1. Addition of Von Miller to the defense
Von Miller could be the piece that was missing from the Bills' number one defense in 2021. The Bills ranked ninth in the NFL in sacks a season ago (42) and fifth in QB pressures (186). The pass rush experience and knowledge that Miller can infuse into this team on and off the field can take an already elite defense to a whole other level.
No one was more pumped up about Miller coming to Buffalo than defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
"Really excited about Von being here," Frazier told the media Tuesday. "We were excited when he signed with us and wanted to be a Buffalo Bill. He shows that he still has flashes to be able to be a premier pass rusher as we watched him in practice. And we saw it on tape at the end of their season when he played in the Super Bowl and their playoff stretch. He really gave them a lot down the stretch. So, we think there's still a lot left in the tank. He's a Hall of Fame caliber player for sure. And we're looking forward to him helping our pass rush and helping our defense overall."
2. Evaluation of Bills' punter competition
The Bills have a punt competition brewing that will run throughout the offseason, training camp, and the preseason. Matt Haack, who struggled in his first year with the team, will be competing against rookie Matt Araiza to win the starting punting job in 2022. Even though punting is the main job, holding is another big factor and something Haack does very well. Holding is something that Araiza never did in college and has been working on since being drafted. First-year special teams coordinator Matthew Smiley has told both punters that the competition won't be won by a single punt – it's about consistency.
"First and foremost, both Matts are phenomenal humans," Smiley said. "They're both respectful, they're both hard-working, and they're both conscientious. So, the dynamic in the room has been wonderful. What I told Matt Haack before Matt Araiza got here after the draft was that it's not Matt Haack's responsibility to help him out. If he sees something and wants to say something, that's fine, but Matt Haack is not being judged on how he's interacting with Matt Araiza.
"But both guys have been tremendous pros. They've worked together. Reid (Ferguson) has to really step up and be a leader in that room because he's in the middle of a punter competition, too. And same with Tyler, those guys working together and being responsible professionals, they've all done a heck of a job."
Scroll to see photos as the Buffalo Bills put in field work during Phase 3 of OTA's.
3. Quality reps for the backups in the secondary throughout OTAs
With the first three phases of OTAs being voluntary, the coaches know that 100% participation for every practice will be rare. Frazier said in the opening comments of his press conference that there are guys he'd like to have around more but is proud of the participation they've had this offseason. Veteran safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde have been absent from OTAs so far but Frazier has been in contact with both players and hopes to see them on the field soon.
"We've been texting back and forth, and just trying to keep them engaged in that way," Frazier said. "We've had some good back and forth conversations, of course, Micah was here a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, I think Jordan is in a good place mentally. He's still staying in touch with his teammates and hopefully, we'll see him soon."
With the absence of veteran players in the secondary, it's been an opportunity for some of the younger/depth players to get quality reps in practice and improve their game.
"I think Jaquan (Johnson), he's the guy who's probably had the most experience when Micah and Jordan haven't played," Frazier added. "That shows some of the things that he's doing. He's playing with a lot of confidence in these OTAs. He was really good at phase one and phase two with taking charge and leading. You would expect that because of where he is in his career. Whereas Damar (Hamlin) is still developing and still finding his way, but he's growing. One of the benefits of the starting safeties not being here is he gets a lot of reps. So, Damar is growing in that way.
"One of the new guys, Nick McCloud, he's in there and getting some reps as well. Watching him develop and grow, along with Josh Thomas, now he's been on the practice squad and that's a lot different than actually being out there working with the top defense. So, it's good to see him interact and communicate and get some snaps he wouldn't ordinarily get. And so, we'll just see how he continues to progress as well. But I think the fact that our starters aren't here is really benefiting those young guys."
4. What stood out about Matt Araiza to the Bills coaching staff
Matt Araiza was one of the most popular names throughout the draft process. Famous for his booming punts in college, Araiza also was a kicker in college and has a lot of versatility if needed on special teams. For first-year special teams coordinator Matthew Smiley, there was one thing that he's seen out of the rookie punter that has caught his eye.
"I got a chance to watch Matt Araiza a couple of times and I got to talk with him during the process," Smiley shared. "He does not have as much experience in college as a punter, but he has a natural gift with a strong left leg. The thing that was most I would say interesting and most encouraging to me was his mindset of that constant improvement. So, what I did in the season, how I saw him change that into going into the Combine at Indy, how I even saw that get better before he did his Pro Day out west. It was that constant improvement and that mindset that was very attractive."
5. Tough competition for kick/punt returner spot
In 2021, receivers Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson took over most of the kick/punt return responsibilities. This offseason those two have been competing with a few other players to see who best fits the role. The Bills signed Tavon Austin last week which adds to the level of competition for those spots. Matthew Smiley is excited to see how this battle shakes out throughout training camp and the preseason.
"One of the cool things about having two punters, they've been punting a lot, so those returners, we're also charting all those guys' returns," Smiley said. "But they've gotten a ton of live-leg work, and both left-footed punters, so that's tougher for returners. So those guys have been getting a bunch of live-leg catches both in the period and during warmups. We're filming those and charting those. They're all having the opportunity to get live-leg work and we'll just keep letting those guys compete and sort itself out."