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5 things we learned from Day 2 of minicamp

Mini Camp at ADPRO Sports Training Center.
 Photo by Bill Wippert
 June 13, 2018.


*1 – Two-minute game winners *There was some high drama at the end of practice Wednesday as the final team segment ran three series of two-minute drill.

AJ McCarron got to run the first unit and had 1:25 to work with on the clock from his own 30. He started hot with completions to Nick O’Leary and Jeremy Kerley on back-to-back plays to move into the defense’s territory.

After a spike to stop the clock at 42 seconds, there was an incomplete pass, a completion to O’Leary and another spike at the defense’s 28-yard line to leave 19 seconds in the “game.”

Following a sack and a false start on back-to-back plays, things looked bleak for the offense as they faced a 3rd-and-15 at the 33 with three seconds on the clock.

McCarron dropped back, rolled to his left a few steps to avoid the rush and threw it to the vacant left side of the end zone, putting a lot of air under the ball.

Rod Streater was the first to get a bead on the ball and headed to that half of the end zone with a gaggle of defensive backs. Streater alertly jumped first to get good position to make a play on the ball and came down with it as time expired for the “game-winning” touchdown.

“That was one of our plays and it kind of caught the defense off guard,” said Streater. “I ran to one side and then cut over and AJ put the ball on the money. It was a great throw and made it easy for me to come down with it.”

Just two plays earlier when the offense’s drive looked dead, CB Vontae Davis was chirping at the offense, ‘Game over! Game over!’

But Streater and the offense had the last laugh.

“We’ve got to tell Vontae we’ve got to finish,” said Streater. “Coach talks about it all the time. We’ve got to finish the drive, finish the play and I came down with the touchdown. We’ve got to finish.”

Nathan Peterman ran the second two-minute drill and put together a series of short completions to move down the field. Facing a 2nd-and-7 from the defense’s 20-yard line and one second on the clock, Peterman found TE Jason Croom in the middle of the end zone and hit him in the hands, but Croom could not pull it in for the touchdown.

Finally, Josh Allen led the third unit. He had just a minute on the clock with a drive start at his own 10, needing a field goal to win. After a 15-yard play to Ray-Ray McCloud III and a five-yard completion to TE Keith Towbridge, he had a pair of incompletions.

Facing a 4th-and-5 at the offense’s own 35-yard line, things didn’t look good, but he somehow gained five yards on a quarterback sneak. This may have been a bit of a gift for the offense as coach McDermott likely wanted the drive to continue.

After a drop on first down, the offense had a 2nd-and-5 from their own 45 with seven seconds on the clock. Allen made a seven-yard completion to the defense’s 47-yard line and the offense called timeout with three seconds left.

Undrafted rookie kicker Tyler Davis stepped onto the field for a game-winning 65-yard field goal attempt. With a good wind of 10-15 miles per hour at his back, Davis crushed the ball as it easily cleared the cross bar for a game winner.

The Buffalo offensive players spilled onto the field to mob Davis after the kick, which ended practice.

“I was just kind of trying to play with the wind down on that side, I was just trying to keep my confidence up,” Davis said. “I was confident going into the kick.”

Davis said he had never hit a 65-yarder in a game for a win before.

“That was a good feeling,” he said.

*2 – Allen airing it out *For the second straight day, rookie Josh Allen was rotated in with the ones for a series or two here and there through the course of practice. His first opportunity came in the very first team segment in the red zone.

On the third play from scrimmage, Allen looked to his right and then pivoted with his feet to throw a dart from the right hash to the back-left corner of the end zone where he hit Jeremy Kerley in stride as he was running across the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

On the next play he tried a back-shoulder throw to Charles Clay in the left side of the end zone, but him arm strength betrayed him. The ball got on Clay too fast as he turned his head around and couldn’t make the catch.

In another team segment, Allen rolled out to his right and saw Streater late streaking down the far side of the field on a deep post. The rookie QB put it 50 yards on a line to Streater who made the play for a big gain.

What was rare about the play was the throw was not only into a stiff breeze, but the ball wobbled the whole way. Somehow it still got to its intended target.

“It’s still got there,” said Streater. “All we ask for is the opportunity to make a play. He put it there, I came down with the catch and it goes down in the stat book.”

There are a lot of other NFL quarterback who probably don’t even try to make that throw under those conditions, but Streater knows why Allen did.

“He’s got an arm man,” Streater said. “He’s got an arm.”

*3 – Pass rush getting home *The defense has had the opportunity to run some blitz periods during team work the last couple of days and they’ve made their share of plays.

The group as a whole is doing a good job of collapsing the pocket at times and not giving the quarterbacks an escape route, at which point the plays are blown dead and a would-be sack is awarded. DT Marquavius Lewis got the first sack of the day during red zone on what looked like a designed run of all things.

Later in practice Shaq Lawson flashed for a second straight day. He had a sack, a batted pass and a tackle for loss on LeSean McCoy, who the defense bottled up in the backfield.

Fellow DE Jerry Hughes and LB Lorenzo Alexander were also getting good consistent push and safeties coming on the blitz posed frequent problems as well.

Hughes has seen a big difference in Lawson’s play this spring in comparison to his first two seasons. He believes he is much faster coming off the edge.

“Yes, I think he did a fantastic job of taking care of his body this offseason just by eating the right foods and getting with our nutritionist and really understanding what his body needs so he can go out there and perform on the field,” Hughes said. “I think he’s been doing a fantastic job.”

Hughes isn’t ready to put his stamp of approval on the pass rush yet. Coming off a down year last year in the sack category as a team, Buffalo’s veteran pass rusher wants to make sure they master one particular area that will be critical to their success.

“We’ve looked pretty good, but for us I feel like we’ve still got quite a ways to go,” he said. “Our communication can be a lot better. Through these OTAs and minicamp the focus from the coaches has been for us to communicate more up front and know our job when we’re facing a team that goes into a hurry-up mode,” said Hughes. “It’s really just about us getting in sync with a couple of new guys in the room.”

*4 – Adjusting to new kickoff rules *The new kickoff rules that were adopted by the league for the 2018 NFL season have put a lot on the plate of special teams coordinators like Buffalo’s Danny Crossman. He and 31 other NFL special teams coaches are in charge of devising new schemes that effectively adapt to the new rules on kickoff plays and give their unit the best chance for return or coverage success.

Pat DiMarco, who is on the kick return unit, said coach Crossman has been on top of it all.

“Danny kind of tackled this head on,” DiMarco told Buffalobills.com. “The day after they enacted the rule changes, we were doing kickoff and kickoff return. The NFL supplied us with the rules and gave us a detailed presentation. But there are going to be a lot of different aspects of that play now.”

For kickoff return, more players who can thrive in space will be needed on the back end where only three players can line up and no two-man wedge blocks are permitted. The other eight players must be in the setup zone to block, which is between their own 40-yard line and midfield. Meanwhile the kickoff team players covering the kick can no longer make a running start up to the kickoff line to cover.

“There are five or six different rules. It’s going be almost a completely different play,” DiMarco said. “We’re kind of getting a feel for what we like and what we think is going to work. We’ve been trying to replicate game speed so we can see where the depths are and different angles of the kicks. It’ll be an adjustment and something preseason-wise we’ll really figure out what teams want to do because it’ll be our first time doing it.”

*5 – Opportunity update *It looks like Russell Bodine and Ryan Groy will be rotating every day with the starting offense. Groy worked with the ones on Tuesday, and Bodine was with the ones on Wednesday.

“It’s been good,” said Groy of the competition. “It’s gone well. We’re both grinding out, and it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be a dogfight for sure. You know, he’s a great player.”

Bodine has 64 career starts at center from his time in Cincinnati.

LB Deon Lacey saw a few reps with the first unit on the strong side in place of Ramon Humber, but Humber got the majority of the work Wednesday. Matt Milano is still sidelined with a hamstring injury.

In an effort to reduce the reps for veterans Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei, Adolphus Washington and Harrison Phillips have been getting first team reps on defense on the interior. Jerry Hughes reps were also reduced giving Eddie Yarbrough first team reps at right defensive end.

Phillip Gaines continues to run as the first team nickel corner while rookie Taron Johnson has seen reps with the second unit in the slot.

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