7 things to know about the Bills entering 2021 training camp

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Before the Bills had their first practice of training camp, head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane spoke with the media in-person about this year's COVID-19 protocols, expectations, player health, position battles and more.

Here are seven things to know from today's press conference.

1. Dealing with COVID-19 protocols, Dawkins and Boettger placed on the COVID-19 list

For the second-straight season, the Bills will have to operate with COVID-19 protocols in place. Beane announced that offensive linemen Dion Dawkins and Ike Boettger will miss the beginning of camp due to being placed on the COVID-19 list.

"Those guys will not be out there today," Beane said of Dawkins and Boettger. "They'll go through the standard procedure protocols. And as we're seeing in this country, vaccinated or unvaccinated, sometimes guys that are vaccinated are also getting these breakthrough cases. We've had a couple of those, including counting these guys in that mix."

The difference with protocols this season is there will be certain protocols for unvaccinated players and certain protocols for vaccinated players. Beane and McDermott were clear in the fact that they don't want these separate protocols to divide the locker room, rather they want to use it as a way to show respect to one another and come together.

Beane said when it comes to how players have used social media to share their views on the vaccine, he wants to use it as an opportunity to understand all sides.

"Sometimes stuff gets out in social media, and you don't know how to interpret it," Beane shared. "I've had a lot of conversations with some of the guys you mentioned and other guys that you haven't. It's tough, and guys are trying to educate themselves. They're trying to look at all sides but we've got professionals, and we allow them to express their views.

"As long as it's not going to be a distraction, and that's the point that Sean and I both made we don't believe anything is. I think when we get to out here back on the grass playing football, you'll see where our guys are focused. They're focused on winning."

Teams who meet a certain threshold of vaccinated players can operate differently than a team who is under that threshold. As players returned to One Bills Drive for training camp, there was an uptick in vaccination numbers.

"We're just over 80% that have at least one shot," Beane said. "We've had a lot of guys over the summer that have continued to research. That's all we were trying to do is educate them. Some guys in the middle of summer, some guys even yesterday, showed up and said you know what I think I do want to start that process."

2. Jerry Hughes starts camp on NFI list

Before Bills players can participate in their first practice of camp, they must pass a physical when they report to One Bills Drive. Unfortunately, defensive lineman Jerry Hughes player did not pass his and will miss the start of camp.

"It was from just training over the summer, nothing major," Beane said. "He's got a calf strain, so he'll start on the NFI non-football injury list. Everyone else cleared and should be ready to roll for us."

Scroll through to see photos of the Bills from Media Day 2021.

3. McDermott's first message to the team

There's a lot of familiarity this year at One Bills Drive with Beane and McDermott entering their fifth season together and several players returning, but regardless of that each year begins a bit different than the last. Even though the group is starting over, McDermott did include some familiar phrases in this year's opening message to the team.

"Every year is different, every team is different, but you have to start at square one every year," McDermott said. "You have to start over and you have to, mindset wise, be as humble and hungry as you can be. I found over the years that that humble and hungry approach goes a long way inside the building and outside the building, and just in life in general. That's what we subscribe to, and that's what to expect to see from our team."

When it comes to expectations, McDermott was clear in that there is no easy route to their first game on September 12.

"What we all have to realize is we're not sitting here carrying 13 wins or whatever it was," McDermott said. "Everyone's 0-0, we get that and you have to respect that. The amount of work between where we are and where we need to get to by the time that Pittsburgh Steelers roll in here is, I can just tell a lot."

4. Dealing with high expectations

The expectations are different for this year's team than they were for last year's group. Beane shared that even though a good amount of the roster made it to the AFC Championship, it doesn't mean they get to start at the top. He believes this year's expectations are high, but they're in good hands with McDermott at the helm.

"Everything we did, all the success we had, it doesn't mean anything," Beane said of this year's expectations. "Everybody's 0-0, everybody's at the start line. We have to reestablish the things that we did well last year because people have tape. They're going to watch how we did. Some of the things that we did offensively, we put up some really good numbers. Don't think that teams have not studied that and are going to have game plans to stop that.

"And then, what can we do better? What are the things that we struggled with that maybe didn't help us get over the hump in that AFC Championship game or an earlier game that season? So, high expectations, but it starts here. We have to put the work in and that's the great thing about Sean, he's well-grounded and he keeps the coaches well-grounded and these guys all understand that 2021 is a new year and nothing that we did in 2020 will affect what we do this year."

5. Cody Ford and Zack Moss have the "green light"

Offensive lineman Cody Ford (knee) and running back Zack Moss (ankle) did not finish last season due to injury. Now with an entire offseason devoted to recovery, the two have the green light to hit the field for the first practice of training camp.

"It's good to see them now in a position where they can get out here today," McDermott shared. "Will they be full go? It would be irresponsible for them to be full go at this point, but they do have a green light. We're going to manage them to get them built up in a proper fashion."

6. Camp battles to watch for

With a roster as stacked as the Bills, it's obvious the position battles will be off the charts. There are a few positions that may seem more enticing than others, but Beane explained he will have his eyes on the competition at offensive and defensive line.

"Sean and I believe in building up front and it starts and ends there," Beane said. "We've tried to create a lot of competition, a lot of depth. We have some guys back and some new faces on both of the lines, whether it's through the draft or through free agency. I think you're going to probably see me during the first few days of pads, watching those one-on-ones, and seeing how those guys go.

"We have to have a lot of competition. Our receiver room has a lot of guys in there with a lot of different skill sets. Whether it's size, whether it's quickness, and some speed guys. That return game too, we lost Andre Roberts but we have some different pieces there that are going to be in the mix."

7. Ken Dorsey's new title

Ken Dorsey has added to his title with the Bills. Dorsey is now the Passing Game Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach for the Buffalo Bills. He joined the team in 2019 and has been a huge factor in Josh Allen's growth as a quarterback. McDermott shared Dorsey's value is hard to put into words.

"Ken has shown over the course of his career overall as we worked together in Carolina, my time being around him, that he's earned that title," McDermott said. "He adds a lot to our offense. Again, he puts in a lot of time and he's got a great relationship with Coach Daboll and our quarterbacks in particular."

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