1. Morse makes welcome return at center
He was by no means a full participant. In fact, center Mitch Morse was wearing a red non-contact jersey at practice, but there was a spring in his step as he went through walk-through plays from scrimmage and individual position drills on Tuesday.
“It was nice to be out there and simulate some plays, breaking the huddle, analyzing the defense, breaking down each play call and going from there. It was fun. It was a blast,” said Morse. “I had a really good time. I’m feeling great and we’re taking the proper steps. I have to tip my hat to (head athletic trainer) Nate (Breske) and the crew in here, especially (physical therapist) Joe Micca, who was with me every day working like a dog with me and putting me through the right steps.”
Morse and Josh Allen have spent a lot of time in the meeting rooms to go over most of the offense as well as line calls and protections, but there’s no substitute for getting physical reps on the field.
“It helps getting the feel of how he is on the field,” said Allen. “Even if it is just walk through knowing where he snaps it, where he prefers my hands. Just him being out there and communicating with the guys on every play. It’s good for the whole team, the offense especially when he’s out there and getting used to things and you can see things from that perspective.”
Even better is Morse, who was expected to be full go by training camp, told the media he expects to be “good to go” for mandatory minicamp next week. We’ll know for sure next Tuesday when minicamp begins.
2. Center position still shuffling
Despite the encouraging return of Morse, Buffalo offensive line coach Bobby Johnson is still shuffling through a bevy of options in the pivot.
On Tuesday, with Morse unable to take team reps in practice yet, Jeremiah Sirles was the choice to run with the starting unit at center. Unfortunately for Sirles he limped off after the first team series and did not return.
Stepping in for him at center with the ones was Jon Feliciano, who began the day manning left guard next to Sirles. Left to right the top unit was originally Dion Dawkins, Feliciano, Sirles, Spencer Long and Cody Ford. After Sirles stepped out of practice, Feliciano moved into the middle, Long flipped from right to left guard and Wyatt Teller came on to man the right guard spot.
Perhaps even more interesting was the appearance of second-year player Ike Boettger at center with the second team offensive line. Boettger has never played center before. He was signed by the Bills last year as an undrafted rookie and was exclusively a guard.
After not making Buffalo’s 53-man roster last summer he was claimed off waivers by Kansas City. He only spent a week with the Chiefs before they had to waive him for other roster needs and he was reclaimed by the Bills. He eventually appeared in four games for Buffalo over the last five weeks of the 2018 campaign.
Now trying to learn center on the fly, Boettger is leaning on Morse, who helped him for a good 30 minutes after practice.
“Ike was in Kansas City with us for a hot week last year, so I knew Ike,” Morse said. “So he’s a guy I had an open line of communication with when I knew I was coming here. He’s one of my favorite people. In this camp he’s been thrown in at center, a position he hasn’t played before and he’s taken to it with grace. And he’s done a really good job. A ton of reps, but that’s how you get better. He’s been doing it and he’s on the cusp of being a really good football player.”
Spencer Long was also assisting Boettger with Morse long after practice was over.
3. Offense held accountable
The early stages of the team periods for Buffalo’s offense were a little ragged with back-to-back false starts by a couple of rookies running with the first unit. After the team period ended, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called the entire group up and delivered a tongue lashing.
Suffice to say the message emphatically declared that the players stay onsides.
“That was coach Daboll,” said Morse of who was yelling. “He brought the juice.”
According to Josh Allen, Pat DiMarco also had some choice words to hold players accountable. For a leader like Allen it’s nice to know it doesn’t always have to be him to step forward when something needs to be said.
“It’s a team for a reason,” Allen said. “We’ve got guys in different positions who step up and fill roles and any one person can say anything. We want this to be a family-like atmosphere where somebody can step up and it doesn’t matter who it is and say something meaningful for the team no matter who it is.”
The rhythm of the passing game seemed to ebb and flow Tuesday. With Zay Jones, Jason Croom and John Brown not participating the Bills were relying on Robert Foster, Ray-Ray McCloud, Andre Roberts and Dawson Knox to pick up the slack.
Click through to see the best photos from the third week of Buffalo Bills 2019 OTAs.
4. Pass rush flashing again
Buffalo’s pass rush is dead set on accumulating more sacks in 2019 than they did last season when they ranked 26th with just 36. Last week in OTAs, the defense got a few tag off sacks. On Tuesday they bagged a few more.
Shaq Lawson had the first sack of the day when he outflanked Josh Allen on a roll out to the left and tagged him off.
Jerry Hughes then appeared to get home on a short pass play from Allen to McCloud as the coaches did blow the whistle.
And Lorenzo Alexander got a sack, which led to an overthrow and an interception by Jordan Poyer.
“I feel like our pass rush is coming along well,” Hughes told Buffalobills.com. “We’re just knocking off the rust and making sure we keep our lines of communication open. Understanding how each play works and how each call brings something different to the table.”
5. Lineup notes
Both Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon saw their first action in team segments since Week 1 of OTAs on Tuesday. Both had carries on Tuesday and Yeldon also demonstrated his more than capable pass-catching ability. Yeldon had a career-high 55 receptions for Jacksonville last year.
The nickel corner battle appears to have three candidates. Taron Johnson still has a hold on the starting nickel role. EJ Gaines, who has seen time covering the slot, was not practicing today, but second-year defensive back Siran Neal and CB Denzel Rice manned the nickel role with the second and third unit respectively.
LB Corey Thompson got sprinkled in for a few reps with the first unit at linebacker in place of Matt Milano. With Ed Oliver not practicing due to shoulder soreness, Kyle Peko filled the void with the second unit.
Mike Love moved up to the second unit at left defensive end while Eddie Yarbrough got third team reps at right defensive end.