The Buffalo Bills reached a lull in their schedule this week, holding their final training camp practice Tuesday between days off Monday and Wednesday.
The team will return to the practice field -- at its home facility in Orchard Park, New York -- for a final practice before Saturday's preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With two-and-a-half weeks before they open their regular season by hosting the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 13, what is left to learn about the team?
1. Who will be the starting quarterback? I'll start with the most obvious. The Bills have yet to reveal who will start their game Saturday -- Rex Ryan could do that as early as Thursday -- but Matt Cassel took the majority of first-team reps in practice early last week, and after sitting out the second preseason game, he is the logical favorite to start against Pittsburgh. I also give Cassel the slight edge to start the regular-season opener. In doing so, the Bills would be going with the safer, more consistent option, while still having the potential to turn to Tyrod Taylor down the road. For those who watched Tuesday's episode of "Hard Knocks," Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien explained to his staff that the conventional wisdom in this situation is to go with the more consistent quarterback, even if his ceiling isn't as high. When O'Brien explained his decision to start Brian Hoyer to his quarterbacks, he didn't go as far as to say Hoyer was on a "short leash" but told Ryan Mallett to be ready. I can envision something similar happening between Ryan, Cassel and Taylor.
2. How healthy will the Bills be for the opener? When speaking Tuesday about the rehab progress of receivers Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin, as well as running back LeSean McCoy, Ryan said, "I feel confident were going to get, if not all of these guys, most of these guys back for the opener." McCoy's status for that game seems the most uncertain. The Bills have stuck to the term "cautiously optimistic" for McCoy's availability, which naturally introduces some doubt about him playing Sept. 13. That's also the wording the Bills used with receiver Chris Hogan (ankle/knee). Assuming the Bills can stay healthy through the final two preseason games, they will have one injured inactive for Week 1 -- cornerback Leodis McKelvin -- with the potential for a few more scratches based on the health of McCoy and Hogan. Running back Karlos Williams has yet to be seen rehabbing on the practice field, so he's another name to monitor entering Week 1.
3. Will they make any trades? Trade activity tends to heat up around the NFL during the last two weeks of August. The Bills' surplus at wide receiver could lead them to deal a player or two at that spot, and the team could use depth at inside linebacker and potentially along the offensive line. I still consider it unlikely for the Bills to swing a deal to acquire either a linebacker or offensive lineman, but they could scour the waiver wire on Sept. 6 -- the day after final cuts -- trying to bolster those positions. Tight end and pass-rusher are two other areas where the Bills could consider an upgrade at the bottom of their depth chart.
4. Who starts at defensive tackle for Marcell Dareus? Because of Dareus' one-game NFL-imposed suspension, the Bills will need to find another defensive tackle to start in his place Week 1. Corbin Bryant has been the leading candidate for that role since the spring and has seen first-team reps when Dareus or Kyle Williams have been out of practice. Yet it's too early to count out Red Bryant, a much bigger body than Corbin Bryant who could help plug the middle of the field against Colts running back Frank Gore. I could see the Bills using a rotation of both Bryants in Dareus' place for that game.
5. Does IK Enemkpali make the cut? Enemkpali has been in the national spotlight since punching Geno Smith in the Jets' locker room, making Enemkpali the subject of New York tabloid covers and in-depth investigations into his past. He remains on the Bills' roster bubble. The Bills' top three defensive ends -- Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes and Alex Carrington -- appear set. Enemkpali is the favorite for the fourth (and probably final) spot at the position, although there is a veteran (Quentin Groves) and three undrafted rookies (Cedric Reed, Andrew Hudson and B.J. Larsen) vying for a role. Of that group, I'd consider Reed the most serious challenger to Enemkpali.