The Bills have been monitoring a number of position battles this preseason and, with tomorrow night’s season-opener approaching, it’s about time we learned who the winners are. Head coach Sean McDermott spoke with the media and let them know just who’s going to be starting against the Jets on Monday Night Football.
The only job that went as was predicted was right guard, where, according to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News, rookie second-round pick O’Cyrus Torrence has earned the starting nod over incumbent starter Ryan Bates. Bates got his first action as a full-time starter last season, playing in 15 games, and while he’s performed admirably for Buffalo over the years, Bates has never been considered a top option at the position. Now, the rookie out of Florida will get a chance to line up between center Mitch Morse and right tackle Spencer Brown, while Bates will serve as a primary backup at all three interior offensive line spots.
In a huge shock on defense, last year’s sixth-round draft pick Christian Benford has won the starting outside cornerback position opposite veteran Tre’Davious White, per ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg. Benford did start five games last year for the Bills as a rookie, but the 22-year-old was certainly not a favorite to win the starting job this season.
Buffalo really hoped to see last year’s first-round pick Kaiir Elam take control of the position in 2023. Elam started six games in 13 appearances as a rookie but failed to stake his claim as a permanent starter heading into his sophomore season. Benford also had to beat out incumbent starter Dane Jackson, who started 14 games at the position last year. Everything pointed to one of Jackson or Elam starting with White this season, but Benford beat the odds and will line up with the first-team defense tomorrow.
Finally, on the defensive side of the ball, Terrel Bernard has joined Benford as a surprise winner of a starting gig, earning the honors of starting at middle linebacker next to veteran Matt Milano, according to Skurski. Another draft pick from the 2022 Draft, Bernard beat out presumed favorite Tyrel Dodson for the starting job left vacant by the exit of Tremaine Edmunds in free agency.
Dodson has started five games over his first three seasons in the league but has really only come in on rare occasions on defense or for special teams. Despite not winning the starting job, Dodson should still get plenty of run as he and Tyler Matakevich are the only healthy backup linebackers on the roster. Bernard, though, will be the one to take the field with the first-team defense alongside Milano and third-round rookie Dorian Williams.
There you have it. A couple of surprises join with an expected result to put three young players in the starting lineup for tomorrow night’s game. Torrence will get a chance to start in his NFL debut, while Benford and Bernard will take the step up into starting roles to begin their sophomore seasons.