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Bills defensive ends impress Hall of Famer Bruce Smith heading into the 2021 season

Bruce Smith with Mario Addison (97). Buffalo Bills Training Camp. August 24, 2021.    Photo by Bill Wippert
Bruce Smith with Mario Addison (97). Buffalo Bills Training Camp. August 24, 2021. Photo by Bill Wippert

Bruce is loose…at Bills practice.

Bruce Smith has been in Orchard Park since Monday sitting in on team meetings and giving advice to the younger pass rushers. He was out on the practice field on Tuesday and is impressed with the team as a whole.

"From my perspective, I see a lot of great things unfolding right before our very eyes," Smith said.

The Bills focused on beefing up their pass rush this offseason, bringing in Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham via the draft. Both players have shown flashes early in camp of the talent that they possess. Rousseau has had a sack in each of the first two preseason games with Basham getting one this past weekend against the Bears. After Tuesday's practice, Smith compared Rousseau to this former third overall pick.

"He reminds me of Simeon Rice," Smith said. "His body build, and some of the things that he can do out on the field, but his potential is untapped. This young man, obviously, he's got a lot to learn. It's a process of learning it, and it takes time. But I think we can accelerate that process by giving him the knowledge, the tools, and the ability to be able to study and become that student of the game that will excel his performance."

Scroll to see the best photos from day 18 of Buffalo Bills training camp, presented by Connors and Ferris.

Throughout the draft process, Rousseau was labeled a work-in-progress because he only played one full season in college. In that one season at Miami, he won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and was second in the country to Chase Young with 15.5 sacks. The young kid has done a lot in camp and in the preseason to show that he is ready to contribute right now. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is impressed with what Rousseau has put on film in the preseason.

"With Greg [Rousseau], the things that we've seen in practice, we've seen in the games," Frazier stated. "We've seen him do a great job of understanding what we're trying to do schematically, not making a lot of mental errors in practice, playing with force in practice, hustling and just fitting in very well. And then the same thing has happened in these first two preseason games, he's gone out and performed at a high level, and hasn't had a lot of snaps."

Both Rousseau and Basham were young children when Bruce Smith retired but they know a lot about what Smith did in the NFL. The two rookies spoke with Smith via Zoom when they were drafted by the Bills, but it was different having him out at practice with them. They were able to pick his brain and use his knowledge of the game to make themselves better. The rookie pass rushers were honored that Smith came back to work with them.

"It's awesome and it's a blessing," Rousseau said. "In life, knowledge is key. You can learn from everybody, whether it's players, coaches, or former players. You can take something from everybody's game and put it into yours. … He's a really big dude and the way he uses length was great. So, I'm definitely going to try and do some of the things that he did during his career. Just using his hands being able to lock dudes out, diagnose run pass keys and stuff like that."

"It was great," Basham said. "Especially in the meeting this morning just giving us small little tips, and little nuggets here and there. That small stuff goes a long way. So, I feel like even though he wasn't really out there, but he was talking to us in the beginning. That's just the little things right there that can make a big difference."

Another young pass rusher that will benefit from Smith's advice is AJ Epenesa. The second-year defensive end looks like a different player on the field compared to his rookie season. With a full offseason to train and get to his ideal playing weight, Epenesa brings more power and speed to the Bills defensive line. Smith told the media that there was one aspect of Epenesa's game that stood out to him during practice.

"He uses his hands extremely well," Smith noted. "That's one of the things you typically have to teach someone when they get in the league, but he already possesses that. When I spoke with him, he said his father used to play and he's the one that taught him how to use his hands. It really shows out here on the field."

Smith was a big factor in helping the Bills get to four straight Super Bowls and he knows the hard work it takes to get there. He thinks that this Bills team has what it takes to make a push to the Super Bowl. Smith gave this advice to the coaches and players during a team meeting on Monday.

"That window of opportunity, you got to take advantage of it," Smith said. "Because after that window closes, you never know when it's going to come back again. So, it's critical that everybody does everything within their power to take advantage of this window. Take the special talent that we have on this team and make it count."

Additional practice notes

CB Levi Wallace, WR Marquez Stevenson, OT Spencer Brown, RB Christian Wade, TE Tommy Sweeney, S Jaquan Johnson, OT Tommy Doyle, RB Antonio Williams, CB Dane Jackson, WR Isaiah Hodgins, and DT Harrison Phillips did not practice today due to injury.

The team placed DT Vernon Butler, WR Cole Beasley, WR Gabriel Davis and DT Star Lotulelei on the Reserve/COVID list after being identified as close contacts to the Bills staff member who tested positive.

LB Matt Milano and LB AJ Klein also did not practice and were both sent home as a precaution after being identified as close contacts to that same Bills staff member. However, Brandon Beane told the media today that both players are expected back at practice on Wednesday.

Broadcast team announced for Week 1

It was also announced on Tuesday that Ian Eagle, Charles Davis and Evan Washburn will be in the broadcast booth for the week one home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on CBS.

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