Here is an in-depth look at the Buffalo Bills as they prepare for their season-opener against the New England Patriots on Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.
UNIT BY UNIT ANALYSIS:
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- EJ Manuel. Backup -- Jeff Tuel.
Manuel, the first round draft pick, recovered from minor knee surgery and was named Wednesday as the starter. A week earlier, undrafted free-agent rookie Jeff Tuel appeared to be the team's only option as a starter. Manuel missed the final two preseason games after having surgery two weeks ago, and is ready to go. Manuel appeared to be on his way to beating out Kevin Kolb, who was then knocked out of the picture with a concusssion. If Manuel tweaks his knee, the team would likely activate Thad Lewis from the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB C.J. Spiller, FB Frank Summers. Backups -- RB Fred Jackson, RB Tashard Choice.
Spiller returned to the team after a week spent in Florida handling a family matter. He is coping with the death of his step grandfather and is says he is ready to play. Summers will be in on a handful of plays in this offense, mainly as a lead blocker, but Jackson will get more snaps as he will be used in a variety of down and distance situations as a runner and receiver.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Scott Chandler. Backups --Lee Smith, Chris Gragg.
Chandler was coddled throughout camp and the preseason, and the approach seems to have worked as he is as healthy as he's going to be coming off ACL surgery, and will be the prime TE. Smith will be used in run blocking situations. Gragg, a seventh-round pick, figures to be watching.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods. Backups -- T.J. Graham, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan.
The second-round pick, Woods, is expected to start opposite Johnson, but it's kind of a moot point because the Bills will often be in three and four receiver sets with Graham and Goodwin seeing plenty of time. In fact, Graham may get reps in the standard 2-WR set with Johnson. Goodwin had the best summer of all the wideouts and, along with Graham gives the Bills a pair of legitimate deep threats, something they have lacked for several years.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Cordy Glenn, LG Colin Brown, C Eric Wood, RG Kraig Urbik, RT Erik Pears. Backups -- T Thomas Welch, G Sam Young, G-C Doug Legursky (injured).
Brown begins his tenure as the replacement for departed Andy Levitre. He has big shoes to fill, and there's some question about whether he's capable. He is strong, but not as mobile as Levitre. Wood is the anchor in the middle, and he needs to stay healthy (a problem in the past) because he's a vital player. Pears is coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season, and he won the RT job by default when Chris Hairston went on the injured list.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- RDE Mario Williams, DT Marcel Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, LDE Alex Carrington. Backups -- DT Alan Branch, DE Jerry Hughes, DT Corbin Bryant, DT Jay Ross.
This should be the most talented unit on the team, provided it plays up to its capability better than it did in 2012. Williams recovered from a foot problem that sidelined him early in camp, and unlike the start of last year, is 100 percent healthy and rested for the opener. As the team's best pass rusher, he needs to be a dominant player, especially given Buffalo's problems in the secondary. Williams and Dareus are also healthy and should be solid in the middle against the run. Hughes, a former first-round pick of the Colts, seems rejuvenated with his change of scenery and could provide passing down pressure.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - MLB Kiko Alonso, WLB Nigel Bradham, SLB Manny Lawson. Backups -- MLB Arthur Moats, SLB Marcus Dowtin, WLB Jamaal Westerman.
Alonso, the rookie second-round pick, is tasked with starting from day one and will be the relay signal man. Alonso is a quick study and adapted to his role as the QB of the defense. He shows an ability to make plays from sideline to sideline. Lawson was Buffalo's prime veteran free agent acquisition who had a good camp, while Bradham is a second-year player and pretty raw. Dowtin came over from the Jets where he worked under coordinator Mike Pettine, and has a grasp of the defense which will be helpful to teammates who are still learning.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Leodis McKelvin, RCB Justin Rogers, FS Jairus Byrd, SS Aaron Williams. Backups -- RCB Stephon Gilmore (injured), SS Da'Norris Searcy, CB Brandon Burton, FS, Jim Leonhard, SS Jonathan Meeks, FS Duke Williams, CB Ron Brooks, CB Nickell Robey.
With the loss of Gilmore, the best cover CB on the team, the Bills are in scramble mode to fill that gaping hole. By seniority, Rogers is in that spot for now, but it's unlikely that will last. The team claimed Burton off the waiver wire Sunday, and there are still two spots available on the 53-man, so more reinforcements are expected. Depending on who they bring in, that player could actually find himself starting Sunday. Byrd has had only a few practices, and is now dealing with a foot problem, so his status remains murky, especially since he says he wants to be traded. Aaron Williams has never played a regular-season down as a safety. Lots to worry about in the back end for the Bills. The signing of Leonhard brings a much-needed veteran into the mix.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Justin Hopkins, PK Dan Carpenter, P Shawn Powell, LS Garrison Sanborn, PR Leodis McKelvin, KOR Marquise Goodwin.
The Florida State triumvirate of Hopkins, Powell and Sanborn is solid, but Hopkins is a rookie and will have to adapt quickly to the wind tunnel that Ralph Wilson Stadium can often be, even early in the season when the weather is good. Carpenter was signed Tuesday because Hopkins was injured Monday. Powell has a big leg, but he needs to have fewer shanks, and perfect his directional punting. Sanborn is nearly perfect snapping in his Buffalo tenure. The return options are plentiful and could change weekly. McKelvin is listed as the PR, but now that he's starting at CB, that could change. Goodwin, with his blazing speed, could be a dynamic KR. He had a kickoff return TD in the preseason opener. Graham and Woods are also options in the return game.