Buffalo Bills

Training Camp Notebook: Day 3

The pads went on at Saint John Fisher College today. Over time this added element can shake up some roster battles with some players tapering off, and others rising to the occasion. Let’s see just who some of those players might be through the first day of padded practices!

Quarterback

Roster Certainty: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley
Roster Bubble: n/a
PS Candidate: Tyree Jackson
Likely Off The Roster: n/a

With the pads on, and the shorts off, Josh Allen had his best day of Training Camp so far and one might even say his best practice as a Buffalo Bill. While continuing to work on processing defenses and making the right decisions in the short to intermediate areas, he has turned his signature deep ball into something it hasn’t been before: consistent. Allen made two 50 plus yard throws on day three to loud applause from the onlooking audience. Much of that has to do with his two new weapons, more specifically the skill set of John Brown, and we will get to that in the Wide Receiver section.

Tyree Jackson made a wow play today, placing a deep ball over the shoulder of Cam Phillips for a long reception. Jackson has been the first player on the field all three days but it likely won’t be enough to earn a roster spot. The developmental Quarterback just has too many inconsistencies to his game to warrant a 53 man roster sport. 

Running Backs

Roster Certainty: LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary
Roster Bubble: Senorice Perry
PS Candidate: Christian Wade
Likely Off The Roster: TJ Yeldon, Marcus Murphy

The Bills continue to look like a team that will focus their Running Back carries on three players this season: McCoy, Gore, and Singletary. Yeldon continues to take snaps only with the third unit. It appears the role the Bills had envisioned for Yeldon went out the door when Singletary was sitting on the draft board unexpectedly (at least to the Bill’s brass) in the third round of this year’s draft. I doubt the Bills could find a suitor for a free agent who sat on the market for so long this off-season, but he’s a competent NFL Running Back, and Bills fans should feel good knowing if an injury occurs they will still be three deep at the position.

It’ll be interesting to watch the rest of the Running Backs in preseason games, most notably on Special Teams. Perry will likely be the fourth Running Back because he has made his reputation in this league as a very good Special Teams player. Will he put that on display in the games and seal his spot on the roster? Will the Bills experiment with Yeldon as a Special Teamer as a way to justify keeping him on the roster? Will Marcus Murphy’s role on special teams expand beyond simply returning the ball? If Yeldon or Murphy can perform on Special Teams at 75% the ability level of an ace like Perry you could make a case that they deserve the fourth Running Back job because they are superior ball carriers on offense. 

Wide Receiver

Roster Certainty: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts
Roster Bubble: Ray-Ray McCloud
PS Candidate: David Sills, Nick Easley, Cam Phillips
Likely Off The Roster: Isaiah McKenzie, Victor Bolden, Duke Williams 

I’m not a betting man, but if I was I would say your two safest bets in fantasy football for the Buffalo Bills receiving corps this year would be John Brown and Cole Beasley. The two have clearly separated themselves from returning players Zay Jones and Robert Foster who make up the rest of the “core four”. John Brown’s quickness and ability to separate have been noticeable. His ability to track the football means Josh Allen does not have to be quite as accurate on all of his throws down the field. This means Allen is more likely to hit on those deep passes this season, which will open up things underneath for Allen’s legs and for Cole Beasley in the slot. 

Robert Foster showed a little life on day three, catching a deep ball down the field and a few others. He walked off the field for a brief moment with a shoulder injury but appeared okay. Foster, Jones, and Roberts round out the roster locks for a suddenly deep Bills Wide Receiver Corps. McCloud continues to look like the clear favorite for the sixth Wide Receiver role with no other depth receiver other than Cam Phillips showing anything of note. That could change once the games start being played. 

Tight End / Fullback

Roster Certainty: Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney, Lee Smith, Patrick DiMarco (Tyler Kroft)
Roster Bubble: Jason Croom
PS Candidate: Nate Backer
Likely Off The Roster: Keith Towbridge

Every day Jason Croom cannot participate in practice due to his hamstring injury his likelihood of making this roster goes down significantly. Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney may not be perfect, but they appear to be smart rookies who have mastered enough of the basics to be relied on come gameday. It helps to have a veteran like Lee Smith mixing in with them and walking them through the intricacies of the position. Sweeney got some run with the first unit today and made the most of it, catching a touchdown from Josh Allen. Knox showed off his blocking skills in 9 on 7 drills, leading the way for a few big runs. Tyler Kroft will likely head to IR and these three will be relied on to carry the load until he returns midseason. It’ll be interesting to watch these two rookies in-game situations come preseason. 

Patrick DiMarco appears to be a roster lock. The team captain has embedded himself into the locker room, plays a role on Special Teams, and serves as a Fullback when the Bills move into 12 and 22 personnel.

Offensive Tackle

Roster Certainty: Dion Dawkins, Cody Ford, Ty Nsekhe
Roster Bubble: LaAdrian Waddle
PS Candidate: n/a
Likely Off The Roster: Connor McDermott, De’Ondre Wesley

Cody Ford continues to get all the looks and Right Tackle and has done nothing so egregiously bad to give the Bills a reason to consider moving him inside based on his play alone. Ty Nsekhe is proving to be a competent and capable swing tackle behind Dawkins and Ford. 

Is there room for LaAdrian Waddle? Likely not, and in today’s NFL, he can probably get the Bills a late-round pick in the trade market. However, the Bills should not be quick to deal Waddle. Should the Right Guard position not sort itself out, Cody Ford is a logical fit at that position. If the Bills do kick him inside that makes Ty Nsekhe the Right Tackle and LaAdrian Waddle the swing tackle.

Interior Offensive Line

Roster Certainty: Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, John Feleciano, Spencer Long
Roster Bubble: Wyatt Teller
PS Candidate: Ike Boettger, Garrett McGhin
Likely Off The Roster: Russel Bodine, Vlad Ducasse, Isaac Asiata

Quinton Spain appears to have the Left Guard position on lockdown. Wyatt Teller will have to have an exceptional preseason to get a shot at the position and is now firmly on the roster bubble since it appears the Bills have no interest in trying him out at Right Guard. The way people connected to the team like Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com speak so glowingly of Teller it wouldn’t surprise me if he is earmarked for the last offensive lineman spot on the roster and is an inactive every week of the regular season. Despite his lack of position flexibility, the Bills used draft capital on him and none of the guards ahead of him have long term contracts. 

Feleciano and Long continue to rotate on the Right Guard position. It’ll be something to keep an eye out for during games. Both players have Guard/Center flexibility and have played Left Guard in the past, so it is likely that the loser of that battle will be the team’s first reserve off the bench in case of an injury. 

Defensive End

Roster Certainty: Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson
Roster Bubble: Mike Love
PS Candidate: Daryl Johnson
Likely Off The Roster: Eddie Yarbrough, Eli Harold

Trent Murphy appears to have won the Left Defensive End “competition”. Competition is in quotations because Shaq Lawson hasn’t even gotten any run on that side of the field, he has been working strictly as the backup Right Defensive End. Murphy has made some plays through three days and appears to be fully back from his torn ACL that he suffered two seasons ago.

Mike Love has served as Murphy’s backup on all three days, so it appears he is the leader in the clubhouse the fourth Defensive End role. Eli Harold and Eddie Yarbrough will have to do something in the preseason to stand out if they want to unseat Love or make the case for the Bills to keep a fifth Defensive End. Both play Special Teams. Yarbrough can play both sides of the line, and Harold can play Strongside Linebacker, so both players have the versatility to justify a roster spot. 

Defensive Tackle

Roster Certainty: Jordan Phillips, Star Lotuleilei, Harrison Phillips, Ed Oliver
Roster Bubble: n/a
PS Candidate: n/a
Likely Off The Roster: Kyle Peko, Robert Thomas, LJ Walton

With the pads on, Oliver got some first-team reps and showed a little pop. The Defensive Tackles will rotate heavily, and this position, barring injuries, has been set since draft day. It’ll be interesting, if they are even eligible, to see in-game if any of the bottom half of the position guys can do something to warrant a practice squad spot. The Bills will likely keep at least one Defensive Tackle on the practice squad in case of an injury to the top four. 

Linebackers

Roster Certainty: Matt Milano, Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds, Vosean Joseph, Maurice Alexander
Roster Bubble: Julian Stanford, Corey Thompson
PS Candidate: Tyrell Dodson, Jawan Foggie
Likely Off The Roster: Deon Lacey

Matt Milano’s name has appeared on my Twitter feed only here and there for a play or two over the first few days, and that’s okay. I have yet to see any reports that he appears to be gun shy, limping, lost a step, etc. It’ll be interesting to see him play in a live game and it wouldn’t shock me if he sat out the first few. He very well could be one of those players Sean McDermott alluded to being on a “pitch count”.

Tremaine Edmunds, per Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic, has been fantastic thus far. He called him “miles ahead of where he was last year” and stated he was “flying all over the field”. This is a kid who earned AFC Defensive Rookie of the month and didn’t look much like a rookie the last month of the regular season last year. If he continues to improve at the pace he has thus far, look out.

I feel comfortable calling Maurice Alexander a roster certainty. The Linebacker/Safety hybrid comes from Seattle, where he was a Special Teams dynamo playing in a system now Bill’s Special Teams Coordinator Heath Farewell is familiar with having been there the year before Alexander arrived as an assistant. He is running with the second team at linebacker ahead of Vosean Joseph, and is being used in packages as a safety as well. McDermott likes position flex, and like Siran Neal, Alexander provides a ton of it. 

Corey Thompson has been running behind Lorenzo Alexander through three days of camp, so it appears Deon Lacey has his work cut out for him during the preseason to change that. Thompson is younger, and under a team-friendly deal being a former UDFA. 

The only reason I don’t see Julian Stanford as a roster lock is that the Bills brought in two linebackers for Free Agent visits right before the first day of camp. Both Josh Bynes and Stephone Anthony are Inside Linebackers like Stanford. If Stanford doesn’t regain his form as a Special Teamer and play at Middle Linebacker early in the preseason it is likely the Bills will sign one of those two veterans to come in and compete. 

Cornerback

Roster Certainty: Tre White, Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson, Kevin Johnson
Roster Bubble: EJ Gaines, Lafayette Pitts 
PS Candidate: Cam Lewis
Likely Off The Roster: Denzel Rice, Ryan Lewis

On their Bills Beat Podcast Joe Buscaglia and Matthew Fairburn praised the play of Tre White through three days of camp. They suggested Zay Jones low number of targets could be attributed to the fact that Tre White has almost solely covered him through the first weekend. Buscaglia suggested if White could accumulate more turnovers that he would start to put himself into the national discussion for one of the best corners in the league. It is good to see franchise cornerstones like White and Edmunds showing well early.

Wallace and Johnson continue to duke it out for the second Cornerback spot. I’ve definitely seen Johnson’s name appear more on my Twitter feed, but fans and reporters always have their eyes out for the new guys. It appears to be a 55/45 race thus far with the advantage going to Wallace. It’ll be interesting to see if Gaines can keep making enough plays to enter the #2 CB battle or to justify a roster spot over a special team player like Lafayette Pitts. 

Safety

Roster Certainty: Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Kurt Coleman
Roster Bubble: Siran Neal, Dean Marlowe
PS Candidate: Jaquan Johnson, Abraham Wallace 
Likely Off The Roster: n/a

Micah Hyde was not pleased his defense got beat deep a ton by the Bills offense today. He praised Brown for his abilities down the field but appeared motivated to get to work correcting the problem. 

Coleman seems like a safe bet to be the main backup at Safety. He has played mostly Strong Safety to this point, but he played plenty of Free Safety for McDermott in the past. Speaking of Free Safety Dean Marlowe has gotten all the second team reps there. If the Bills feel Coleman has lost a step and cannot roam centerfield if Hyde goes down that opens up a roster spot for Marlowe. 

A player I was high on, 6th round pick Jaquan Johnson, has been awfully quiet through three days of camp. Relegated to third-team duties, he will have to show some good tape on defense and special teams to get a shot at cracking the 53. At the moment he seems like a safe bet for the practice squad. 

Punter Palooza 2019

Roster Certainty: n/a
Roster Bubble: Corey Bojorquez 
PS Candidate: n/a
Likely Off The Roster: Cory Carter

Neither Punter has been great through three days, but Bojorquez has been the better of the two. Keep an eye out for the Bills to upgrade at this spot after Week Four of the preseason like they did last season. New England drafted a punter in the middle rounds of the draft which could leave a veteran like Ryan Allen on the chopping block. 

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