Still uncertain over who will be their starting quarterback on opening day, the Buffalo Bills plan to roll out all three of their signal callers in their third preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
It’s a situation unlike any other in the league currently, with new Bills head coach Rex Ryan still undecided over whether E.J. Manuel, Matt Cassel, or Tyrod Taylor will be the starter as Buffalo looks to improve a surprising 9-7 run last season.
Following what Ryan said was a convincing finish with his game-winning drive against Cleveland last week, Manuel will start against Pittsburgh but Cassel and Taylor are also expected to get reps with the first-team offense.
The Steelers don’t have to worry about who their starting quarterback will be with Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense’s starters projected to play into the third quarter, just like every other squad in the third week of the preseason. Though Pittsburgh did sign veteran Michael Vick to serve as their back-up, head coach Mike Tomlin said he wanted to see how practices went leading up to the game before deciding whether Vick will see any action.
Yet Pittsburgh does face questions about its receiving corps, especially after it was revealed Thursday that second-year wide out Martavius Bryant failed a drug test and faces a four-game suspension to start the season. Bryant is appealing the suspension, which will be decided later Friday, but it comes at a most unfortunate time when he was expected to serve as the No. 3 receiver behind Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton.
The Steelers will know whether Bryant will in fact miss the first quarter of the season by kickoff Saturday, which could mean more reps for veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, as well as rookies like Sammie Coates or Tyler Murphy.
Let’s turn to the injury reports for each side as well as several players to watch who could be battling for roster spots.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Thursday that defensive end Stephon Tuitt (ankle) will sit out against Buffalo, but did not rule out linebackers Lawrence Timmons (toe) and Vince Williams (hamstring), or defensive backs Mike Mitchell (ankle), Ross Ventrone (ankle), and Cortez Allen.
The Bills have dealt with health issues in their backfield for much of training camp, but Anthony Dixon (calf) and Bryce Brown (hamstring) returned to practice this week, and so did starting rusher LeSean McCoy from a hamstring injury, according to The Buffalo News.
Ryan is also expected to sit his top two receivers in Sammy Watkins (glute) and Robert Woods (hip) against Pittsburgh, though both did participate in individual drills on Thursday, The News reports.
Players to Watch
A former first-round pick, Manuel was impressive with his 86-yard drive against Cleveland last week, capping the run with a 14-yard touchdown strike to up Buffalo up for good with 1:31 left in the game. But his inconsistency and injury history leave plenty of room for Cassel or Taylor to shine. How Ryan deals out snaps, perhaps one quarterback a quarter or more, will be key to any of the passers’ success.
With Watkins and Woods down, Chris Hogan, Deonte Thompson, and Andre Davis should bet more reps as they angle for a spot on the final roster. Hogan has the edge after playing so well as the No. 4 receiver last season.
The Steelers also have to worry about who will start at running back the first two weeks with Le’Veon Bell serving a suspension, leaving DeAngelo Williams’ play against the Bills stacked defensive line a big key Saturday. Tomlin also pointed out that this is a big week for second-year back Josh Harris.
Other players who could be battling for a final spot include sixth-round draft choice and defensive end L.T. Walton and defensive tackle Cam Thomas.
Kickoff Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Live Online: NFL Game Pass