, Ford has a chance to lock himself into the right guard position with another quality performance against a talented Chicago defense.
LB Andre Smith
No player made more of a name for themselves during the Bills’ preseason opener than linebacker Andre Smith. Smith, who signed a two-year deal during the offseason after impressing on special teams during the 2020 season, played 39 defensive snaps, recording eight tackles with one tackle for loss.
The 24-year old flashed in coverage, allowing just 23 yards on five receptions (Pro Football Focus) and had a spectacular interception called back due to a roughing the passer penalty by Efe Obada.
Interception (not really cause of penalty) but still Andre Smith getting up for this ball. Wearing the special 59d jersey pic.twitter.com/b1J44EETWN— Nate Mendelson (@NateMendelson) August 14, 2021
Smith certainly isn’t competing for a starting job, but in a crowded linebacker room, the former Tarheel made quite the impression. With Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Tyler Matakevich and A.J. Klein essentially locked into their roster spots, there likely is room for just one, possibly two linebackers on the final 53-man roster.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier broke down what Smith brings to the roster during his Monday press conference, elaborating on his abilities on special teams and defense.
“With Andre, it’s about not only what he does on defense, but what he does on special teams as well. He’s one of our core guys. When you’re a backup linebacker, you need to be good on special teams, and he is. He’s one of our top guys. That phase of the game as we all know is so, so important and your linebackers, your secondary, a lot of your defenders are guys that make your special teams really good.
“Andre is one of those guys. And that’s what piqued our interest – his production on special teams, but also his flexibility, which you got to see a little bit in the preseason game. His ability to play inside, a little bit outside, good on third down. A guy who got in against New England a year ago when we had injuries and he played really well for us. So he’s a guy you feel good about that when you get injuries, he can step in and play.”
Both Tyrel Dodson and Tyrell Adams are fighting to claim the remaining linebacker gigs as well, so Smith will need to stack another quality performance against Chicago in order to cement his role on Buffalo’s final roster.
RB Zack Moss
With Zack Moss nursing a hamstring injury, Devin Singletary got the opportunity to showcase the work he put in during the offseason against the Lions. The third-year back was arguably the most impressive player on Buffalo’s offense, rushing for 48 yards while adding a receiving touchdown as well.
Moss, who spent the offseason rehabbing from ankle surgery, has looked like the best option in the backfield by all reports from training camp, but his lack of availability allowed Singletary to inch ahead of him in the competition for the starting job.
Moss returned to practice this week and if he does suit up Saturday, he needs to step up. Singletary is viewed as an elusive, outside the tackles runner, but against Detroit, the Florida Atlantic product ran hard, forcing five missed tackles, and was impactful on both inside and outside carries.
If Moss returns to action against the Bears, he must take advantage of his reps in order to prove that he’s capable of enjoying the breakout year many predict for him in 2021.
DE Darryl Johnson
There isn’t a player on the Bills’ roster with a more difficult path to cracking the 53-man roster than defensive end Darryl Johnson. The former seventh-round draft pick is caught up in a logjam at the defensive end position and is battling to make the team.
Johnson has drawn praise from both Heath Farwell – who says the 24-year old is the first player opposing special teams coaches ask about – and Leslie Fraizer this offseason. After his standout performance against the Lions, it’s easy to see why. Johnson made two tackles and recorded a sack and another hurry in 32 defensive snaps.
The Bills clearly value Johnson, but in order for him to make the team, they’ll need to cut corners somewhere else. If he can step up again on defense against the Bears, the third-year defender could help make Brandon Beane’s decision a bit easier.
CB Dane Jackson
No. 2 cornerback was one of the most anticipated training camp battles of the offseason, but thus far, it’s been the Levi Wallace show and that was no different against Detroit. Wallace had an incredible pass breakup in the endzone, while Dane Jackson had a decent outing.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson was targeted three times, allowing two receptions for 30 yards against the Lions. However, one reception could be attributed to safety Josh Thomas, who was late rotating in a Cover 2 look early in the first half.
Nonetheless, Jackson has not done enough to show that he should start over Wallace.
Bears coach Matt Nagy said earlier this week that he wants to see Justin Fields get significant in-game reps with star receiver Allen Robinson. If that’s the case on Saturday, it’s a great opportunity for Jackson to line up against one of the NFL’s top playmakers and show that he can handle him.
If he struggles at all, Wallace should hang onto the starting job for the fourth consecutive season.