Most inspiring approach ...
Josh Allen is many things to the Buffalo Bills. Franchise quarterback, vocal leader, great teammate, but his inner drive has not only raised his personal game, it has inspired others on the roster to meet his standard.
"My bar is higher than anything that anybody else can set for me," said Allen. "So, I'm very internally driven and it doesn't really matter what people say. I care about being the best quarterback that I can be for the Bills and best teammate I can be for my teammates."
That's why Allen's plans for the break between minicamp and training camp is anything but surprising.
"I'll continue to work out, make sure by body is good, trying to approach peak performance," he said. "Still getting together with some guys and throwing whether it be in California, or Florida or wherever it may be. Make sure that I'm staying in contact and get some good reps in with those guys."
Biggest lesson learned ...
As successful as the 2020 campaign was for the Bills where they set single-season marks and won their first couple of playoff games in a quarter century, coaches and players know relying on last year's success this year is fool's gold.
"You can't really get caught up whether it was a season that you wish you did better or did well," said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll in reference to 2020. "Really, none of that matters. You wish you could bottle up some of the things that you did and say, 'Boy, just put it out there and do it.' But the reality of it is, it's not the same team.
"There are a lot of the same guys, but there's also 15 new people, so when you put everybody together in a room, you don't know how everybody's going to react when things aren't great, you don't have a great practice or you miss a pass. You have to build those relationships because we're in a relationship business, figuring out how guys work. Do they respond better to tougher criticism, less? How they work together. You've got to jell as a team. And this is the start of what we're trying to do, just trying to jell as a group more than anything."
The players know they're a different team than they were last year. Hopefully even better, but different.
Most valuable continuity ...
While there is a great deal of players returning from last season including the top six offensive linemen from last year's squad and the entire back seven on defense for a fourth straight season, the most valuable continuity Buffalo returns to the squad this season is its coordinator contingent.
Although Brian Daboll and Leslie Frazier both interviewed for head coaching jobs elsewhere in the league, they return for their fourth straight season as a tandem running the Bills offense and defense respectively. That continuity offers their respective units to drill down on details because there is already an established foundation in place.
"There's a value in the cohesiveness of the group, no doubt," said head coach Sean McDermott. "Within that cohesion though, you have to also be careful not to get stale and you have to always embrace the growth mindset to continue to grow, continue to push the envelope. But there is that familiarity, and that also allows us to take further steps into those finer points, the more granular pieces of the game and it seems like we're always chasing it."
It's those nuances of the game and situational football that can often mean the difference in games in a league that is so tightly packed in talent level.
"Guys aren't so much concerned about the playbook. They already know the playbook," said Matt Milano. "It's more about getting those small details tuned up in order to make those plays to help the team win. We're rolling."
Most noticeable roster difference ...
In a word, size.
While most know that draft class additions like Greg Rousseau, Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle are all 6-7 plus, they re-signed Daryl Williams (6-6, 330) and Jon Feliciano (6-4, 325) and have a total of 28 players 6-4 or taller.
Jordan Poyer is already seeing the benefits of the size on the edge with AJ Epenesa (6-6, 260) and top pick Greg Rousseau.
"Greg is big, I saw him for the first time and that dude is huge," Poyer said. "He's going to immediately get his hand up and give you opportunities to make plays on the football. It's awesome to see these guys coming here working and buying into the system."
Dion Dawkins (6-5, 330) saw much of the same in the rookie offensive tackles in Brown and Doyle.
"Big kids – and I mean big kids," he said. "The size is definitely there, the talent is definitely there and the will is definitely there. I'm extremely excited for these guys. They have great personalities. They all listen, learn, they understand the playbook extremely well, already. It's been going well and I'm really excited to watch their growth. They're here to take jobs and they're here to put pressure on the older guys and that's what this sport is all about. So I am happy to see where these kids go and their growth with making us better and us making them better."
Most effective body composition change ...
As a rookie the word was that defensive end AJ Epenesa came in too light last season and spent a good portion of the first half of the 2020 season trying to get his playing weight and body composition in the ideal place for him to be effective on the field.
Determined not to ever let that happen again, the second-year edge player spent the entire offseason in Buffalo with the team's strength and conditioning staff. The results have been obvious to anyone who has laid eyes on him this spring.
"What we've seen of A.J., I don't want to say a total body makeover, but where he is weight-wise and his approach, he's been really, really good," said defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. "He spent most of his offseason here in Buffalo working with our strength coach Eric Ciano and it's paying off. He's able to maintain his weight, which was an issue for him during the season last year. He was fluctuating. It was really hard for him to keep weight up. But now he's more stabilized and has gotten stronger. He's more explosive. He's really benefited from staying here and working with our strength staff.
"I'm anxious to see once we get to training camp if some of the things we're seeing now will transfer to what we're going to do with pads on. But man he looks really, really good at this point."
"He's taken reps against me and I can physically feel the difference," said Dawkins. "He's not a feather anymore. He's growing and I'm very excited to see what AJ does next. But he took that first step and that was to get his body and his weight right. And he's on the right course, and that's all we can ask as teammates that he's headed in the right direction to better yourself and better the football team."
Most encouraging player forecast ...
Devin Singletary is a player who knew an element of his game had to change for the better in a big way. So the Bills back linked up with personal trainer Nick Hicks at Per4orm near his south Florida home and got to work.
"Speed was the number one thing that he wanted to work on," said Hicks in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live.’ "He's very quick, extremely agile, but speed was the main reason why he reached out to us to come train with us. I looked at data and Devin lacked that big play speed where he'd be able to break through the second level and then get to the third level and then have long touchdown so I think he was very in tune with that. He came to me and said, 'Hey man, I need to get faster.' And I said, 'I completely agree.'"
The result according to Hicks is Singletary has shaved a couple of tenths off his 40 time, which privately was in the 4.5s. He ran a 4.66 at the NFL Combine.
"We didn't sit there and try to make him into 100 meter sprinter," said Hicks. "We just tried to make him, I guess two tenths, three tenths faster than what he what he what he was coming back in. We literally left no stone unturned this offseason, so yes he's going to be way faster, way more explosive than the Devin Singletary you guys are used to. Motor's got a motor now."
Going the extra mile ...
By no means is Dawson Knox the only player who put in extra work this offseason. Scores of players on Buffalo's roster have put additional time in to improve their personal game. But Knox took it another level.
He went out west to spend part of the virtual offseason with Josh Allen so they could physically rep what was being taught in the Zoom meetings.
"It was great being with Josh. We just did a bunch of routes and it was during our first phase of Zoom meetings. So if there was a new play or route concept Dabes (Brian Daboll) was installing, we were able to take it straight to the field. He kind of would work through some of the points where he would tell me what he was looking for. When to give him eyes on certain routes and real little details that we were able to hammer down on some of the new stuff, which was nice."
Knox also spent time with a hand-eye coordination trainer in California to improve his catching consistency. He'll additionally be attending Tight End U in Nashville with the likes of San Francisco's George Kittle, Kansas City's Travis Kelce and former college teammate and New York Giants tight end Evan Engram to gather more intel on becoming a difference making tight end in the league.
Glad to see again ...
If Ed Oliver exuberantly jumping on top of him when he first reported to mandatory minicamp was any indication, defensive players are ecstatic to see Star Lotulelei back.
After opting out in 2020 in the throes of the COVID pandemic, the veteran defensive tackle is reinvigorated to resume his NFL career with the Bills.
As motivated as he might be to play with his teammates in Buffalo again, those who line up with him are even more excited about his return knowing what he means to their defensive front.
"It's huge man," said Matt Milano. "Star is a beast up there. He gets the job done. You know he's going to make some plays. So just having him back up in that middle clogging things up, creating havoc is always good to have."
Take a look at the best photos from today's minicamp practice in Highmark Stadium.