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Training Camp: One Question For Every Buffalo Bills Rookie

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As training camp begins for the rookies, we’ll get a good look at them. When the team joins them, and the Buffalo Bills roster is whole once more, we’ll see how they all fit into their new roles. For now, we have a few questions that need answering.

Training Camp: Is Kaiir Elam CB1 or CB2?

We know a lot about our first-round pick Kaiir Elam by now. He’s an athletic, lengthy cornerback who brings top-tier speed to our secondary. Unfortunately, he may experience some growing pains, as the Buffalo Bills open the season against the Super Bowl Champion L.A. Rams. Thrown immediately to the wolves, he’s almost guaranteed a start. With Tre’Davious White’s status still up in the air, it looks like Dane Jackson and Kaiir Elam will take the field in Week 1.

Kaiir Elam Rookies Training Camp Buffalo Bills
Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Can he go toe-to-toe with 2021’s OPOY and reigning Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp, or will he play second fiddle as the more experienced Dane Jackson takes the temporary lead? Seeing how he fits into this secondary, and how much the front office trust Dane, will give us a better idea.

Is James Cook Actually a Running Back?

The simple answer is yes. However, things are rarely so simple and, from what we’ve, heard it seems that James Cook might be used as a weapon in the passing game more than as a conventional RB. McDermott and Beane have praised his speed and athleticism, and referred to him as a receiver out of the slot on a number of occasions in the build-up to training camp.

James Cook Buffalo Bills Rookies Training Camp
Sports Illustrated

With their faith in Devin Singletary clear already, how many carries will Cook get as opposed to targets? What kind of routes will he be expected to run? We could see him work into an Isaiah McKenzie-type of role, full of end-arounds, sweeps, slants, and out routes. The versatility of having two running backs in the backfield, with entirely different and hard to predict skillsets, cannot be overstated.

Will LB Terrel Bernard Get on The Field?

The first draft pick of the Bills that actually had people scratching their heads, Bernard seemed like he was a pick for depth if anything. The Buffalo Bills run a base 4-3 defense, but traditionally take the field in the nickel formation, with slot CB Taron Johnson replacing that third linebacker. Assuming they keep the same scheme, with Poyer and Hyde behind the defense and White and Elam/Jackson taking each side, why get a LB3?

It isn’t to replace Edmunds, as Bernard is an OLB, not MLB. He also doesn’t have the size to fill his role. We aren’t replacing Milano, and this was a top-ranked defense with Taron Johnson out there. Taron’s only weakness out of the slot is when he has to line up against larger Tight Ends. Bernard is excellent in coverage, so did we spend a third-round pick on a LB to cover TEs specifically? Perhaps not. Depth is critical to teams making Super Bowl runs, and Bernard is definitely an improvement in that area. This question likely won’t be answered for some time, but seeing how he is utilized in training camp may give us better insight.

How Many Targets Can WR Khalil Shakir Draw?

Brandon Beane’s dreams came true when his fourth-round pick was still there in round five. We all know that Khalil Shakir is electric with the ball in his hands and was likely brought in for YAC purposes, but how many snaps and targets can we expect? Here’s the Buffalo Bills target shares for the 2021 regular season.

PlayerTargetsTarget %
Stefon Diggs16426.32
Cole Beasley11217.98
Emmanuel Sanders7211.56
Dawson Knox7111.40
Gabriel Davis6310.11
Devin Singletary508.03
Zack Moss325.14
Isaiah McKenzie264.17
Tommy Sweeney121.93
Matt Breida91.44
Jake Kumerow60.96
Reggie Gilliam50.80

With the addition of Jamison Crowder, the expected increase in snaps for Gabriel Davis, the introduction of James Cook at RB, and the losses of Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders, how do the targets shape out? We’ll need to see him at training camp to understand how he may be used, and how often.

Did P Matt Araiza Learn to Hold Yet?

Matt Araiza Buffalo Bills Rookies Training Camp
Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

An easy question, and a valid one. Matt Araiza (aka “Punt God) had never held the ball before, a duty that typically falls to the punters in the NFL. He was seen working on his holds throughout OTAs, but if he doesn’t secure that ball correctly, it could seriously impact Tyler Bass. To make the team and beat out Matt Haack for the punting job, he will have to be perfect. Keep working on it through training camp, and remember: Laces out, Matt.

What Is S/CB Christian Benford Going To Do?

Christian Benford has plenty of potential, but no clear space on this team. He’s been pegged as a special teams contributor, but he’s capable of much more. He will have to work hard to secure a roster spot, but if he does what will he be doing? He’s capable of playing at either the cornerback or safety role, and we need security in those areas. He might not be able to get on the field, but his versatility helps his case.

Is OT Luke Tenuta Ready?

Tommy Doyle is the Buffalo Bills’ current backup tackle, but they needed another. Tenuta is a great value option, as the Tackle market is getting pricey, and paying a veteran to ride the bench isn’t really an option any more. The reason he was available so late in the draft, despite his good size and reasonable experience? He’s a major work in progress. As another raw player for a team known for taking on projects, Tenuta still needs to prove he’s good enough to make the roster if he wants to advance his game. Is he ready yet?

Can Baylon Spector Play MLB In Training Camp?

The last of the rookies, Spector has good coverage skills and great instincts, but he’s undersized. This LB core is deep, but with Andre Smith facing a six-game PED suspension, Spector might be able to crack the 53-man roster. In order to do so, he’ll need to prove himself capable of stealing the backup job in training camp and supporting Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds and Milano both missed time over the past two seasons and having a reasonable backup to fill in for a game or two may be necessary.

Featured Image: Sports Illustrated

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