The Buffalo Bills look to continue their preseason success on Saturday as they’ll host the Denver Broncos in their second exhibition contest of the 2022 NFL Season. While Buffalo squeaked out a last-minute victory last week against the Indianapolis Colts and this week, the team hopes to get more clarification on some key roster battles with cutdown day looming. Most of the Bills’ starters are set in stone but competition for a handful of meaningful roles and roster spots are still up for grabs, meaning that this game will have serious ramifications for many players looking to crack the final 53-man roster.
Here are the four biggest storylines we’ll be following as Buffalo looks to improve their preseason winning streak to 10 games.
Josh Allen’s debut
Head coach Sean McDermott spoke to the media Thursday and announced that Josh Allen, along with most of the Bills’ starters will take the field against Denver.
“I’m not going to get into how much they’ll play, but I’ll say that the starters will play a healthy amount,” said McDermott. “What quarter, I couldn’t really tell you right now, but I’ve got a decent feel and we’ll see how the game goes. And that will be most starters, not all starters.”
Allen is entering his fifth NFL season as the favorite to win MVP and expectations are higher than ever for the 25-year-old. While many fans expected to get their first glimpse of Allen in Week 1 of the regular season, coach McDermott explained that it’s important for his signal-caller to see live game reps in order to find a groove not only with his teammates but with his new play-caller, Ken Dorsey.
“Josh will be hearing a new voice in his ear as well,” McDermott said. “That’s certainly one of the (reasons he’s playing). And it’s probably, I don’t know how big it is, but it’s one of them. … I think there’s a lot that we want to put into practice in a game that we’ve been practicing.”
By all accounts, Buffalo is essentially running the same offense that they did under Brian Daboll, but Dorsey will undoubtedly bring his own wrinkles and play sequencing that Allen and Buffalo’s offense needs to adjust to.
Last year, Allen played 33 snaps during the Bills’ preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, so while fans may be hoping to see just one or two drives from their star quarterback, it’s difficult to know just what coach McDermott will have up his sleeve this weekend.
Isaiah Hodgins making strong case for roster spot
Buffalo boasts one of the deepest and most talented receiver corps in the NFL. Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie round out the top three spots, while rookie fifth-round draft pick Khalil Shakir is likely safe, as well. Battling for the remaining jobs are veteran free agent addition Jamison Crowder, special teams standout Jake Kumerow and third-year man Isaiah Hodgins.
Entering training camp, many (myself included) saw the starting slot job as Crowder’s to lose, but Isaiah McKenzie’s development along with his underwhelming showing through training camp has relegated him to the bubble.
Kumerow was a “core four” special teams player for the Bills last year, which the team places a high value on. But Hodgins is a player that the front office clearly has high hopes for, as they’ve been patient with their former sixth-round draft pick for the last two seasons as he’s dealt with injuries. That patience seems to have paid off, as Hodgins shined in a big way during Buffalo’s Week 1 win over the Colts.
Hodgins hauled in nine-of-11 targets for 77 receiving yards in the Bills’ win, showing off impressive route running, play strength and fantastic ball-tracking skills. He broke down his performance with Cover 1’s Film Room Crew, explaining the nuance that goes into playing receiver in this offense and how he’s developed mentally over the last three seasons.
Coach McDermott told the media that he’s been impressed with Hodgins, who earned reps with the first-team offense this week, stating that the Oregon State product should see extensive playing time to earn a roster spot.
“He continues to play big, play strong, he makes plays,” McDermott said during his Thursday press conference. “He made another play in the endzone yesterday and we’ll continue to put him out there to get more and more exposure to what he can do.
Cornerback battle heating up
The timetable for Tre’Davious White’s return from his ACL injury is still up in the air, resulting in one of the biggest position battles in training camp and preseason. Kaiir Elam – who the Bills traded up to select in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft – has been a constant with the first-string defense this summer. Dane Jackson, and most recently, Christian Benford, have rotated in with the starters opposite Elam.
Both Elam and Benford stepped up in a big way against Indianapolis, with each registering big-time pass breakups in critical situations. Benford, drafted in the sixth round out of Villanova, is the camp darling, who’s battled his way into a significant role. But Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier told reporters that Jackson is ahead of both Elam and Benford on the depth chart, which is why the two rookies saw such extensive playing time in Week 1.
“We have a pretty good feel for Dane, and he’ll get some work before the preseason is done, I’m sure,” Frazier said. “He’s played games for us. His experience matters, although (it) is limited in the grand scheme of things. But for us, he’s ahead of the rookie corners that we have. We just needed to be able to see them more.”
Jackson, who filled in nicely for the Bills when White went down last season, should see the field against the Broncos this week. But all three defenders will need to be up to speed and ready to play at a high level when the team opens the regular season against the Los Angeles Rams’ high-octane passing offense in Week 1, likely without Tre’Davious White.