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6 superlatives from the 2022 Bills offseason

James Cook (28) at Buffalo Bills Media Day, May 12, 2022.  Photo by Ben Green
James Cook (28) at Buffalo Bills Media Day, May 12, 2022. Photo by Ben Green

1. Biggest Leadership Development – Josh Allen

This first surfaced at the tail end of the 2021 season when Josh Allen embraced being the primary vocal leader of the team. Leadership has always come naturally to Allen, but the vocal part requires a balance, especially when appealing to the defensive or special teams' side of the ball.

Allen as a younger player always tried to be respectful of the veteran leaders on the roster like Lorenzo Alexander, Jerry Hughes, Micah Hyde and Kyle Williams.

But as GM Brandon Beane explained, Allen has completely accepted full ownership of being the chief motivator for the whole team because that's what the team wants.

"Going back to New England, we had to win that game if we were going to win the division," Beane said. "And some of his leadership things that he did leading up to that game and in the locker room pre-game and all the way through until we lost in KC.

"He didn't want to try and tell veteran guys that are older than him what to do or this is what we need to do. I think he was hesitant to do that. But I think the light came on for him (late last season). He knew those guys wanted that out of him. And he's led ever since. He's led this offseason. We've had really good participation. And it starts with your quarterback."

2. Most Noticeable Roster Difference – Defensive line

It's the position group that saw the most turnover from last season to this season on the roster. New arrivals include a pair of familiar faces in Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, who return after leaving for big free agent deals after the 2019 season.

Von Miller is the headline addition who could deliver a giant shot in the arm for a pass rush in need of better results. But the signings of DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle for the defensive interior have been vastly underrated.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier knows all too well that they need to pull all the new pieces together into a cohesive unit in the weeks and months to come, but he's confident it will materialize.

"I think (defensive line coach) Eric Washington and (Assistant defensive line coach) Marcus West are doing a really good job of laying a foundation fundamentally for the guys that are here," said Frazier. "There's a lot of turnover at the position. So, we really had to go back to the drawing board when it came to introducing them to how we do things on defense. And I think the guys would grasp that and they're growing through the process. But it's a process and there's a lot more to come and training camp will be a big part of our progression and how well we end up becoming as the year goes on."

Provided the blend of players up front makes the progress anticipated, Buffalo's defensive front could be significantly more productive than it was last season.

3. Most talked about newcomer – James Cook

Offensive players typically look more advanced during spring workouts where defensive players cannot employ the physical parts of their game to playing defense. But what rookie running back James Cook has been able to put on the field through OTAs and minicamp has a lot of veteran players talking.

"The rook is awesome," said center Mitch Morse. "Mr. Cook, he's a stud. A quiet guy but a ferocious competitor, all ball, which everyone appreciates. And I think he's going to be a great asset for our team and our locker room."

Cook demonstrated some skills that are superior for a player at the running back position. He's got juice as evidenced by his 4.42 40-time at the NFL combine and he has polished route running skills. His Bills teammates didn't need a lot of convincing, which is why he figures to have a role as a formidable weapon coming out of the backfield.

4. Most Effective Body Composition Change – Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham

The first two draft choices for the Bills in 2021 showed some flashes of ability in their rookie seasons, but too often they were unable to carry good production from one week into the next. In fairness, Boogie Basham was inactive for nine games last season.

Rousseau had plenty of time on the field starting all 17 games, but his production was up and down as he finished with four sacks, an interception, 10 QB hits, 8 tackles for loss, four passes defensed and a forced fumble.

And while the proof will be in their performance once they start lining up and playing real football in the fall, both Rousseau and Basham have transformed their bodies after their first full offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program to make sure that happens.

"For me and Greg, we came in together, and we spent a lot of time together off the field and on the field," said Basham. "So, it's more of us, just feeding off one another. We had okay seasons last year, so we're building off that, so we have a great season."

Basham cut weight to improve his explosiveness off the snap. The result has been a dramatic change in body composition.

"I've been mainly focused on getting my body weight down," Basham said. "Especially last year playing around 285. I'm in the low 270s right now so I feel like this will be a big jump from last year to this year."

"Boogie has made strides and huge leaps just compared with last year," said AJ Epenesa. "He wasn't slow by any means last year. But we can tell he's got that little extra twitch, that extra step that you can tell he's been working this offseason to improve his body so he can help our team win and have success. Shout out to Boog for putting all that work in and we can see that it's working for him."  

Rousseau has added eight to 10 pounds of lean muscle mass to his upper body and appears stronger at the line of scrimmage.

"You've got to just keep on getting stronger," Rousseau said. "I feel like, year in, year out, your body kind of just naturally fills out and you kind of get a feel for where you move the best and where you're going to be most comfortable when it comes to the weight you have on and how fast you're moving."

5. Most encouraging player forecast – Gabriel Davis, Ed Oliver

Over his first two seasons in the league, wide receiver Gabriel Davis, as the team's fourth receiver, has 13 touchdown catches on just 70 receptions. Davis was in the end zone once for every 5.38 receptions. That scoring frequency only went up in the postseason with a touchdown every 2.8 receptions.

Add in the fact that he had three touchdown catches called back on penalties in 2020 and the thought about what he could produce in a full-time role is tantalizing.

Davis put together a strong spring demonstrating the chemistry he and Josh Allen put on display in the Divisional playoff last season in Kansas City is still very healthy. And for Davis it's invaluable.

"It gives you a lot of confidence," Davis said. "I mean, a guy that caliber to be able to lean on and know that he can lean on you in those tight-pressure situations is what you work so hard for, to have the team trust you. I want everybody on that team to know when I'm out there on the field, they're going to get my best and they can trust me when I'm out there to win the matchup."

Knowing his snap count will undoubtedly go up in 2022, his production could be eye popping.

The case is similar for fourth-year DT Ed Oliver. After posting career highs in tackles for loss (10) and quarterback hits (14) last season along with four sacks, Oliver's game is expected to take another sizable step forward.

Part of the reason is the new crew of defensive tackles that will be lining up next to him in Jordan Phillips, DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle. The year that Oliver had his career high in sacks was the last time he lined up alongside Jordan Phillips.

"Those guys played alongside each other and to be able to see them united again, it should help Ed's game," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "Ed played tremendously for us a year ago, but being able to get a guy like Daquan Jones, I mean, having him in there lining up with Ed and Jordan, I think it bodes well for what we're trying to do up front."

All three new defensive tackles are collectively a more athletically dominant group than their predecessors and will demand attention. That is expected to create more one-on-one matchups for Oliver, who is a handful in such situations.

Oliver could even have instances in which he's lined up alongside edge rusher Von Miller, which would be no fun for opposing offensive linemen either.

6. Best Philanthropic Action – Bills feed East Buffalo families after tragic shooting

We all been witness to some horrific and tragic mass shootings across the country over the last several years, but as a community we unfortunately got an up-close view of how profound the loss is when an out-of-town assailant committed a hate crime when he took the lives of 10 black members of our own Buffalo community on May 14th.

Wearing black shirts with a Bills logo and the words, 'Choose Love,' the players on Buffalo's roster as well as coaches arrived on Jefferson Avenue by buss at the site of the shooting to pay their respects to those who were lost. They also served food the community, who with their only grocery store closed for the investigation, were without access to a reliable food supply.

"I think our team and our organization handled that with the community, in heart and in mind, so, for us to do that, I was proud of our turnout," said Josh Allen. "For guys like Stefon Diggs, who really hadn't been here up until this point for OTAs, fly in just for that day, and then fly out, just because it meant that much to him. So, in terms of guys showing up and doing what was right, it was very good to see. And again, it's not just one thing that we're going to do and forget about. We got to continue to bring them up, keep them in our thoughts and prayers and understand that it's going to take time to get through it."

Members of the Bills Alumni as well as Terry and Kim Pegula came to Jefferson Avenue to pay their respects and assist as well.

The Bills are still taking donations to assist those families directly impact through the 'Buffalo Together Community Response Fund.'

Scroll to see the best photos of the Buffalo Bills weight room workouts during OTAs.

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