We're still four months away from the regular season, but the Bills offseason takes an important step forward Monday with the first of the OTAs – Organized Team Activities.
Although it sounds slightly pedantic, OTAs represent the first and best simulated football so far in preseason. The collective bargaining agreement allows each team 10 OTA sessions over the next few weeks which lead into mandatory minicamp. In the OTAs, for the first time, teams can run 7-on-7 drills, 9-on-7 drills (run game) and full team 11-on-11 sessions. There are no pads worn, and no contact allowed.
But for skill position players, and for the passing game overall, OTAs provide a good look at personnel and personnel packages for the coaching staff.
With that in mind, here are eight players to track during the Bills OTA sessions:
WR John Brown and WR Duke Williams
Two different targets to keep an eye on here. Going into his sixth NFL season, the Bills know what to expect from John Brown. They're hoping to get a glimpse of a bona-fide number one NFL receiving target, similar to what Brown showed in the first half of 2018, catching passes from Joe Flacco. Buffalo's Josh Allen has Flacco-like deep pass capability and the two may pair up for some big plays during OTAs.
CFL product Duke Williams has looked and sounded like a man on a mission, in what could be a last shot at making an NFL roster. He's already made an impression on the coaching staff with his demeanor and approach this spring.
Head coach Sean McDermott said this about Williams last week. "I like the fact that he seems to have developed some self-awareness in terms of what went on a few years back to where he is now and knowing what he must do, at least off the field, to prove his worth to people in this league at least, in terms of the decision makers around the league and starting with us."
T Ty Nsekhe
Without pads and without hitting, there's not a lot linemen can do to stand out in OTAs. The question for Bills offensive linemen in the weeks ahead may not be how they're playing, but where.
That question is important to free agent OT Ty Nsekhe. With second round pick Cody Ford expected to get reps at right tackle, and Dion Dawkins a two-year starter on the left side, where does Nsekhe line up? He figures to be ready to jump up from a swing tackle, one of the best in the league for Washington, to a bona fide NFL starter, but where does he work this spring? That question could be asked of several other Bills offensive linemen in the weeks ahead.
RB Devin Singletary
Third round draft pick Devin Singletary gets a chance in the OTAs to show why general manager Brandon Beane enjoyed watching his college tape so much.
"This is the funnest guy I've watched all year," Beane said after drafting Singletary. "The guy's got some amazing vision, rare vision, lateral quickness, and his instincts. Rare instincts, rare vision for the position; he's a smaller guy, wouldn't call him a home run hitter, but he can make guys miss in a phone booth."
Even without contact, there may be some "phone booth" type of situations Singletary can run through in the OTAs.
QB Tyree Jackson
It's a three-man room now, with the retirement of Derek Anderson. And the first two are set—Josh Allen and Matt Barkley. Undrafted rookie Tyree Jackson is the quarterback to keep an eye in the next few weeks. With Anderson gone, Jackson has a chance to earn a spot on the 53-man roster as the third quarterback. He's had a positive and upbeat demeanor in the workouts and rookie development sessions so far, rebounding nicely after the disappointment of going undrafted. But Jackson now has a chance to show that he's more than an impressive athlete with a cannon for an arm. If he can demonstrate some touch and early command of the offensive playbook, his chances of winning a spot on the roster will be enhanced.
DE Mike Love and DT Ed Oliver
Just like the o-line, the defensive line work will be limited by the engagement rules of the OTA. But there are numbers at this position, and the Bills use numbers in their healthy defensive line rotation.
One d-lineman to watch is second-year player Mike Love. GM Brandon Beane called him a standout in the early offseason conditioning workouts this spring.
The undrafted second-year player from South Florida saw action in five games last year. He'll compete with Eddie Yarbrough and rookie Darryl Johnson for snaps in the Bills d-line mix.
Even though first round pick Ed Oliver is a likely starter at three-technique DT, it will be fascinating to watch him in the OTA workouts. His Bills teammates have made mention of Oliver's quickness and pursuit in the spring workouts already.
LB Matt Milano
The Bills are likely to keep a close eye on mobile third-year linebacker Matt Milano in these OTA workouts. His rehab has looked good so far, as he comes back after suffering a fractured and dislocated ankle against the Jets last December. Milano has been participating in the offseason workouts so far and is said to be on schedule to return.