4 key takeaways from the first two weeks of OTAs

Defensive end Trent Murphy works on his pass rush moves during a spring OTA workout.
Defensive end Trent Murphy works on his pass rush moves during a spring OTA workout.

Ninety one players with hopes of making the final 53-man roster.

The Bills are at work this spring trying to assemble a 53-man roster for the regular season. But they’ve got 91 players in OTAs and each one of them comes to the workouts trying to prove they belong on the 2019 final roster. Many of them are draft picks and undrafted rookies, trying to make a good first impression. Some are young veterans, trying to follow up their first taste of work in the NFL with a more experienced approach. Some are veterans rehabbing injuries from a year ago, looking forward to a healthier 2019.

And the coaches, working with all of them, trying to take the next step towards building a championship team. The OTAs (Organized Team Activity) is past the halfway point, with four more sessions next week, followed by the three-day mandatory minicamp starting on June 11.

Then it’s off until training camp. And Bills seem focused on maintaining their serious, workmanlike approach to the springtime OTA workouts.

1. A ROOKIE MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF

Third round draft pick Dawson Knox has already impressed in his first three weeks on the job. His speed is evident, and he’s displayed athleticism in the rookie workouts and OTAS. His quarterback, Josh Allen, had early praise for Knox’s familiarity with the playbook in the May practices.

Knox says the last three weeks, since he arrived in Buffalo, have been eye-opening.

“I didn’t really know quite what to expect in terms of practice and the daily schedule,” Knox said this week, in an appearance on One Bills Live. “I feel like I’ve really gotten used to the ins and outs of meetings and what practice looks like. I’ve gotten comfortable and it’s been a great process so far.”

Knox considers himself an underdog and he says it’s an approach that served him well going back to his college football career.

“I walked on at Ole Miss, and that mentality has been what has defined me as a football player,” he says.  “I want to come in and outwork anyone that’s in front of me and to do what they ask of me. There’s a lot of things I can’t control and a lot of things out of my reach, but whatever opportunity I’m given, I want to make the most of it.”

Rookie tight end Dawson Knox makes an acrobatic catch in Tuesday's OTA practice.
Rookie tight end Dawson Knox makes an acrobatic catch in Tuesday's OTA practice.

2. THE BIG PICTURE FROM THE STARTING QUARTERBACK

Josh Allen enters 2019 as the central figure in the Bills narrative. After consistent improvement in his 11 starts during his rookie campaign, the Bills look to Allen not just to pick up where he left off but take big steps forward as a franchise quarterback.

For his part, last year’s first round draft pick sees a Bills team getting better and more cohesive this spring.

“We come in, we get bigger, stronger, faster as a team,” he told One Bills Live. “We develop that team camaraderie. And really kind of dive into this playbook a little more.”

Allen says he has had more time in the last few months to work closely with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on the finer points of the Bills offense.

“Last year, I don’t think I did enough, with everything going on – first year in the NFL and a lot of people pulling you in different directions,” he said. “This year, I sat down with ‘Dabs’ (Brian Daboll) and went over what I like, what I didn’t like. And he’s trusting me in that mindset. If there’s a play that he wants to call, and I don’t like it, he’s not going to call it. So, it’s developing that trust.”

The OTA team and 7-on-7 drills give Allen a chance to develop trust with his receiving corps, including some important newcomers to the position.

“Communicating with receivers – what depth we want them to run the route, when they should turn their eyes, the type of body language they give me and where I need to put the ball,” Allen says. “It’s the open communication we’re having right now that’s really good.”

3. INJURY REHAB BEHIND HIM, A VETERAN READY TO GO

Trent Murphy played in 13 games for the Bills last year and got 43 percent of the snaps at defensive end. But he was not full speed. Murphy spent last year, his first with the Bills and fifth in the NFL, working back from a serious knee injury that kept him out for all the 2017 season.

This spring he’s back, 100-percent. And he’s already noticed the difference through seven works of springtime work.

“It’s a much better starting point for me, mentally and physically,” Murphy says.

He’s been through it before. And Murphy is familiar with the routine of spring workouts and OTAs. 

“First, we knock the rust off and we find a way to lay a foundation,” he said this week, in an appearance on One Bills Live. “Get the chemistry up front, learn the playbook, know who you’re playing with. And then, find something to sharpen, something to get better at—whether it’s a move, or your eyes, or hand placement, or something else. Every day just pick one thing to work on, whether it’s a coaching tip or something that you’re working on yourself. Then you have some tools to go into training camp and sharpen even further.”

4. COACHES BUILD COHESION AND TRUST

The OTAs include heavy installation work for the Bills coaching staff – exposing rookies and veterans to the playbook, some of them for the first time. It’s important in the spring. But offensive coordinator Brian Daboll says building relationships is just as important this time of year.

“We’ve added some coaches, some players, and this is the time of year to build those relationships,” Daboll said this week. “You have to have a trust factor when you’re in this job. I think the guys that we’ve added, both player-wise and coach-wise have done a good job. We’ve got good interaction. We have a long way to go but each year is a different year. This year is a little different than last year, which was a brand-new deal. Now we’ve got a bunch of new guys added. We just have to make sure that we’re all on the same page, we’re all rowing the boat the same way.”

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