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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.

Betting site favors five ahead of C.J. Spiller for 2013 rushing title

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills don't have an MVP candidate worthy of wagers, but online gambling site Bovada.lv does give odds for a few Bills to win awards and statistical titles in 2013.

When it comes to leading the NFL in rushing yards, C.J. Spiller carries 14-to-1 odds, tied for sixth among the favorites behind Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin Arian Foster and Alfred Morris.

Stevie Johnson is 75-to-1 to lead the NFL in receiving yards. He ranks 33rd.

EJ Manuel is 10-to-1 for offensive rookie of the year, favored fourth behind St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin, Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball and Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy.

Bills receiver Roberts Woods is tied for eighth at 14-to-1.

The Bills don't have a player listed among the 24 defensive rookie candidates.

Rookies account for all points but 6 in Bills' record-setting exhibition

By Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Buffalo Bills set a club preseason record Sunday with 44 points against the Indianapolis Colts.

Rookies played a part in all but six of those points. They scored on offense, defense and special teams. A rookie quarterback took each snap.

"Man, I told the guys before leaving the field, as a unit we did really well," third-round pick Marquise Goodwin said. "We got a lot of things that we can work on.

"The rookie players came in and we did what we were supposed to. We did our job ... and made the Buffalo Bills organization look good out there."

Goodwin, a third-round pick, scored on a spectacular 107-yard kickoff return. Undrafted quarterback Jeff Tuel threw touchdown passes to undrafted receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Brandon Kaufman. Undrafted cornerback Jumal Rolle returned an interception for a touchdown.

The only veteran to score a touchdown, tight end Dorin Dickerson, caught a 17-yard strike from first-round pick EJ Manuel.

Sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins kicked two field goals and two extra points.

Second-round pick Robert Woods didn't get into the end zone, but he was an important part of Manuel's touchdown drive at the end of the first half. Manuel connected with Woods three times, twice for first downs, on the series.

"We're very proud," Manuel said. "We're all really good friends. Obviously, this is just the first preseason game. We have a long way to go. But I think we're starting to get ourselves some confidence."

Rookie quarterbacks took every Bills snap because Kevin Kolb didn't play. Manuel was 16 of 21 for 107 yards and a touchdown. Tuel completed his first nine passes and was 19 of 23 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Neither threw an interception.

Second-round linebacker Kiko Alonso had three tackles and a pass defensed.

Kyle Williams, Mario Williams will dress for Bills today

By Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Buffalo Bills are withholding 10 players from today's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Defensive linemen Kyle Williams and Mario Williams, recovering from foot injuries, will dress for the Bills.

Out with injuries are:

  • Wide receiver Stevie Johnson
  • Wide receiver Brad Smith
  • Wide receiver Kevin Elliott
  • Tight end Mike Caussin
  • Tight end Scott Chandler
  • Guard Keith Williams
  • Defensive tackle Aaron Tipoti
  • Linebacker Keith Pough
  • Cornerback Leodis McKelvin
  • Cornerback Justin Rogers

Robert Woods will start in Johnson's place. Ron Brooks will start at cornerback in McKelvin's stead.

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 WRs willing to play in traffic will catch Doug Marrone's eye

By Tim Graham

PITTSFORD -- Much has been said about how the Buffalo Bills' flashy-yet-untested receiving group should be able to stretch the field this year.

An ability to catch the ball in traffic, however, could be the ticket to making the roster.

Bills coach Doug Marrone smiled when he talked about one of his favorite traits for a reliable receiver.

"To me," Marrone said, "I kind of value who's going over the middle."

Continue reading "Bills WRs willing to play in traffic will catch Doug Marrone's eye" »

MemoraBillia: Though Bills lead way, card industry grimaces

By Tim Graham

Turns out memorabilia speculators think the same way as NFL scouts.

When it comes to analyzing this year's rookie class, there hasn't been a lot of hope for superstardom.

Even so, there has been excitement about the Buffalo Bills' rookies.

Not only did they make EJ Manuel the first quarterback off the board, but they also obtained intriguing receivers Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Da'Rick Rogers.

Continue reading "MemoraBillia: Though Bills lead way, card industry grimaces" »

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

Defense shows no mercy in second minicamp practice

By Mark Gaughan

The Buffalo Bills' defense ended the second minicamp practice of the week in all-out piranha mode Wednesday.

It was a feeding frenzy of sacks as the Bills' first-string offense under quarterback Kevin Kolb tried to move downfield in a two-minute drill in need of a touchdown.

Kolb managed to elude a rush and improvise a quick-thinking throw over the middle to Fred Jackson for a gain of about 25 yards on a third-down play.

After that, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine dialed up four straight blitzes and ended the series with four straight sacks.

"I'm glad Coach Pettine's on our team, that's for sure, and all those guys they have out there," said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. "Any time you have a defense like we're facing, every single day it's going to be a roller-coaster of emotions. I mean, they're bringing everybody from every place and you have to do your best to try to get a foundation and make things happen.

"There's some things that do good and other things that you're just putting your hand on top of your head and just trying to get to the next play."

Continue reading "Defense shows no mercy in second minicamp practice" »

MemoraBillia exclusive: Bills WR Robert Woods Topps rookie card

By Tim Graham

First-round pick EJ Manuel is the headliner of the Buffalo Bills' draft class.

The rookie who projects as a near-lock to be an opening-day starter, though, is receiver Robert Woods. The second-round pick from USC is a polished target, and the Bills need somebody other than Stevie Johnson to run routes for whomever wins the quarterback job.

The Topps Company has allowed the Press Coverage blog to unveil the rookie cards for Woods and Manuel this morning and also has offers to win autographed items from the passing tandem.

Continue reading "MemoraBillia exclusive: Bills WR Robert Woods Topps rookie card" »

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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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