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What to look for in tonight's Lions at Bills blockbuster

By Tim Graham

Yes, that headline is sarcasm.

But as far as exhibition finales go, there's some interesting stuff to monitor.

Here are a handful of things I'll be looking for tonight, when the Buffalo Bills wrap up their preseason against the Detroit Lions in Ralph Wilson Stadium:

What in the world is going on at quarterback? We won't get any definitive answers for opening day until presumptive starter EJ Manuel's injury status is known. In the meantime, we have undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and two guys who weren't Bills five days ago. Matt Leinart wasn't even in the league. Thad Lewis was fourth-string with Detroit. How coach Doug Marrone divvies up the reps will be interesting, especially for Leinart. The former Heisman Trophy winner might be suiting up for his final chance to stay in the NFL.

Cornerbacks in focus. Buffalo's best, Stephon Gilmore, will be out six to eight weeks after surgery to repair a broken wrist. The next-best cornerback was in disconcerting dispute when Gilmore was healthy. So now what? Leodis McKelvin would appear to have one spot cinched up, while Crezdon Butler, Justin Rogers, T.J. Heath and Ron Brooks jockey for the other assignments.

One last look at the wide receivers. It's totally unfair that players such as Brad Smith, Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley and Brandon Kaufman are down to their last audition and will have to track down passes from Leinart and Lewis. The Bills have difficult decisions to make after the top four: Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin.

Strong undercard battle for the third running-back role. C.J. Spiller is away from the team to mourn with his family after Saturday's tragedy in Lake Butler, Fla. Fred Jackson will be preserved. That leaves beaucoup carries for Tashard Choice, Kendall Gaskins and Zach Brown. Expect the Bills to run as much as they can tonight given their quarterback situation.

Doug Marrone on release of Da'Rick Rogers: 'We feel that we have better players'

By Jay Skurski

Da'Rick Rogers' production with the Buffalo Bills simply never lived up to the hype.

Because of that, he's now a former Bill.

Rogers was one of five players released this morning, an unceremonious end to a brief career that began as an undrafted free agent in April. Rogers' size (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) and production in the Southeastern Conference with Tennessee in 2011 (67 catches, 1,040 yards, nine touchdowns) led many to believe he had the potential to be the steal of draft weekend — despite the character concerns he came with. Rogers was booted from Tennessee for multiple failed drug tests, and played last season at Tennessee Tech.

But throughout training camp, he was stuck behind players like Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan, Brad Smith and Brandon Kaufman on the depth chart. In Saturday's preseason game at Washington, Rogers did not get an offensive snap.

"He definitely has skill," Bills coach Doug Marrone said today of Rogers. "Along with DeMarco Sampson, who's played well for us in the preseason, but I think when you look at the production of that group, and who's produced for a long period of time, it's just a matter of, it's just as simple as, we feel that we have better players on the roster right now than the players that we released. That's what I've communicated to them."

Marrone said Rogers' production right now, more so than his potential in the future, factored into the decision. In three preseason games, he finished with just one catch (which went for a 6-yard touchdown against Indianapolis).

"I'm a big believer on the production part of it right now rather than what are we going to get down the road," the coach said. "So I think all those players that were released have the ability to play, but we feel as an organization that we just have better players right now."

Along with Rogers and Sampson, the Bills also released conerback Jumal Rolle, defensive back Dominique Ellis and center Ryan Turnley.

Points after: Redskins 30, Bills 7

By Tim Graham

Quick highlights from the Buffalo Bills' harrowing loss to Washington today at FedEx Field ...

What it means: This game was quintessentially queasy for those who think the objective for any preseason exhibition is to escape without any serious injuries. The Bills lost quarterback Kevin Kolb (head), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and safety Da'Norris Searcy (head) in the first half. C.J. Spiller (knee) went down in the first quarter but returned.

Bills star of the game: Spiller was a surprise starter after the tragic report involving his step-grandfather this morning. We're unsure as of this posting if Spiller knew about it. Spiller might've sat out, but he didn't. He also could've declined to return after his knee scare, but he didn't. Spiller ran eight times for 39 yards and a touchdown.

Stat line of the day: It's not a glittery set of numbers, but they're interesting. Jeff Tuel wasn't supposed to play so much, but with Kolb knocked out of the game, Tuel saw three quarters and went 10 of 17 for 63 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Receivers impacted: With the Bills not throwing much (probably out of caution to not get Tuel hurt), the receiver competition didn't crystallize. Only 12 catches were made. Stevie Johnson had a team-high four catches for 28 yards. Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley and Da'Rick Rogers had zero receptions.

Defense struggles against backup QBs: Washington was without Robert Griffin III and second-stringer Kirk Cousins. Rex Grossman and Pat White combined to go 18 of 35 for 267 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. White also ran three times for 26 yards and a touchdown.

Penalties improve: This was one of Doug Marrone's main points of emphasis. The Bills committed nine penalties in their preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts and 14 last week against the Minnesota Vikings. Today, they were charged with seven for 38 yards.

Coming up: The Bills close out their preseason schedule Thursday night against the Detroit Lions in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

What to watch for in today's Buffalo at Washington exhibition

By Tim Graham

Here is a handful of areas I'll be looking at this afternoon, when the Buffalo Bills play Washington at FedEx Field:

Kevin Kolb can't win the job, but he can lose it. Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was the frontrunner before a knee injury cropped up. Kolb is coming off a 55.9 passer rating in his preseason debut against the Minnesota Vikings. Even if he's sensational today, he won't capture anyone's imagination like Manuel has. But if Kolb struggles, then it's Manuel's job as soon as the rookie is healthy enough to play.

Several notable injured players could see action. The Bills could have their full complement of receivers, with Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham and Brad Smith on the field. All have missed time with hamstring injuries. Johnson has yet to dress. Pass-rusher Mario Williams (foot), middle linebacker Kiko Alonso (shoulder) and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin (groin) and Justin Rogers (hamstring) also are expected to play.

Can cornerbacks not named Stephon Gilmore provide reassurance? The sight of Gilmore's right foot being examined by athletic trainer Bud Carpenter on Tuesday night was unsettling for any Bills fan in attendance at Growney Stadium. The other cornerbacks have been erratic at best. Injuries have made the depth chart look more disconcerting.

Receivers, receivers, receivers. As mentioned already, Johnson will be back. But it would be more educational if he didn't play much. We know what he can do. The Bills will have some difficult decisions to make at receiver, and we'd learn a lot more if players such as Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley and Da'Rick Rogers got as many targets as possible.

Special-teamers aren't safe yet. The Bills recently awarded their kicking jobs by cutting kicker Rian Lindell and punter Brian Stahovich. Rookie kicker Dustin Hopkins hasn't lined up for a field goal longer than 39 yards in a preseason game yet. Powell shanked an ugly punt last week against the Vikings. They need to be consistently good to maintain Doug Marrone's trust.

EJ Manuel outshines Kevin Kolb in first dual exhibition

By Tim Graham

The Kid's Day crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium loudly booed Kevin Kolb twice. Even after the veteran quarterback warmed up and drove the Buffalo Bills for a pair of field goals before halftime, fans grumbled about a missed end-zone throw.

Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel entered Friday night's game to cheers and then earned some more with another efficient preseason performance against the Minnesota Vikings.

The idea of Manuel not being the Bills' opening-day starter Sept. 8 against the New England Patriots is difficult to fathom barring injury or some sort of implosion over the next couple weeks.

Continue reading "EJ Manuel outshines Kevin Kolb in first dual exhibition" »

Day 10: Chris Hogan shows good hands as Bills prep for Colts

By Mark Gaughan

PITTSFORD -- Third-year receiver Chris Hogan had a productive day catching the ball, and place-kicker Dustin Hopkins was perfect on field-goal attempts during Thursday's Buffalo Bills practice at St. John Fisher College.

Hogan, undrafted in 2011 out of Monmouth University, had five catches during the 11-on-11 portions of practice. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound receiver has excellent hands and is making an underdog bid for a roster spot amid tough competition at receiver.

Hogan was dubbed 7-Eleven - because he's always open - by Reggie Bush last summer during Miami's training camp, which was the subject of HBO's "Hard Knocks" series. During Thursday's practice, Hogan got good separation on a back-shoulder throw from Jeff Tuel. He caught two quick passes in the flat. Then he got open over the middle and caught a 20-yard pass from EJ Manuel to beat a big blitz. Safety Da'Norris Searcy came free, but Manuel got the throw off on time and was excited about the play, running downfield to congratulate Hogan. Manuel connected with Hogan again over the middle late in the practice.

Continue reading "Day 10: Chris Hogan shows good hands as Bills prep for Colts" »

After Bills cut a wide receiver, here's their positional overview

By Tim Graham

A player who had little chance to make the 2013 roster has been released.

The Buffalo Bills have cut wide receiver Kevin Norrell from injured reserve.

The Bills still have 11 receivers, not counting Dorin Dickerson, on their offseason roster. Here they are, listed in order of how I view their chances to make the opening-day roster -- not necessarily the same as how talented they are.

  • Stevie Johnson
  • Robert Woods
  • Marquise Goodwin
  • T.J. Graham
  • Da'Rick Rogers
  • Brad Smith
  • Kevin Elliott
  • Marcus Easley
  • Brandon Kaufman
  • De'Marco Sampson
  • Chris Hogan

Doug Marrone pleased with his quarterbacks after Day One of rookie camp

EJ Manuel
EJ Manuel prepares to make a pass during practice at the Bills mini-camp on Friday. (James P. McCoy/ Buffalo News)


By Jay Skurski

Quarterback EJ Manuel and the rest of the Buffalo Bills' rookies or first-year players completed a crisp practice of about two hours today inside the team's fieldhouse.

"Our goal as coaches was to come out here, get with these players, and start teaching them the playbook -- whether it be offense, defense or special teams," Bills coach Doug Marrone said. "Really just try to get a chance to know them, how they learn, what they do, and really teach them our tempo of practice and what our expectations are out of them. That was the goal going into today, trying to make sure that they know that."

Marrone said his staff was particularly looking to see who showed up in shape. Not surprisingly, most eyes of the media in attendance were focused squarely on Manuel, the team's first-round draft pick. 

"I thought both quarterbacks did a nice job coming in here," Marrone said of Manuel and undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel. "We gave them -- not a large package -- but we got them off and both the quarterbacks got off to a good start. But, again, the offensive line really blocked well today.

That last part, of course, was a joke. The Bills have just three offensive linemen in rookie camp. Thus, they only held 7-on-7 drills. Marrone said he wasn't paying any extra attention to the quarterbacks, even if the focus of media and fans will undoubtedly be on the position.

"I was interested in looking at the wide receivers also. I think you guys have seen me enough that I do rotate around (to different positions) quite a bit," he said. "People are going to be looking at that (the quarterbacks). I don't doubt that. But I was excited today by those groups of receivers. I thought they did a nice job."

The Bills will hold two more sessions with their rookies and first-year players who do not yet have an accredited season toward the NFL pension over the next two days. The players in camp are as follows:

    Quarterbacks: EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel.
    Wide receivers: Robert Woods, Da'Rick Rogers, Kevin Norrell, Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin, Brandon Kaufman.
    Tight end: Chris Gragg.
    Running backs: Zach Brown, Kendall Gaskins, Drew Smith.
    Offensive linemen: Zack Chibane, Ryan Turnley, Hutch Eckerson.
    Defensive backs: Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Nickell Robey, Kip Edwards, Jumal Rolle, Jordan Dangerfield, Dominique Ellis.
    Linebackers: Keith Pough, Kiko Alonso, Kourtnei Brown, Brian Smith.
    Defensive linemen: Corbin Bryant, Izaan Cross, Aaron Tipoti. 
    Specialists: Brian Stahovich (punter), Dustin Hopkins (kicker).

Stevie Johnson excited to learn who his new WR mates will be

SJohnsonTennis
Stevie Johnson is eager to see how the Buffalo Bills will juggle their wide-receiver depth chart for 2013. (Photo: James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)
 

By Tim Graham

Stevie Johnson accounted for a preponderance of the numbers posted by Buffalo Bills wide receivers the past two years.

Subtract the contributions from David Nelson and Donald Jones, as the club did when it announced it won't re-sign them, and Johnson practically is on his own.

Of the wide receivers still on Buffalo's roster, Johnson has been responsible for 70 percent of the catches, 74 percent of the receiving yards and 76 percent of the receiving touchdowns in 2011 and 2012.

Continue reading "Stevie Johnson excited to learn who his new WR mates will be" »

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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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