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What to look for in Bills-Colts exhibition Sunday

By Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- Here are a handful of things I'll be looking for Sunday afternoon, when the Buffalo Bills open their preseason against the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium:

EJ Manuel starts in his NFL debut. With veteran Kevin Kolb limited because he has missed so much practice time, Manuel will get the prime reps and perhaps get an extended look against a defense that with some dynamic players.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's defensive schemes unveiled -- even if it's just a little. Don't expect Pettine to unload his playbook on the Lucas Oil Stadium carpet. Limited snaps from key defensive components Kyle Williams and Mario Williams will further mute any insight we glean. But we should see at least a semblance of Pettine's philosophies in motion. And I think it will look significantly different than Dave Wannstedt's philosophies in suspended animation.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett deploys a hurried pace. The Bills have practiced fast, calling their plays as quickly as they can to keep the defense on its heels. What will it look like against another team? How effectively will Manuel and fellow rookie Jeff Tuel be able to process the plays?

Left guards Colin Brown and Doug Legursky in the spotlight. Buffalo let Andy Levitre walk in free agency, and head coach Doug Marrone essentially called out Brown and Legursky last week for not stepping forward more forcefully to fill the void.

Rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso in action. Manuel won't be the only rookie starter. Alonso, in fact, was listed as the starter long before Friday night, when Marrone announced Manuel would get the nod. Alonso has the reputation for being a sideline-to-sideline predator. Now we'll get to see what he looks like against first-string NFL players.

Young receivers will be on a fast track. Lucas Oil Stadium is regarded as having one of the NFL's best surfaces. Fans frustrated by Chan Gailey's conservative ways and Ryan Fitzpatrick's weak arm have been waiting to see Buffalo's receivers fly downfield. Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Da'Rick Rogers are making their debuts, and sophomore T.J. Graham would like to fire up his jets, too.

Bills defensive backs have looked flimsy aside from Stephon Gilmore. The secondary has gotten beaten regularly in training camp. They'll face one of the NFL's best quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and won't catch much of a break when the second-stringer enters. That will be veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who beat the Bills last year with the Tennessee Titans.

Veteran kicker Rian Lindell has four games to keep his job; rookie Dustin Hopkins has four games to lose it. Buffalo will open in the same climate-controlled dome where Gailey didn't think Lindell could make a 52-yard field goal last year. Sunday could give Lindell a chance to show he's still got it -- or not.

tagged

Chan Gailey | Colin Brown | Da'Rick Rogers | Doug Legursky | Doug Marrone | Dustin Hopkins | EJ Manuel | Kiko Alonso | Marquise Goodwin | Rian Lindell | Robert Woods | Stephon Gilmore | Stevie Johnson | T.J. Graham
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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