While the veterans are getting ready for OTAs to begin in less than two weeks, Buffalo's rookies hit the field for their first practice of rookie minicamp. Here are 5 things to know about their first day.
1. Sean McDermott's message to the rookies
Whether you're a first-round pick or a tryout player, putting on an NFL helmet for the first time and going through your first practice can be a bit nerve-racking. Bills head coach Sean McDermott wasn't expecting anyone to shock him in their first practice because there's still plenty to learn.
McDermott said today was just step one of the onboarding process the rookies go through during minicamp.
"I told them this morning, no one's going to make the team based off of this practice alone," McDermott said. "So let's just get out there, know where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there. Put one foot in front of the other and let's just crawl before we walk and kind of get the boulders of what this system is supposed to look like, and what their job is in the system."
The rookies are beginning to digest their first NFL playbook and learn how they fit within the Buffalo Bills. They're also getting to know a coaching staff that's entirely new to them. With all the firsts the group must face this weekend, McDermott doesn't want them to feel any larger-than-life expectations on day one.
"There are no preconceived expectations," McDermott said. "That's for people outside of these walls, and I respect that. But at the end of the day, the best way to go about it is just focus on what you're here to do and develop every day."
Scroll to see photos from the first day of Rookie Mini Camp at One Bills Drive on May 13th, 2022.
2. First NFL practice
A lot of excitement also comes out of spending your first weekend with your new NFL team. The rookies hit the field with the temps topping the 80s for what felt like the perfect Friday afternoon in May. The group learned the flow of regular practices by going through stretch, individual periods and 11-on-9.
Cornerback Kaiir Elam, who the Bills selected 23rd overall, was looking forward to playing football again after months of training for the NFL draft.
"I was super excited to be out there," Elam shared. "Try to fly around, have fun and motivate my teammates, push my teammates and just keep continuing to get better. It was fun though, super fun."
Buffalo's fifth-round pick wide receiver Kahlil Shakir was elated to get a chance to practice with just the rookies before OTAs begin on May 23.
"I think everybody's hyped up and excited to be here, and to get out here with the rookies and get into it again before the big dogs come in here and show us how it's done," Shakir said. "But at the end of the day, when they do get here and we start working with them, for me, it's just learning. I got some amazing guys I get to learn from and I'm just excited for that opportunity."
3. Making the transition from college to pro
The rookies get a taste of what the NFL is like during rookie minicamp before OTAs begin with the veterans. Making the transition from the college level to professional football isn't the easiest due to the speed of the game.
Punter Matt Araiza, who was a sixth-round pick for the Bills, felt the difference in talent level at his first NFL practice.
"I just think the energy and the air is different," Araiza said. "Everyone can feel how much more important this is, how much more serious this is. And everyone on this level has already succeeded in college, which means they have a certain amount of traits to them—hard-working, talented, all that stuff. So everyone here is good, everyone here is ready, everyone who deserves to be here. I think that's the biggest difference."
The biggest change at the pro level for Shakir is focusing in on the details and learning the new verbiage that goes along with the playbook.
"Coming here and learning from coach Chad Hall and the way he's teaching me, his terminology and everything's a lot different," Shakir added. "But it's stuff that I'm happy he's pointing out because it's only going to make me a better player. So, I definitely noticed it right away and I'm blessed to be able to learn that way."
4. Forming new relationships with teammates
Another reason rookie minicamp is important is due to the relationship building that happens in the first few days of being together. The group gets a chance to learn and grow together as they transition into playing at a professional level.
"I'm trying to motivate the guys right next to me, and I'm trying to learn from them as well," Elam said. "I'm not perfect, they're not perfect, but we can all learn from each other. Christian Benford is a heck of a player. Today he did well.
"It's awesome just being a pro, and seeing everybody, how they're working, what they're do well and things I see that they can critique. We just thriving off each other and trying to push each other."
While the rookies aren't practicing with the veterans yet, most of them have been in touch with some of their new teammates and are excited to get on the practice field with them.
"I talked a little bit to Gabe Davis a little bit," Shakir said. "He's a cool dude and just told me if I need anything or need any help to just to let him know. But other than that, I'm just excited to see all them and meet everybody face to face. Like I said, I've been watching those dudes for a while, guys like Stefon Diggs. To me, that's just mind blowing."
5. A chance for new coaches to warmup before OTAs
Sean McDermott added several new coaches to his staff this offseason. It's the most retooling he's done with his staff since he's been in Buffalo. While rookie minicamp is a time for the rookies to get comfortable with the NFL, it's also an important adjustment period for the new coaching staff.
"We had a staff meeting the other day and I told the coaches, 'This is a chance for us to continue to practice coaching,'" McDermott said. "It sounds elementary, but we've been on the field with the vets through the phases, now in phase two. But this is our first time with live full speed action, and we've got some new members to the staff, Ken (Dorsey) being one of them. So, this will be the first time for him going through this in his seat, but it's a good experience too.
"I'm sure we'll all, Ken, myself, and the rest of the staff get through this weekend and say, 'Hey, this is what we can do better,' so when OTAs roll around with the vets, this is how we want to improve what we've done."