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Points after: Bills 20, Vikings 16

By Tim Graham

Quick highlights from the Buffalo Bills' victory over the Minnesota Vikings tonight in Ralph Wilson Stadium ...

What it means: Kevin Kolb wasted a precious opportunity to impress the coaching staff. He started the game and completed just three of his first eight passes with an interception. Kolb finished 13 of 21 for 111 yards and no touchdowns.

Bills star of the game: Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, starting for Mario Williams on the right side, sacked Christian Ponder on the game's first snap and added a strip-sack of Matt Cassel in the second quarter.

Stat line of the day: Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel completed all six of his passes for 44 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown toss to Brad Smith, on his first drive to start the second half.

Dirty laundry: Bills coach Doug Marrone was upset when his players committed nine penalties for 74 yards in their first preseason game. The Bills had nine penalties by halftime tonight and finished with 14 accepted for 106 yards.

Kicker duel: Sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins again took the first kicks. Hopkins made field goals from 39 and 35 yards. Rian Lindell didn't get any attempts in the second half and kicked off once. ... Punter Shawn Powell, who apparently won the job when the Bills cut Brian Stahovich a few days ago, shanked his first punt 19 yards out of bounds.

Preliminary injury report: Wide receiver Kevin Elliott was carted to the locker room in the second quarter with an apparent left leg injury.

Coming up: Buffalo will visit Washington at 4:30 p.m. next Saturday.

What to look for tonight in Vikings at Bills preseason game

By Tim Graham

Here are a handful of things I'll be looking for tonight, when the Buffalo Bills play the Minnesota Vikings in Ralph Wilson Stadium:

Will Kevin Kolb insist the quarterback competition remains open? Tonight's start for Kevin Kolb surely seems ceremonial. EJ Manuel left Kolb behind when the veteran twisted a knee and then left the team for a funeral. Manuel then played well in Sunday's preseason opener, while Kolb didn't take a snap. Kolb needs a strong performance to remind fans why the Bills signed him.

How will the Bills' first-team run defense look against Adrian Peterson? The Bills' run defense was the NFL's second-worst last year. Although it's only preseason, Peterson provides a measuring stick. Rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso won't play for precautionary reasons, but it would have been nice to see how well he could chase a star running back.

What kind of opportunities will the receivers have? They're fighting for reps, and with Stevie Johnson, Brad Smith and T.J. Graham out with injuries, the chances should be there. Fifteen different Bills were targeted for passes Sunday in Indianapolis. Seven of them were wide receivers. While so much of the attention was given to other wideouts, Marcus Easley caught all seven passes thrown his way for a game-high 94 yards. DeMarco Sampson was next with four catches for 49 yards. Anybody could step up tonight.

Can Rian Lindell assert himself in kicking competition? Telling attempts weren't available in the preseason opener. Sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins made his field goals from only 24 and 23 yards. Lindell made his from 30 yards and was more reliable on kickoffs, albeit with less power. The Bills already have released punter Brian Stahovich, essentially awarding that job to Shawn Powell. They probably wouldn't mind naming their kicker, too.

What will Bills' secondary look like? The Vikings don't present much of a threat in the passing game with dink-and-dunk Christian Ponder, but the Bills' defensive backs have shown troubling tendencies to get beat, especially deep.

Dustin Hopkins gets first kicks, shows jitters on the field

By Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- A look at the stat sheet wouldn't reveal much about the Buffalo Bills' kicking competition after the preseason opener.

Veteran incumbent Rian Lindell made an easy 30-yard field goal in Lucas Oil Stadium. Sixth-round draft pick Dustin Hopkins converted his attempts from 24 yards and 23 yards away.

Interesting, though, was that Bills coach Doug Marrone gave Hopkins the first half and Lindell the second half.

A veteran usually has honors over a rookie in any even competition.

Continue reading "Dustin Hopkins gets first kicks, shows jitters on the field" »

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.

Bills QB competition headlines AFC camp angles for

By Tim Graham

It begins.

Voluntary check-in starts today for Buffalo Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College.

This summer will be compelling, what with the new coach and quarterback competition and star contract squabble and all. capo Gregg Rosenthal ranked the 25 biggest AFC storylines. The Bills came in at No. 1.

Continue reading "Bills QB competition headlines AFC camp angles for" »

Michael Husted breaks down new Bills kicker Dustin Hopkins

Dustin Hopkins

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills shouldn't have to worry about their place-kicking duties for the next several years, former NFL kicker Michael Husted said.

The Bills used a sixth-round draft choice on Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins. Husted, a coach and consultant who specializes in grooming young kickers, shared his thoughts on the move with the Press Coverage blog.

Husted liked the Hopkins pick even though it clearly puts veteran Rian Lindell in the Turk's crosshairs.

Continue reading "Michael Husted breaks down new Bills kicker Dustin Hopkins" »

Selection of sixth-round kicker a bad sign for Rian Lindell

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills have a matching set of kicking specialists after drafting Florida State kicker Dustin Hopkins with their sixth-round pick.

Bills punter Shawn Powell was Hopkins' holder at Florida State. Long snapper Garrison Sanborn is a former Seminole.

The Hopkins addition doesn't bode well for incumbent kicker Rian Lindell, who former head coach Chan Gailey didn't feel comfortable with on field-goal attempts over 50 yards. Lindell is the Bills' longest-tenured player.

Continue reading "Selection of sixth-round kicker a bad sign for Rian Lindell" »

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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 |

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 |

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 |