4 things we learned from Sean McDermott heading into Week 1 of the NFL season

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Sean McDermott, A.J. Epenesa (57), Josh Allen (17). Buffalo Bills vs Green Bay Packers, Preseason Week 3, August 28, 2021 at Highmark Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

Sean McDermott spoke to media on Thursday for the first time since roster cuts to get to the final 53. With the roster in place and just over a week left before the home opener, McDermott is ready for his team to buckle down and produce.

Here are four things we learned from the head coach from his final press conference of the week. The team will have the weekend off and return to the practice field on Monday.

1. McDermott is ready to see production from the defensive line

Bills general manager Brandon Beane explained the decision to keep 11 defensive linemen on the roster is because of the way they want to rush the quarterback this season. McDermott likes the fact that it's a stacked group, but he's ready to see them do their job.

"It's time to buckle down and produce, and that's what we have to have form that unit," McDermott explained. "We have to have it from an overall team for sure. But they're going to be a big factor in that."

Rookie defensive linemen Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham have been thrown into the mix since the first day of camp. McDermott thinks Basham is going to continue to get better over time as he's being tasked with learning multiple positions at once.

"I think his best football is ahead of him," McDermott shared. "He's working in two or three different positions. He's also contributing on special teams. It's really interesting to look at it from that perspective because Greg is a little more in one position, if you will. Where Boogie is having to balance two or three or four positions, which early on is going to force him to process and think a little more. And once he gets through that he'll play faster. I think he's getting better every day."

2. Juggling a different schedule before Week One

When transitioning from training camp practices into regular season practices, there's been an interesting juggling act at play when it comes to deciding between focusing on the team improvement or the first opponent.

The Bills have shifted to more of an in-season schedule at this point but they still have this weekend off before a full week of prep for the home opener. The reason for the juggling act is because in season's past teams didn't get an open weekend with no preseason games before their first regular season game.

"Trying to find my way this week with how much I work on Pittsburgh and how much I focus on getting our roster right and getting the practice squad right," McDermott explained. "Just getting things, from an administration standpoint, across to the team that we need to cross off our list this week. So it's been a little bit of both and it will continue to be that until probably Monday with the team."

While their first opponent isn't an AFC East team, it's a team they are pretty familiar with after playing against them the last two seasons. Pittsburgh went 12-4 last season and won 11-straight games before suffering back-to-back losses that came from the Washington Football Team and Buffalo.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger saw action in one preseason game and completed eight of 10 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. McDermott said the Steelers are looking good from what he saw in the preseason.

"They're a good football team, and we expect a very tough game," McDermott added.

3. Injury update

It's been good to see the long list of injured players turn into a much shorter list over the last few practices. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and safety Micah Hyde were the only two not at Thursday's practice. The two also weren't around on Wednesday because Lotulelei missed practice with a calf injury and Hyde was excused do to personal reasons.

Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (shoulder), cornerback Dane Jackson (stinger) and cornerback Taron Johnson (hand) practiced in red non-contact jerseys.

Safety Jaquan Johnson who missed several practices with a knee injury returned to practice.

McDermott said he can't give any concrete injury updates yet in terms of which players will or will not be available for Week 1.

"It's still a projection at this point," McDermott said of Isaiah McKenzie, Harrison Phillips and Taron Johnson. "So we'll see all three of those guys out here today in some capacity. So we'll just take it one day at a time. At this point, I don't know yet for sure."

4. The competition continues at several positions

McDermott said he has a pretty good feeling in his mind of who will start and who won't for Week 1. Even if he knows who will be on the field for the first snap, he's definitely not going to let that take away from the benefits of having competition at several different positions.

When it comes to the cornerback position, McDermott said the battle will go on.

"We've got extremely competitive guys out here that want to compete, that's the environment that we foster and facilitate every day out here," McDermott shared. "Yet it's putting the team first and taking care of one another. You'll see Levi (Wallace) out there and you'll also see Dane (Jackson) at times."

The battle to be the best five at offensive line is still ongoing as well. McDermott said it's the continuity of the group that helps increase the competition.

"I think it speaks to the trust that we have and the depth that we have that there's still competition at that position along the front," McDermott said. "If you go player by player across the front, Dion had a setback early and he's coming back and he's playing better and better every day. And then you go to left guard with Jon, and Jon had a few days where he missed in there too. I think he's playing better every day.

"Then go right on down the line, but we all have our own challenges and things that these guys are working on so the competition continues there as well, and those guys know that."

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