The Buffalo Bills had one of their more eventful offseasons in recent years and the team will finally suit up in pads Thursday to host the Carolina Panthers in their first preseason game of the 2018 NFL season. While Buffalo’s starters certainly aren’t expected to see much run in the first exhibition contest, the game proves coaches and fans a better chance to evaluate their 90-man roster in live action for the first time this year. With that said, here are the top storylines to follow as the Buffalo Bills hope to get off to a good start Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers.
First look at Bills’ new-look offensive scheme, personnel
New Bills’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will call his first game in the NFL since 2012 and he’ll be doing so with an offense loaded with question marks. Daboll’s play-calling will be interesting to watch, particularly after Rick Dennison’s debacles last year. Thursday will provide a good indication on Daboll’s tendencies on third down, his aggressiveness and his ability to adjust as the game advances. How Daboll and Sean McDermott balance the quarterback juggling act will be intriguing to watch, but it will also make or break his first season as OC.
As for the quarterbacks themselves, each has their own goals for 2018 in hopes of winning the starting job. For Nathan Peterman – can he prove that he has shaken off the nightmares of last year’s five interception game and take the next step in his sophomore season? For A.J. McCarron, can he prove that he can be more than just a career backup and lead a team himself?
And finally, for Josh Allen: Can he prove that he can be the quarterback of the future and justify the Bills trading up to select him? None of those answers will be fully decided on Thursday night against Carolina, but it’s the first real chance for each of these guys to shake off any narratives and give put a display on the field.
How will the Buffalo Bills 2018 NFL Draft class fare?
Josh Allen isn’t the only rookie that the Buffalo Bills hope will play a prominent role during the 2018 NFL season. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips have drawn rave reviews throughout OTAs and Training Camp but now they will finally compete in live action for the first time as professionals.
Middle-round draft selections such as Siran Neal and Taron Johnson will look to keep Buffalo’s secondary as one of the league’s best. The returning guys certainly set a high bar last season, and there will be little margin for error for either Neal or Johnson – even in the first preseason contest. On the offensive side, there are rookies like Austin Proehl and Ray-Ray McCloud who are just fighting for roster spots and these games will decide how the Bills balance their pass-catchers. If one of them is able to make a couple big catches in these early games, there’s certainly no reason to believe that they couldn’t grab one of the final roster spots away from a veteran like Andre Holmes or Rod Streater.
Which Bills WR will step up?
Buffalo’s wide receiver depth chart is certainly crowded after the trade for Corey Coleman but there is still much to sort out at the position. The only real certainties seem to be that there are no certainties outside of Kelvin Benjamin. Thursday’s game will be especially interesting to watch what players gel with what quarterbacks and which of the younger guys have been able to get up to speed during training camp. As mentioned, it’s certainly not out of the question that several of the younger players take a jump and leap a veteran for a roster spot. However, vets such as Jeremy Kerley and Holmes can certainly prove valuable to one of Buffalo’s younger quarterbacks — something that coaches will also certainly keep in mind. Either way, nothing will be decided after one game, and most of the decisions at this position may very well come down to the final day of roster cuts in late-August.
Bills revamped OL sees first challenge
Much has changed since Buffalo’s miraculous playoff berth last season, and Thursday will be the first real chance to see the guys that have been brought in to replace some longtime Bills. Several of the starters (Eric Wood, Richie Incognito, Preston Brown) were not only instrumental on the field but in the locker room, as well. The team looks to still have a strong leadership contingent with guys like Kyle Williams still in place, but it bears watching which players will hold guys accountable. On the field, position battles rage on for those that have left. Russell Bodine and Ryan Groy will each get a shot in these games and as with most offensive line battles, it’ll come down to which guy can make fewer mistakes.
So much has happened around this franchise this offseason that it’s almost hard to remember each one. The Zay Jones’ incident that led to surgery. The surprise retirements of Eric Wood and the release of Richie Incognito. LeSean McCoy’s domestic troubles. After seven-month offseason break, there’s few franchises that are more excited to just get back on the field and play ball. With all of the distractions, Thursday will be the first real test on whether they can be put away and make McBean’s second season as successful as the first.