Only a few practices in, but there are already a number of compelling figures among the 91 players at Bills camp. Players are scrambling to make the roster or attempting to lock-down starting positions. Young players are looking to take the next step in their careers. Players are rebounding from injury and some newcomers are just hoping to make a good first impression.
Pittsford is full of stories on this first weekend of training camp. Below I pick one player from each position group with the most interesting storyline to follow during Bills training camp. Here’s my list …
1. Josh Allen, quarterback
Matt Barkley is in his first camp with the Bills, and undrafted rookie Tyree Jackson has started the uphill climb towards a roster spot. But Josh Allen is the most compelling quarterback on the roster, as coaches and fans look for signs that he’s ready to advance his push to be the team’s franchise signal caller.
When asked in the offseason where Allen must improve this year, Bills coaches and personnel executives had generally the same response – decision making. And Allen offered an example of how his decision making has improved already, citing a snap in Friday’s 11-on-11 portion of practice.
“Today, for the first time, I was pretty pumped,” Allen told One Bills Live, talking about a third-down play against a blitz look.
“They were showing double a-gap blitz and it was third down and two. I switched the protection, moved it left, and at the snap everybody jumped out. At that moment I could see Frank (Gore) in my vision, I could see Micah (Hyde) dropping out, and I thought – let’s just get the ball to him. Let’s just get the ball to somebody that’s short (pass route) but is going to get the first down. I went straight to my outlet, in Frank, and I think that was the best decision I made all day.”
Allen illustrates the push for a new dimension the Bills are looking for in their passing game. And it’s not related to his accuracy, it’s more about his quick decision-making — deciding to dump off to a short pass to pick up a first down rather than wait for something to possibly open-up downfield. Good signs as camp begins with much more work to come.
2. Devin Singletary, running back
It’s a full-house backfield — maybe not on the field but in the meeting room. And the Bills will have some decisions to make on LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, and others.
The decision on Devin Singletary seems simple — how much playing time will he get. He looks as advertised through the first few training camp practices – quick, elusive, and a big-play threat once he gets outside. The question will be how much he will develop as an asset in the passing game – as a receiver and a blocker. That will be a work in progress at camp.
3. Cole Beasley, wide receiver
He missed most of the spring time reps in OTAs and minicamp, so Cole Beasley is just getting comfortable with his new quarterback and new offense. Beasley figures to play an important role in Buffalo’s passing game this season — he has a chance to lead the team in receptions. But his first few training camp workouts have been focused on finding chemistry with Josh Allen.
“Now that we’re finally getting the reps together, we can finally get it to click,” Beasley told reporters at camp. “It’s gonna take a little bit. He’s gotta get used to seeing me running routes and I gotta get used to seeing him throwing it back there. It’ll come. It won’t take us too long. I’d say give us about a week, man.”
4. Dawson Knox, tight end
With Tyler Kroft out for a while, and Jason Croom limited with a hamstring, it’s a wide-open door at tight end. Third-round draft pick Dawson Knox from Ole Miss started camp the way he finished minicamp —running with the first team and looking impressive. Unfortunately, Knox is now sidelined with a hamstring injury according to head coach Sean McDermott. McDermott said Knox and the team are just taking it day-by-day at this point.
Based on Knox's work in the spring and the first week of camp, it looks like he will have a key role in Buffalo's offense this season.
During the pre-draft process, Knox missed the Senior Bowl last January with an injury, but the executive director of that showcase game for draft prospects says he had Knox graded as high as the draft’s top tight end.
“I’m a huge believer in Dawson’s ability,” Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy told One Bills Live. “T.J. Hockenson went eight overall in the draft to the Detroit Lions and I didn’t see very much difference between those two players, and you got your guy in the third round. The Lions spent a top 10 pick on theirs. I think Hockensen is a great player so I’m not knocking that pick, I just think Dawson Knox has the ability to be pretty much the same guy at the next level.”
5. Ty Nsekhe, tackle
Four seasons, 56 NFL games, but only 16 starts in Ty Nsekhe’s career. He’s had limited reps with the Bills No. 1 offensive line in training camp. Yet you get the feeling the Bills know what they have in Nsekhe — a versatile swing tackle for either side, and a 33-year old NFL veteran they can plug in and start whenever they’re ready.
They’re using rookie Cody Ford with the ones on the right side so far and third-year man Dion Dawkins at left tackle. Don’t be shocked if Nsekhe gets plugged into the first unit sometime during camp.
Click through to see the best photos from Day 3 of 2019 Buffalo Bills Training Camp, presented by Connors and Ferris.
6. Ed Oliver, defensive line
First team, second team — with all the rotation on the defensive line it doesn’t matter much. But the Bills are being patient with first round draft pick Ed Oliver in the first few days of camp.
Head coach Sean McDermott sounded patient the other day when he talked about Oliver’s play at camp.
“It’s a journey, so it just takes some time.” McDermott said. “He’ll have to go through really everything that the rookies go through in terms of getting themselves acclimated to the NFL. There’s a jump. There’s a gap between major college football even in the NFL, so he’s got a long way to go right now.”
Oliver’s in the first few days of his first camp. Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is in his 15th camp. Alexander gave One Bills Live his early impressions of Ed Oliver.
“Obviously he’s talented,” according to Alexander. “I think he’s still swimming a little bit, just still trying to understand how to play football at this level but that’s going to come. Of course, we want him to be dominant but there’s a learning curve — you have to learn how to win, how to set-up guys, because the talent is at a different level. You’re not going to be able to just blow by guys.”
7. Matt Milano, linebacker
If you didn’t know Matt Milano missed the final three games last year, you’d never know from watching the early days of training camp. An exhaustive rehab regimen this offseason after Milano dislocated his ankle and fractured his fibula has put him seemingly right where he was last year, making plays at outside linebacker for the Bills.
8. Kevin Johnson, cornerback
With 16 defensive backs in training camp, there’s plenty of performers to keep an eye on. The most interesting defensive back might be fifth-year veteran cornerback Kevin Johnson, a former first round draft pick of the Texans.
Johnson has received a few first team reps opposite Tre’Davious White in the early days of camp and some snaps at nickel corner. Injuries limited him to just five starts for the Texans the last two years, and he made the move to the Bills in unrestricted free agency.
Texans.com analyst John Harris, also the sideline reporter on the Texans radio network, told One Bills Live that a healthy Kevin Johnson, with a position coach he’s familiar with could restore Johnson’s confidence and make him an important part of Buffalo’s secondary.
“If he’s physically right, and he gets his confidence, and now he’s back with (Bills DBs Coach) John Butler, who coached him here in Houston, I think there’s value there,” Harris said. “You talk about quick, fast, tough, a guy that doesn’t back down from anybody—I love Kevin Johnson.”
“He’s not Tre’Davious White, he’s not Jalen Ramsey, but he’s a good solid football player who could find his way on the field.”