1.) Josh Allen vs a defense that isn’t his own.
Josh Allen, albeit with some inconsistency, had a relatively hot start to training camp. Since then his play has teetered off and we’ve seen him complete passes at a lower percentage and turn the ball over. This trend can be explained by a number of factors. The most obvious is that Mitch Morse has been out since the third practice with a concussion and Russell Bodine has been taking a majority of the first unit reps at Center. Bodine is a well below average NFL starter and is pushed back into the pocket on a regular basis. This forces Allen to cut short his progressions and leave the pocket. It is when he leaves the pocket that he makes risky across the body throws that are intercepted. If Bodine is the starting center on Thursday night it will be interesting to watch Allen face the adversity of playing with such an egregiously bad center. Will he smarten up and throw the ball away? Or will he continue to try to force plays that aren’t there and loft balls into coverage?
A second explanation for the drop off in play thus far has a far more positive spin to it. Patrick Mahomes was described as “terrible” to many onlookers. In reality, he was intentionally making every possible type of throw to see what he could and could not get away with in the NFL. He met with the defensive players and asked them what they were seeing from him, how they knew what he was going to do, etc. When the live balls started flying he was able to make better decisions, resulting in an MVP season. I’m not saying Allen will be this year’s NFL MVP, but there is a possibility once we actually start playing opponents the play gets more consistent because he was taking the same approach Patrick Mahomes did. Proof of this may be the fact the Bills have intentionally placed Allen in adverse situations almost every day this camp.
A final explanation may be that the Buffalo Bills just have a really really good defense and that after days of practice they just have the offense’s number. That is why it is important that we start seeing Josh Allen and the offense against opponents other than themselves.
2.) Devin Singletary & TJ Yeldon
Devin Singletary has been electric this training camp. Running mostly with the first two units since the second day, he has shown fluidity in his cuts and an ability to catch the football in a variety of ways. It will be interesting to see this in a real game setting.
TJ Yeldon may not be an elite running back, but he is young and has proven he can play in this league. As training camp has progressed you have heard his name more and more out of the mouths of those assigned to cover camp. But he is sitting fourth on the depth chart and the man directly behind him, Sinorice Perry, is a bonafide special teams ace. It will be interesting to watch if he can play his way onto the team through his running, or on special teams where he has been taking reps on the second team kickoff unit.
3.) Zay Jones, Robert Foster, and Andre Roberts
Both Zay Jones and Robert Foster have had a quiet camp thus far. For Jones, that reason may be the fact that he’s primarily been covered by Tre White all camp. Jones’ biggest weakness thus far as an NFL player has been gaining separation from corners jamming at the line of scrimmage. Could the Bills have intentionally put White on Jones because that is what he as a cornerback is best at? If so, it will be interesting to see Jones against lesser corners. The Colts best corners will likely be focused on John Brown and Cole Beasley.
Robert Foster has had a quiet camp thus far, but then again he did so last year as well. There is a possibility that he is just a player who pops in games, and that will be an interesting thing to look out for. I would not be surprised to see him get more run with Tyree Jackson than Matt Barkley, as the big-armed Jackson pairs better with Foster’s speed, and he needs to continue working on his ability to track the ball on deep routes.
Andre Roberts has gotten more reps as a first-unit wide receiver than Robert Foster this training camp. That is surprising to many who thought he was just brought on as a kick return specialist. It will be interesting to see him on the field with the offense and seeing if he can contribute there in a game setting.
4.) Ray-Ray McCloud and Cam Phillips
The battle of the sixth wide receiver spot continues to look like a two-man race. Last year’s seventh-round pick Ray-Ray McCloud appears to have the edge because he would be the primary backup in the slot to Cole Beasley in the slot and provides special teams versatility. However, Cam Phillips is a favorite of the coaching staff and a big preseason could catapult him past McCloud. Other receivers on the roster such as David Sills and Nick Easley appear to be duking it out for spots on the team’s regular-season practice squad.
5.) The Tight Ends… Blocking
I do not expect much from the Buffalo Bills tight ends this season. The only player who would allow the Bills to be dynamic at the position is Dawson Knox, and he is losing valuable reps by the day with his injury. However, when healthy the Bills array of options at the tight end position are all average or better run blockers. I expect to see the Bills run a lot of 12 personnel this year with the tight ends expecting to block and act as safety valve receiving options. It’ll be interesting to see their blocking ability in real game settings for the first time.
6.) Dion Dawkins & Quinton Spain
Dion Dawkins and Quinton Spain appear to have secured their jobs along the left side of the Buffalo Bills offensive line. However, neither player can call themselves above-average starters at the position. In Training Camp defensive lineman often hold back a little bit to risk not injuring their quarterback. It will be interesting to see how Dawkins and Spain react to live bullets and whether we can officially secure their positions along the offensive line.
7.) Ed Oliver
Ed Oliver has finally worked his way up from the second team to a split of first-team reps with Jordan Phillips to now the full workload with the first unit at training camp. Oliver has been reprimanded once already for his aggressive play, pushing Russel Bodine into Josh Allen’s legs. As mentioned above, defensive lineman are asked to restrict their game a bit when preacting against their own quarterback. It will be fun to watch Ed Oliver cut loose this Thursday and play a game with no restrictions placed on the combativeness of his play.
8.) Matt Milano
Matt Milano is working his way back from a gruesome leg injury suffered late last season. While all indications have been good from the team’s medical and coaching staff so far, you cannot help but be a tad concerned. So far this training camp you hear Milano’s name a lot in connection with a running back or tight end beating him to a ball and making a play. I want to see Milano in game action and see with my own eyes whether or not he has lost a step.
9.) Tre White
Tre White has had an excellent training camp thus far. Is it a byproduct of covering Zay Jones all camp, or is White ready to make the jump from above-average to elite NFL cornerback? If TY Hilton plays on Thursday, it will be interesting to watch Tre White go toe to toe with an elite NFL wide receiver.
10.) Siran Neal
Siran Neal has been a huge mystery all offseason. So far in camp, he has played linebacker, safety, and nickel corner. He has appeared to have found a home as Taron Johnson’s backup nickel corner and the starter when they go into the “Big Nickel” package. However, he is now getting reps at safety again with Hyde out with a neck injury. Will the Bills finally reveal their plans for this “jack of all trades” player this preseason?
Bonus: Special Teams
A lot of the players at the bottom half of the roster will make the team through special teams, players like Senorice Perry and Lafayette Pitts. Keep an eye out for players who stand out on special teams coverage units.
Steven Hauschka was a shell of his former self late last season after a cheap shot from behind from Jet’s defensive end Harry Anderson. It will be interesting to see him back and kicking at full health.
Corey Bojorquez appears to have the edge in the punter battle as evidence from him being names the starting punter on the first official Bills depth chart. That could all change once he and Cory Corter have a chance to punt in live game action. Keep an eye out for the two players as a holder on field goals as well. It is a vital yet often forgotten position.