The Buffalo Bills will open the 2017 preseason slate with a game Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings. It will be the first game for Sean McDermott, the team's new head coach, and a big test for several players on the team, including those who are fighting for spots on the 53-man roster.
The Bills have many question marks entering the 2017 season. How will the new coaching staff leave its mark on the team? How will some of the new additions fare?
Here are five things to watch for as the Bills take on the Vikings Thursday:
(1) McDermott's impact. It's not a regular season game, but seeing how well the Bills prepared for this game and how disciplined the team is will be a reflection of how McDermott has handled the head coaching duties. Rex Ryan is looser. His teams weren't disciplined. We'll see if any of that changes in the preseason. Hopefully it does.
(2) Peterman vs. Yates. The Bills don't have a quarterback controversy. Tyrod Taylor is firmly entrenched as the No. 1 guy. The battle for the No. 2 spot, though, could get interesting. T.J. Yates is a veteran backup who has filled in as a starter when needed. But Nathan Peterman, a rookie out of Pittsburgh, has promise. How Peterman handles game action will either boost or lower his chances of winning the No. 2 job.
(3) Sammy Watkins. We should get a good look at Watkins in this game. He needs to be healthy. The Bills' wide receiving corps will be much better this season if he's at or close to 100 percent. Seeing how well he works with Taylor will be important, too.
(4) The defense. Rex Ryan was a defensive guy who didn't seem to figure out how to improve this defense, which has some good talent. The defensive line is strong, especially on the inside with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. The secondary has some good pieces, namely Ronald Darby and rookie Tre'Davious White. But this is where McDermott can make his mark. The defensive talent wasn't utilized well during the brief Rex Ryan era. Hopefully McDermott can turn that around.
(5) Kickers and punters. The Bills kicking game wasn't the greatest last season. They brought in Steven Hauschka to kick field goals and extra points. He'll also handle the kickoff duties. Colton Schmidt is the team's punter — for now. While he's performed well during camp, he is being challenged by Austin Rehkow. Rehkow's skill set is unique. Not only can he punt, but he is capable of handling the kickoff and field goal duties. The real test for Schmidt is whether he can punt well in games. If not, that opens a door for Rehkow.