Ah yeah, the Buffalo Bills trot over to M&T Bank Stadium to play the Baltimore Ravens for their third preseason contest. Before the two squads collide, I had the opportunity to ask Jeff Hunter of Buffalo Rumblings about all things Bills related
The Bills went from expected wildcard contender to rumored rebuild. What is the current situation with the Buffalo Bills?
I was never very high on the Bills' wild card chances to begin with, but at this point the question is whether the team is in the midst of a standard rebuild or an all-out tank. I don't think the situation is that dire, but the heavy accumulation of top draft picks (two in each of the first three rounds of the next draft) definitely shows that there is a strong concern for the future. I think the Bills can be competitive in games this season, but I'm not expecting anything more than eight wins, with a 6-10 record being the most likely result. They're setting up more for the future than the present, but they're not trying to embarrass themselves this year.
After the two big trades made by Buffalo, are the Bills a better or worse team this season?
Bills GM Brandon Beane notably hedged himself during the press conference discussing the trades, but the Bills are clearly worse than they were before the trades were made. Sammy Watkins is a better receiver than Jordan Matthews (and should be healthy for the first time since his rookie year), and Ronald Darby is a better cornerback than E.J. Gaines. That said, the guys that are coming into Buffalo aren't awful (despite Gaines's struggles last year after returning from lisfranc surgery), which is why I don't believe they're trying to tank this year. They took a measured step back, but they didn't back themselves off a cliff.
The third preseason game usually features the starters for two or three quarters. What players should Ravens fans watch and pay attention to in regards to the starters?
On offense, it'll be interesting to see the wide receiver rotation after Anquan Boldin's retirement. He was a starter for his one game with the Bills, and Jordan Matthews isn't ready to play yet after suffering a chipped sternum during his first practice with the Bills. Zay Jones has seemingly locked down a starter spot, but the starter on the other side (probably Andre Holmes) will be interesting to see. It'll also be incredibly noteworthy if Nathan Peterman earns any reps at quarterback with the starters; he's played well, and while Sean McDermott has made it very clear that Tyrod Taylor is the starter there have been plenty of calls for Peterman to at least play some reps with the starters.
Defensively, the defensive end duo of Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson have been impressive, especially Hughes, who has a sack in each of the first two games this preseason. The secondary has also been better than expected, although they're nothing to write home about. First-round pick Tre'Davious White has put minds at ease with his ability to start in the NFL. On the other side, it'll be interesting to see if Gaines earns a start after a good performance against the Eagles.
Multiple Ravens players and coaches left for Buffalo this season: Vladimir DuCasse, Juan Castillo, Shareece Wright. How have they performed for the Bills thus far?
Ducasse hasn't been very impressive, but he's still seen some practice time with the starters and has a good chance of making the final roster ... I wouldn't be terribly surprised either way. It's hard to say what Castillo's influence has been so far; Ducasse's continued prominence is probably his most notable influence on the current state of affairs. All in all the line looks very similar to what we saw last year with the notable exception of left tackle, where starter Cordy Glenn has been sidelined with a foot injury and reserve Seantrel Henderson has struggled in his absence. Wright has had a good camp, and started in the loss to the Eagles. If Gaines doesn't pick up a starting job, Wright will probably fill that role once the season starts. He hasn't been stellar, but he's been solid.
Zay Jones was a receiver Ravens fans gravitated towards during the 2017 NFL Draft. What are your impressions of the wide receiver, and the rest of the Bills' 2017 draft class?
I find it notable that I've already mentioned half of the draft class when discussing prominent Bills in 2017, which says as much about their talent as it does the state of the Bills roster. Jones has been very good in camp and turned in a great performance against the Eagles; he'll be a starter in 2017 and has a chance to have a very prolific season for a rookie second-round pick. White is the top corner on the roster, while Peterman has already passed veteran T.J. Yates on the depth chart to back up Taylor. Second-round offensive lineman Dion Dawkins has been better as the season has moved along, and while he hasn't been able to wrest the starting right tackle job away from Jordan Mills he will be starting at left tackle on Saturday. The last two picks are both linebackers: fifth-rounder Matt Milano and sixth-rounder Tanner Vallejo. One of them is going to be a prominent special-teamer while the other will be sitting on the practice squad ... my money's on Vallejo for the roster and Milano for the p-squad.