ORCHARD PARK, NY — Another new era begins at the appropriately named New Era Field Thursday night when the Buffalo Bills open their preseason schedule against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Bills, as we know, specialize in new eras, as we’re now on our seventh one since the team last played in a postseason game.
Sean McDermott will trot out of the tunnel for the first time as a head coach in the NFL after nearly 20 years in the league as a go-fer, as an assistant coach, and as a defensive coordinator, and we’ll get our first look at what kind of team he is building in Buffalo.
Here’s six players I’ll be watching tonight:
1. Nathan Peterman
Quarterbacks always raise the interest level in a preseason game, especially rookie draft picks. Quite honestly, it’s about the only thing that truly interests me about preseason games, watching how quarterbacks perform in live situations.
During practice at St. John Fisher College, the 7-on-7 drills don’t show me anything. When the Bills go 11-on-11, you see a little more, but quarterbacks aren’t allowed to be touched. At least in the preseason games, it’s actually football that they’re playing, so I’ll be curious to see how Peterman reacts when the Vikings are actually trying to rush him, and are trying to deceive him with their coverage packages.
Neither Peterman nor the presumed No. 2 quarterback, T.J. Yates, are going to push Tyrod Taylor to start, but I think these two are in a pretty good battle to be the backup. Peterman will have to play much better than Yates, though, to overcome the veteran’s NFL experience and his knowledge of Rick Dennison’s offense.
2. Reggie Ragland
You’ve heard the talk this week - though I’m not sure it’s anything more than that – about the Bills possibly thinking of trading the second-year linebacker. I don’t put much stock in it, because why would the Bills give up on the kid already? Yes, he was a second-round pick of the previous regime so there’s no true tie to him; he’s coming off a serious knee injury which has slowed his progress; and he’s playing in a new defense that might not be the best fit for him.
Still, he was a second-round pick out of Alabama, a terrific player in college, and he obviously has talent. His demotion to the third team this week was alarming, but I’d like to see Ragland fight back and Thursday night would be a fine place to start. If the Bills were to trade him, they’d never get equal second-round value for him, so it really makes no sense to me. Give the kid time to get it figured out.
3. Zay Jones
This year’s second-round pick has looked good in camp. He runs his routes precisely, he catches the ball well, and he seems to be in tune with the offense which sometimes can be a difficult thing for rookie wide receivers.
Now, the competition gets raised going against another team, so I’ll be watching to see how he does the little things, particularly how he reads coverages and how he blocks in the run game.
One neat sidelight about the game is that Jones’ older brother, Cayleb, is a wide receiver for the Vikings. It should be a nice night for the two of them, and I’m sure there’s already been a wager between them on which brother will have the most catches.
4. Adolphus Washington
The Bills’ starting defensive line is the best position group on the team, but the depth is woefully thin, so they need a few guys to make a move. This is a big camp and preseason for Washington, the 2016 third-round pick.
I thought he underwhelmed as a rookie, and then he had the offseason incident with the gun charge, so with a new coaching staff, he needs to prove he belongs.
5. Eddie Yarborough
Unlike Washington, he doesn’t have much of a pedigree, which is why he has been one of the surprises of camp so far. He went undrafted in 2016, signed with Denver and then was let go on the final cut. He went up to Canada and spent six weeks with the Calgary Stampeders, though he never played, so the year was a wash for him.
The Bills took a flier in April on the suggestion of line coach Mike Waufle, and the 260-pounder has shown nice speed as a pass rusher, albeit mostly against the Bills’ backup tackles. If he can show something in the games, he might make the team.
6. Tre’Davious White
He’s the first-round pick, so yes, many eyes will be on him. I’m not sure what McDermott has in mind for him, though. We expect that he’ll start, and McDermott said the starters will play about a quarter, but I would hope that White plays a little longer given that he’s a rookie and needs all the reps he can get. White hasn’t jumped out at me during camp, and maybe that’s a good thing for a defensive back.