1. Rookies getting run
It’s due partly to the fact that veteran players ahead of them in the pecking order are sidelined with injuries, but the 2019 draft class has its fair share of prominent roles through the first two weeks of OTA practices at One Bills Drive.
The two more noticeable players stepping into first team roles during the team segments of practice Tuesday were Dawson Knox and Cody Ford.
Knox, has been running with the first team for the better part of the last week after Jason Croom joined Tyler Kroft on the injured list last Tuesday.
The third-round pick has taken advantage of the reps and is making plays in the passing game.
On the third play from scrimmage during a 9 vs. 9 team segment, Josh Allen found Knox on a crossing route for a touchdown for a 25-yard scoring play.
“It went well. I love catching from Josh. He was actually out in California this offseason throwing a little bit and I got a chance to catch with him. I obviously at the time didn’t know I was going to be here, but it was good to establish that chemistry early.”
Knox has definitely shown off his ability to cover a lot of ground quickly on his routes as he gained good separation on a handful of assignments. He deftly toed the sideline on a throw from Allen during 11-on-11 while reaching above his head to make the catch for a 15-yard pickup. And in red zone he pulled in a nice crossing route from Allen to set up what would’ve been a first-and-goal situation.
“Ultimately just finding my identity more and more in this offense and who I am and what I can do and bring all that together to make plays. And then things unfold in training camp when we get there.”
“We’ve had some tight ends go down recently, but guys have stepped up,” said Zay Jones, who had another strong day himself. “One person in particular has been Dawson (Knox). I think he’s doing a great job right now. Guys are coming in and making plays in this offense.”
Meanwhile Cody Ford has made the jump up to the first unit in the second week of OTAs. Last week Ford was playing right tackle with the second offensive unit. Tuesday he was running with the ones. Ty Nsekhe, who manned the top right tackle spot last week, was at left tackle with the second group.
Even though it’s still far from real football for offensive and defensive linemen this time of year, Ford held his own in pass protection work and in run blocking assignments.
“We’re just going to do whatever is asked of us whether it’s the one, two or threes. It’s good to get reps. It’s not a depth chart, it’s a rep chart. It’s good to get whatever reps come my way. Obviously I like getting more than less. A couple of us have had good opportunities to step up a little bit.”
That includes RB Devin Singletary, who with Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon sidelined has been splitting reps with LeSean McCoy with the first unit.
Ed Oliver, Jaquan Johnson and Tommy Sweeney are seeing most of their action with the second units. Vosean Joseph and Darryl Johnson are mainly running with the threes.
2. Allen throwing darts
A week after running a very effective two-minute drill the first week of OTAs, Josh Allen looked every bit as sharp in Week 2. Allen ran a crisp, efficient offense and wasn’t shy about taking risks to fit balls into tight windows at times.
If there is one noticeable quality about his passing it is the consistency of his ball location. A significantly higher percentage of his passes have been on the money, whether it’s over-the-shoulder touch throws, bullets down the middle or an improvised throw on the run after the pocket breaks down.
Allen’s first play of the team period Tuesday was a tight throw to John Brown in the left side of the end zone. Two plays later he hit Knox for a TD.
“Ball placement is huge, especially in this league,” Allen said. “The type of concepts that we have, trying to get the ball to our playmakers where that can make some plays. That was a huge emphasis, we’re still working it. That is something that will never change, you always want to try to work on ball placement. I’m just trying to get the ball to the playmakers because we can’t do anything if they don’t have the ball in their hands.”
One such playmaker has been Zay Jones, who made the lion’s share of the plays in the passing game Tuesday.
Allen found the third-year wideout three times during the team portions of practice. The first was a laser on the left side, that Jones managed to paw and control for a 10-yard gain. He later hit Jones running free on a blown coverage at the 10-yard line and Jones had plenty of room to reach the end zone. Finally, in red zone, Allen hit Jones on a short in route for a second TD.
“There’s always potential when you’re dealing with a guy like Josh Allen. His ceiling is so high,” said Jones. “So just working with him and seeing things through his eyes. What he likes and doesn’t like, Finding my identity in this offense and what I can do to make plays.”
3. Pass rush, defensive backs flash
Whether it was Siran Neal’s forced fumble during an early red zone period or the three interceptions turned in during team segments of Tuesday’s practice, Buffalo’s defense was effective in turning the ball over.
The main playmakers Tuesday were Jordan Poyer, who had two of those interceptions and Kevin Johnson, who had one INT and tipped another pass that led to an INT.
“Since we’ve gotten back here our main emphasis has been taking the football away, whether it’s punch outs or interceptions,” said Poyer. “It’s about all guys being around the football because you have a higher chance of getting the ball if it’s on the ground or in the air. Three out of my four picks last year were off tipped balls.”
Poyer’s first INT came on a pass to the end zone from Josh Allen. Allen’s pass was on the money to Dawson Knox, but it somehow passed through his arms to a waiting Poyer behind him. Poyer’s second pick came on a great read by the safety when he got to the spot at the goal line before Ray-Ray McCloud to take the ball in the other direction.
Kevin Johnson had an interception early in practice when he leapt in front of intended target Da’Mari Scott and still managed to get his toes down before his momentum carried him over the sideline.
Later in practice Johnson tipped a pass intended for Duke Williams and safety Dean Marlowe was the ready and waiting recipient for the fourth interception of the day.
The success of the defensive backs Tuesday was due in part to what looked like a more effective pass rush. Trent Murphy, Lorenzo Alexander both had tap out sacks and there were a handful of other rushes that forced some hurried throws by the quarterbacks.
“We’re both the same and different in the D-line room, so we’re trying to work on meshing together and getting our calls,” said Trent Murphy. “Every week we’re inching there. It’s kind of tough right now because we don’t have pads on, and we can’t bull rush and stuff like that, but it’s exciting to know the potential of the room if we just keep getting better.”
4. O-line pecking order is fluid
In addition to Ford’s move up to the first unit, there was some injury news as well. Veteran G Quinton Spain suffered a thumb injury last week during an OTA practice and had surgery performed before Memorial Day weekend.
There is no timetable for his return at this point. His absence did prompt a bit of shuffling up front with the first, second and third units.
Ford was the only change on the first unit line. Left to right it was again Dion Dawkins, Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Wyatt Teller and Ford.
The second unit left to right went Ty Nsekhe, Vladimir Ducasse, Jeremiah Sirles, Ike Boettger and LaAdrian Waddle. D’Ondre Wesley and undrafted rookie Garrett McGhin rotated in at left tackle and center respectively.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has been preaching his spring mantra just like he did last year calling the player rotation a rep chart, not a depth chart. For his offensive line the OTA sessions are a learning exercise for the players because for linemen, it’s not close enough to real football.
“Right now it's you're just teaching the system, you're implementing that you're moving guys and different pieces, you're seeing how they communicate one another,” Daboll said. “And then once the pads come out that's a better time to really evaluate that spot.”
That will come in training camp.