ORCHARD PARK — So what do we make of the Bills’ preseason opener?
It’s waaay hard to tell.
Game 1 of the “exhibition” campaign (sorry NFL) is normally fraught with sloppiness, and you know you’re going to see the starters for a only a quarter … if that.
Oh last night’s 24-16 win over the Colts at New Era Field wasn’t that untidy … per se.
There were a predictable 15 combined penalties for 127 yards and a modest three giveaways (two by the Bills).
The real problem was assessing what you were seeing.
Buffalo’s offensive line that started the game was center Jon Feliciano, normally a guard, in place of Mitch Morse, the $44.5 million free agent acquisition from Kansas City, currently in the concussion protocol.
And, indeed, late in the first half, when backup center Bodine, whom the Bills are supposedly trying to unload, was shaken up, fourth-stringer Ike Boettger was actually the snapper when running back Senorise Perry scored his touchdown.
At left guard, Quinton Spain was called for holding on Buffalo’s first series, and at right guard was second-round draft choice Cody Ford, who had been playing tackle. Holdover Dion Dawkins was at left tackle, where he slumped last year after a solid rookie season, with free agent Ty Nsekhe on the right side.
Thus, with that jumbled unit, it’s hard to tell exactly where the line, in major rebuild mode, might be.
BUT THE biggest question, offensively, last night was running back.
LeSean McCoy, who coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane swear is the starter, was held out. Instead Frank Gore, the 36-year-old free agent acquisition, played with the first team (2 carries, 7 yards; 1 reception, 4 yards) in two series.
Supposedly, the 31-year-old McCoy will start next Friday at Carolina, but it’s hard not to wonder if Buffalo is looking to trade him given his $9 million cap hit while coming off his worst season as a pro.
Then, too, the Bills might have found a gem in third-round draft pick Devin Singletary, the 5-foot-7, 203-pound running back from Florida Atlantic. He had a game-high nine carries for 27 yards and three receptions for 21 more. But what stood out was the speed and elusiveness he had already demonstrated in college when he scored 67 touchdowns and produced nearly 4,700 yards total offense in three seasons at FAU.
THE BILLS defense played well, but against suspect opposition.
Elite Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is sidelined with a calf strain that could keep him out until the regular-season opener. Thus, backup Jacoby Brissett got the start and played only three series in case Luck is out longer. Third-stringer Phillip Walker finished the half and Chad Kelly, Bills Hall-of-Famer Jim Kelly’s nephew, played the third and fourth quarters.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS from Thursday’s game:
— First-round draft choice Ed Oliver, the ninth overall pick, was invisible. He was credited with no tackles.
— Veteran place-kicker Stephen Hauschka, who had a tough finish to 2018, endured an inauspicious debut, missing a 34-yard field goal — 1 yard longer than an extra point — when it hit the upright in the first quarter.
In the last five games a season ago, he was 6-of-11 on field goals and missed a conversion.
— Though it came in the fourth quarter with the shock troops in, Christian Wade, the 5-foot-9, 196-pound running back from St. Mary’s University of the United Kingdom, electrified the remaining crowd from the original 58,124 with his speed and quick cut on a 65-yard touchdown sprint.
Wade, 28, is a retired English rugby player who came to the Bills via the NFL’s International Player Pathway. He doesn’t count against Buffalo’s 90-player roster.
— With Gore and, if he isn’t dealt, McCoy, plus Singletary, Perry and even Wade, it’s worth wondering whether T.J. Yeldon, the free agent from Jacksonville, will make the team. He had two carries for 8 yards, fumbling at the end of the second one, and also had a catch for 10 yards.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald)