4 things we learned about the Bills as training camp begins

CB EJ Gaines takes part in mandatory minicamp on June 12, 2019. Photo by Bill Wippert

1. EJ Gaines opts out

The Bills got notice of a second player on their roster choosing to opt out of playing for the 2020 season. GM Brandon Beane confirmed the news in a conference call on Sunday morning.

"EJ Gaines is going to opt out as well," Beane said. "So we received that news (Saturday) afternoon and got his letter. So that'll go on the wire today. As EJ opting out. He has some family things as well, which we totally respect and understand. Every day is, is a new day."

Gaines joins defensive tackle Star Lotulelei as Bills players to opt out. No word as to whether Gaines' opt out was in the voluntary or high-risk category.

The cornerback was signed back to the roster earlier this offseason. Gaines was with the club in training camp last summer but sustained a core muscle injury and was placed on injured reserve.

2. Options to replace Lotulelei and Feliciano

Between DT Star Lotulelei's opt out and RG Jon Feliciano's torn pectoral muscle injury that required surgery, the Bills suddenly have two starting positions to fill. Fortunately, the club fortified both positions with free agent signings this offseason, which gives both Bean and head coach Sean McDermott confidence that they can capably fill those spots.

"I think at defensive tackle and really at the right guard position we have options right now," said McDermott. "It's rare that even before you step on the field you lose one or two players and that's unfortunate. We certainly respect Star's decision and support him and his family through this. And it's unfortunate with Jon's situation, but that said this is why you bring players in and you try to build with depth because things like this do happen.

"It's honestly the next man up. It's an opportunity for them." I don't want to get into names because there's a lot of guys who we have confidence in around those players and those positions, the ones that have been here and the new ones we have brought in."

Beane elaborated on some of the options at the team's disposal for Feliciano's guard spot in particular.

"I feel bad for Jon because he worked so hard coming off the shoulder (surgery)," Beane said. "I mean, he was ahead of schedule the whole offseason, even though he wasn't able to be in here the whole time. Just really proud of his effort and just a freak deal that happened, but we do have some other guys we tried to build as much depth as we could.

"Daryl Williams, Evan Boehm, Ike Boettger, Spencer Long. Cody Ford could slide in there (at guard) and we could put Ty Nsekhe at tackle. Ty has even played guard so there are a lot of combinations we can do. A long way to go before it's settled of how that would play out. Right Guard, right tackle. I think Cody will be in the mix of one of those but just have to see where it fits best. Are we better with someone else at right tackle and sliding Cody or are we better leaving Cody at right (tackle) and someone else winning that job?"

As for Lotulelei's position, it's believed that Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson, Harrison Phillips and Vincent Taylor will all be potential candidates to fill the position.

"I think it will be a good opportunity for these other players to show us what they've got and to make their mark as well," said McDermott.

Buffalo has also reportedly explored available free agent options for the defensive tackle position.

3. Roster at the required 80

NFL clubs do not need to get their roster to the new threshold of 80 players until Aug. 16th, but the Bills got there according to Brandon Beane. They just reached the total in a way they didn't initially expect.

"We're down to 80 in a different way, because we have guys on the COVID list and such," Beane said. "So technically, we are down to 80, even though we didn't cut a bunch of people to get there. It's just we've got a few guys on the COVID list. And then we got these opt outs, which put us down to that number."

Earlier this past week, the Bills had five players test positive for COVID and had to put on the Reserve/COVID list which means, for now, they do not count toward the team's roster total.

It's expected that hopefully as those players are cleared after negative test results that other roster moves are likely made.

4. One Bills Drive meticulous with COVID preparations

Both Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott were effusive in their praise for the staff at One Bills Drive that's been entrusted with making the building compliant with the Infectious Disease Emergency Response Plan.

"There were a lot of people that put a lot of time and effort in this building to make it as safe as possible," said Beane. "We don't have a bubble. We don't have that concept, but we're trying to make it really, really hard to catch it in here or spread it in here. Everyone's responsibility is to police this thing and we have contact tracers on we get a little it'll turn red, if I'm within six feet of someone to let me know you're too close. And we're asking each other to hold each other accountable."

"What I've seen so far honestly is an unbelievable display of a standard in our building with the effort that's been put in by our ops staff, from leadership on down, we've done a great job, they've done a great job of getting our building ready," said McDermott. "I've been very impressed with the standard that I've seen to this point and I expect us to carry that through."

Beane even pointed out McDermott's strong message to his players when he wore a mask for the entire team meeting even though the head coach was by himself in his office during the Zoom call.

"I think Sean did a great job on that meeting. He wore a mask for the whole meeting and that's not going to be norm if he's in his own office, separate but just to get the point across of how to wear the mask and how it's going to be worn in our building and the expectation and we have to hold each other to a high standard," Beane said. "We talk about playoff caliber around here and things like that. And this is super important because this is talking about people's health."

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