One week in the books. Eight more weeks to follow on the Bills offseason workout schedule. Bills veterans ran and lifted their way through the first week of offseason workouts. Phase one lasts for two weeks, and activity is limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation as specifically spelled out in the CBA. Only the strength and conditioning staff can work with and watch players on field, but the coaching staff can do limited classroom work with the players for part of the day.
Here are some initial observations from week one of the Bills offseason conditioning program:
1. NEW SEASON – NEW CHALLENGES
A nine-win season, the end of the playoff drought, an impressive recovery from a three-game losing streak in November—those were the hallmarks of Buffalo’s 2017 season. And they mean nothing now, going into 2018, according to Head Coach Sean McDermott.
“This is a new team,” McDermott said this week, in an appearance on The John Murphy Show. “There’s new people on board. New personalities and a new culture. Certainly, we will carry forward some things, but we have to start over. We have to earn the right to get back to where we were and climb higher.”
McDermott delivered that message to his returning players on their first day back last Monday.
2. LEANING ON THE LEADERS IN THE LOCKER ROOM**
One big part of what McDermott built in Buffalo last year needs to carry over into his second year—internal leadership in the locker room. Even with the departure of veterans like Eric Wood and Tyrod Taylor, the Bills will expect their veteran leaders to show the way to the rest of the team.
“Those are the guys I’m really leaning on to take great ownership of who we are this year,” McDermott says. “Those leaders will take the lead. I think player driven leadership is important in our locker room.”
The returning leaders know that. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander says even this first week on the field during conditioning work, Bills players began looking around to see who would assume the leadership mantle.
“We kinda had something happen on the field the other day and from the leadership group, we were like, ‘you gotta be a leader,’’’ Alexander said. “And this guy wasn’t quite sure. He wasn’t quite sure how he fits and it if was his place. Now, it has to be his place.”
3. O-LINE CUPBOARD IS NOT BARE
Eric Wood is gone. So is Richie Incognito. Cordy Glenn, who started five games at left tackle last year, is now a Cincinnati Bengal.
So, there will be changes up front for the Bills offensive line this year. But they have some experienced candidates on the roster already who can line up and play.
Ryan Groy saw limited action last year, but in 2016 he started the final seven games of the year at center after Wood got hurt.
Free agent signee Russell Bodine has started every single game at center for Cincinnati since he came into the league four years ago. And Dion Dawkins was the starter at left tackle for the Bills for the final 11 games of the year. Marshall Newhouse was signed up front to provide some depth.
McDermott likes what he sees up front so far and likes the potential for improvement from the o-line group.
“These guys are stepping up and that’s what you want to see,” McDermott says. “They understand what’s at stake; they understand there’s an opportunity for them to step up and increase their leadership influence.”
4. FREE AGENT FOCUS ON DEFEFNSIVE FRONT – A WORK IN PROGRESS
The new additions to the Bills defensive front have been front and center in the first week of offseason workouts. DT Star Lotulelei and DE Trent Murphy were the two biggest names free agents the Bills signed to play up front. But there’s still a need for talent and depth at linebacker, particularly in the middle.
General Manager Brandon Beane has next week’s draft and more free agency to add some pieces to the LB room. “We’ll find an answer,” Beane said this week.
And Coach McDermott sounds confident that any holes the roster has will be filled.
“That’s the great part of Brandon (Beane),” McDermott said this week. “He knows it’s not where it needs to be. He’s always trying to find a way to improve it..and I think they’ve done a phenomenal job to this point.”
5. NEW OFFENSE TO LEARN
It will be another week and a half until Bills coaches can be on the field with players for some rudimentary run through of plays and schemes. Until then, it’s just a couple of hours of meeting time with the coaching staff, including the Bills new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
But there has been meeting time with Daboll—enough time to leave second year quarterback Nathan Peterman with a positive impression.
“I think he’s extremely smart,” Peterman says. “I think he’ s very knowledgeable in a lot of places and has a lot of experience. Just to be around him, you kind of get a feel for that and you can tell just how much knowledge he has to bring.’
6. INJURY REHAB IN FULL SWING
It’s not just conditioning that’s being monitored in the Bills offseason work—it’s recovery from injuries from last year. At the wide receiver spot, the Bills have a couple of important players on the comeback trail.
Kelvin Benjamin suffered a meniscus injury in mid-November last year and fought through it with limited practice reps for the rest of the season. He’s on the field for the workouts, looking leaner and healthier than ever.
“Kelvin came in and he looks like he’s ready go do,” McDermott told the media this week.
Second-year wideout Zay Jones is getting high marks for his first week of conditioning as he returns from offseason shoulder surgery.