What we learned at Bills minicamp - day two

Posted Jun 14, 2017

It's typical to see the offense ahead of the defense this time of year and when it came to the two-minute drill portion of practice that held true.

1 - Two-minute drill goes to the defense
On a day where the offense had five cracks at a game-winning opportunity during the two-minute drill segment of practice, the defense got stops on four of the five drives.

The starting offense under the direction of Tyrod Taylor went four-and-out. On a 2nd-and-3 Taylor had an incomplete pass and then on 3rd-and-3 wasn’t helped when rookie Zay Jones had an uncharacteristic drop. Finally on 4th-and-3 at their own 39-yard line another pass fell incomplete ending the drive.

The second unit proved most successful. With 1:59 left on the clock and needing a touchdown, T.J. Yates went 9-13 passing on the drive. Nick O’Leary proved to be valuable as he made three catches including a touchdown on a 4th-and-goal from the four-yard line with 14 seconds remaining.

Prior to that he converted a key fourth down reception at the 18-yard line as he was able to get the first down and stop the clock with 31 seconds left.

Nate Peterman ran the third team drill and got the group in position for a field goal, but rookie Austin Rehkow’s 45-yard attempt was no good, wide left as time expired.

A second opportunity for the first team offense saw three consecutive catches by Zay Jones, but it was sandwiched by a false start and a sack. Taylor’s fourth down pass attempt fell incomplete in plus territory and the possession was over with 45 seconds remaining.

Cardale Jones then came on for the final two-minute drill segment and on the first play overthrew the back on the check down and it was intercepted by LB Jacob Lindsey.

“Extremely frustrating,” said Jones. “You wait on your opportunity all day, your number is called and I didn’t take advantage of it. So the key now is to get in and watch the film and compete on Thursday.”

Defensively, rookie cornerback Marcus Sayles had a pass breakup. S Shamiel Gary and LB Tanner Vallejo were stuck on Logan Thomas to keep him from making a touchdown catch. Rookie CB Greg Mabin has a pass defensed. Jerry Hughes had a sack and Lindsey had the INT.

2 - Budding guard competition?
The first day of mandatory minicamp Vladimir Ducasse rotated in with the first unit on occasion at right guard in place of incumbent starter John Miller. It wasn’t clear whether Miller just needed a play or two off. On Wednesday it became more readily apparent that Miller and Ducasse could be part of a competition for the starting right guard role.

Miller is still getting more of the reps with the first unit, but Ducasse has been rotated in for a snap here or there, and even a full three-play series at times. Even in the final two-minute drill of practice Ducasse rotated in after the first four plays.

Ducasse was signed as a free agent this offseason in part because of offensive line coach Juan Castillo’s familiarity with him. Castillo coached him in Baltimore last season.

The veteran guard made eight starts for Castillo in Baltimore in 2016.

Miller has a strong second NFL campaign himself last year when he made all 16 starts at his right guard position.

It’s certainly a competition to keep an eye on as it will stretch into training camp at St. John Fisher.

3 - Linebackers will be moved around
In base defense all eyes at training camp will be on the middle linebacker role, where Preston Brown has gotten all the starter reps and Reggie Ragland has worked with the second team since returning to full practice status.

“We’re going to play the best three, if we’re in base,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “If we’re in sub-nickel package, we’ll play the best two and we’re not opposed to moving people around. You don’t want to put guys into a certain bucket and say, ‘They can only do this.’ Unless they show us that they can’t do other things – and in this case, both are talented, both are well-rounded football players and if those end up being the best two or three, then that’s what we’ll do.”

In Buffalo’s defense players in the nickel package are widely viewed as starters by the Bills coaching staff. Nickel corner Leonard Johnson and current first team nickel linebackers Preston Brown and Ramon Humber will get getting a good deal of snaps over the course of the season. The second team nickel linebackers are currently Ragland and Tanner Vallejo. Gerald Hodges was also rotated in for Vallejo on second team nickel.

“When you look at around the league, it’s right around sixty to seventy percent – the amount of time people spend in that sub-package,” said McDermott of nickel personnel.

For Hodges he’s still trying to learn everything after signing just a couple of weeks ago.

“I feel like I have good experience in all types of defenses,” said Hodges. “The way things are tying in together has been positive. Whether it’s 3-4 or 4-3 it’s all schematically the same with the way in which you tie in certain coverages.”

Hodges believes he can play any of the three linebacker roles. Thus far he’s been lining up primarily on the strong side.

4 - Leonard Johnson is “a little Tyson”
In putting together the kind of roster he wants, Bills head coach Sean McDermott has mentioned the importance of having character, passion for the game and commitment to the process of becoming a playoff caliber team. This week he also mentioned toughness and identified one player in particular who brings that to the defensive side of the ball.

CB Leonard Johnson certainly isn’t the only player on the defensive side of the ball who embodies toughness, but having been coached by Sean McDermott in Carolina, his makeup as a player is something Buffalo’s sideline boss appreciates.

“The thing that I love about Leonard is how tough he is. He’s like a little Tyson in terms of just the way he approaches the game and he gives us an edge on defense, which is important,” said McDermott. “His familiarity with the system certainly helps in terms of his comfort level, and then also helping teach the players around him at times when coaches aren’t around – or on the field, to correct within a drive, that’s important, that ability to do that.”

Johnson is currently running as the first team nickel cornerback while Kevon Seymour is the second team nickel. McDermott values positive energy in his players and Johnson is very vocal and enthusiastic on the field.

There’s a clear affinity for Johnson by McDermott, and it stretches back to their time together in Carolina last year.

“The thing that sticks out about Leonard was last year, his first game that he played for us, he had a sack or two and you saw the energy and the juice, the toughness,” said McDermott. “There’s no substitute for that mental and physical toughness that he brings to the table.”

5 - Extras
LeSean McCoy (stomach virus) and Kyle Williams (neck stiffness), who were both sidelined for Tuesday’s practice, returned to practice on Wednesday. It appeared that Williams was a bit limited as he didn’t get much work at all during team segments.

Jerel Worthy stepped in for Williams on the starting defensive line.

S Colt Anderson had an excused absence on Wednesday. S Shamiel Gary filled in for him on the second team defense.

S Jordan Poyer had an interception during a red zone period where Tyrod Taylor had Charles Clay targeted.

WR Jeremy Butler had a touchdown catch on a nice pass from T.J. Yates.

WR Daikiel Shorts made a couple of quality receptions.

LB Ramon Humber had a forced fumble on Sammy Watkins.