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Buffalo Bills Preseason Opener Checklist

Buffalo Bills football is officially open for business in 2011. 

Okay, so it’s only the preseason opener and we’re still a few weeks away from games actually counting in the standings.  But it feels much more appreciated when you consider we went without any football activity for nearly 140 days and we came dangerously close to either not having a football season or having it cut short.  Tonight, football is back and it’s a beautiful thing.

There will be a lot of things and topics to keep an eye tonight when the Bills play at Chicago, so I’ve compiled a short, sweet and to-the-point checklist.

* New uniforms.  Thank the heavens that the Bills rid themselves of their old uniforms.  I simply hated everything about them and even though it should’ve happened a long time ago, I’ve longed for the Bills to adopt a kind of retro-style-meets-present-day uniforms.  These looked 100 times better, though I will miss the classic red-style helmets.  Not to mention their former uniforms haven’t brought the Bills any luck in the win/playoff column the past decade.  I, for one, embrace the change.

* Receiver position makeover.  24 hours ago, the Bills parted ways with Lee Evans trading him to the Baltimore Ravens.  Buffalo feels they have a lot of promising potential at wide out and with the departure of Evans, the time is now for someone to seize the No.2 receiver role.  With Roscoe Parrish out for tonight’s game with a hamstring injury, that means we can expect to see Donald Jones and David Nelson manning the duties opposite Stevie Johnson.  The Bills will take a long look at Marcus Easley and Buster Davis.  Both should see a lot of reps, as should Naaman Roosevelt and Felton Huggins.

* Come away healthy.  Injuries are part of the game.  They often come unannounced and at the worst possible times.  Like many other teams, the Bills can ill afford any setbacks or crippling injuries.  The big seven names I’m looking at: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson, Shawne Merriman, Nick Barnett, Fred Jackson, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.  Get them in the game, get them their reps as needed and get them off the field unharmed.

* Marcell Dareus and Aaron Williams.  The Bills’ top two rookies get their first taste of NFL action.  Both players have had strong, albeit abbreviated training camps and it won’t come as a suprise if both are in the starting lineup on defense on Sept. 11 against Kansas City.  Dareus, the No.3 overall pick, comes with big expectations in helping to revamp a porous Buffalo defense up front, while Williams looks very comfortable starting in the secondary.

* All eyes on Shawne Merriman.  The comeback story for Shawne Merriman begins tonight in Chicago.  Once thought to be one of the NFL’s biggest and best rising star linebackers, his star has fallen off a great distance.  He’s looked healthy in training camp, which is a big plus.  Nobody expects Merriman to return to his early San Diego Chargers days of wreaking havoc and letting bodies hit the floor.  But tonight, he sees his first live action in close to year and the Bills will begin to find out if Merriman once again be a cornerstone linebacker.

* Right tackle competition.  Your guess is as good as mine how it’s going to play out.  Buffalo missed out on the likes of Tyson Clabo, Willie Colon,  and Ryan Harris.  Jermon Bushrod, Jeremy Trueblood and Doug Free never hit the open market and re-signed with their teams.  The Bills want Erik Pears to be their guy at right tackle, but their depth at tackle as a whole isn’t promising.  Mansfield Wrotto and Cordaro Howard could  push Pears for the starting job, while second-year tackle Ed Wang and rookie Chris Hairston are still very raw in their development.   Demetrius Bell is penned in as the starter at left tackle.  He was serviceable a year ago, but played almost the entire 2010 season banged up.  This is a position in which the Bills simply cannot suffer any long-term injuries.

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