Buffalo Bills

Training Camp Notebook: Day 1

The Bills kicked off training camp at St. John Fisher College this morning, or as Sean McDermott likes to call it, St. Johns! Here is my summarization of observations from the first practice of the preseason.

Let’s start with Josh Allen. The cliff notes version is he was good, not great. He made a ton of plays to his new weapons but still struggled at times with ball placement. On a few occasions, he overthrew a receiver or put the ball in a place that minimized run after the catchability. The good news is he seems to have command of the offense and is adjusting to the speed of the game. In layman’s terms, he definitely looks like he belongs in this league. He just needs to keep fine-tuning.

When asked today what was different with Josh Allen this off-season, General Manager Brandon Beane replied, “All 91 players know that this is his team”. From the way Allen carries himself in press conferences, in the huddle, with the fans, and in the locker room, he certainly seems to give off the sense that he can handle all that comes along with being a franchise signal-caller. 

Hints at the Bills Offensive Player Usage & Philosophy

Running Back:

By all accounts, LeSean McCoy looked quick and refreshed during his reps today. Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott made it clear during their pre-practice press conference that he would be the running back receiving first-team reps. That held true on the practice field. McCoy took first-team reps, fresh off the NFI list Frank Gore led the second team (while sprinkling in with the first team), Devin Singletary ran with the third team, and TJ Yeldon the fourth team. Singletary was used often out of the backfield as a receiver, a possible preview of a “scatback” role he could play in 2019.

Wide Receiver:

The talk of the day was John Brown and Cole Beasley. Brown flashed his separation skills, Beasley showed why he’s dangerous underneath, and both had multiple touchdowns. Brown-Beasley-Jones dominated first-team reps, leaving out last year’s breakout rookie, Robert Foster. It’ll be interesting to see if the reps continue to be distributed in this manner. Foster is coming back from an injury, and the Bills might just be cautious with his reps early. 

Tight End:

Jason Croom may have been credited with starting with the ones at tight end, but there was a heavy rotation and he saw the fewest reps. This may have more to do in a nagging hamstring injury the Bills want to ease him back from more than his play on the field. In his place, two rookies, Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney, got the bulk of reps. Knox showed nice flashes as a “big slot”, and if he can learn the nuances of the NFL game quickly, he could have an earlier impact than some expect.

Tommy Sweeney made some nice catches as well, but on one play he ran the wrong route leading to a Matt Barkley interception. Allen was quick to praise both tight ends after practice, saying they have been studying their playbook and are prepared to play snaps in the NFL right now. 

Scheme:

Tweets from Cover 1 Buffalo and commentary from Chris Brown on One Bills Live revealed that the Bills utilized a lot of 22 and 12 personnel, staples of the New England Patriot offense. Brian Daboll grew up in this system, so he may be shifting the offense into some schemes he is more comfortable with. While we will certainly still see some Air Raid concepts, Sean McDermott would probably prefer a more well-rounded and run-focused offense. 

When in 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2TEs) Patrick Dimarco and Dawson Knox got a lot of run, with both often ending the play by splitting out wide at receiver. In 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs), Dawson Knox and Lee Smith were the duo that got the most run with the first team. A popular pick for “surprise cut” before camp, Patrick DiMarco certainly looked like a roster lock to me. 

First Look at the Offensive Line Competition

Per Sal Capaccio of WGR 550…
1st Team: Dawkins – Spain – Morse – Feliciano – Ford
2nd Team: Waddle – Teller – Bodine – Long – Nsekhe
3rd Team: Wesley – Asiata – Boettger – McGhin – McDermott

The right side of the offensive line was the biggest surprise of the first day of practice. With Spain back to his traditional post at LG, John Feleciano (who played for Bobby Johnson in Oakland) ran with the 1s ahead of Spencer Long who commanded a starting guard spot throughout most of OTAs. The rookie Cody Ford started the day ahead of Ty Nsekhe, which was surprising because McDermott usually likes to make his rookies earn their way into a starting role. If this line holds, it’ll be interesting to see if the Bills look to trade either Waddle or Nsekhe. 

Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com stated on One Bills Live that Wyatt Teller looked impressive, that he has grown physically since last off-season, and has a little bit of a Richie Incognito “mean streak” to his game. 

Bradley Gelber of The Bills Wire tweeted the following quote by Dion Dawkins given to Chris Brown after the initial practice: “It felt like the third week of training camp” because of how on the same page the offensive line was with their pre-snap communication. Let’s hope this trend continues. 

The Secondary Depth Dukes it Out

Levi Wallace took all the first-team reps at outside cornerback. For now, he continues to be the frontrunner for the #2 CB role opposite Tre White. Kevin Johnson and EJ Gaines both worked with the second team. What was interesting about the second team was that Gaines and Johnson split reps in the slot when the second team went into nickel formation. Whoever can prove to be most versatile and provide the best depth both inside and outside could have a leg up on a roster spot if the Bills decide to keep a corner like Lafayette Pitts for special teams reasons. EJ Gaines came away with an interception during seven on sevens and  Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com stated he thought Gaines “had the best day of any player both offense and defense”. 

Kurt Coleman ran with the 2s and Siran Neal, who seemed to be a rising star in the “Big Nickel” role at OTAs, was relegated to the third team. It’ll be interesting to see if this rotates daily or Coleman is the favorite. He had a sack on Matt Barkley in team drills. Coleman plays both free and strong safety, but it appears father time may relegate him to a role as a box safety. Siran Neal was getting a lot of run on special teams. Maybe he can stick as the 4th safety (Coleman transitions to FS), or as a fifth safety due to his special teams prowess. 

Other News and Notes:

  • Luckily there are no injuries to report.
    • Brandon Beane says he hopes Tyler Kroft can “get moving” around the end of pre-season. 
  • Andre Roberts had a good day, even fielding a punt despite a sprinkler going off in his face.
  • David Sills and ray Ray McCloud made some plays as secondary wide receivers.
  • Mike Love was the 4th defensive end. He backed up Murphy, while Lawson backed up Hughes.
  • Frank Gore is now number 20, John Brown is now number 15.

What I will be looking for during tomorrow’s practice:

  • Can Josh Allen keep progressing?
  • Will Singletary start working in with the 1s/2s?
  • Does Robert Foster get worked in more, or does he stay relegated to the 4th option?
  • Who emerges in the battle for WR #6?
  • Can Dawson Knox win the starting tight end job? Will Croom work in more when fully healthy?
  • Is the offensive line combinations the same tomorrow?
    • It wouldn’t surprise me to see Long/Nsekhe roll with the 1s on Day 2.
  • Does Mike Love continue to act as DE #4?
  • How long until Ed Oliver passes Jordan Phillips on the depth chart?
  • Didn’t see any news today on LBers, want to see how the depth lines up.
  • Did Gaines or Johnson’s performance get them a shot at #2 CB reps?
  • Will Siran Neal get reps ahead of Kurt Coleman?
  • I need a punter update! (Per a few spectators, Bojorquez had a solid first day)
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