Through the first couple weeks of training camp, the Bills have looked sharp. The defense has looked stellar and both lines look strong in the trenches. Two players in particular, however, have caught the eye of general manager Doug Whaley.
"I hate to say this because it's going to sound like I'm tooting my own horn, but it's the play of our top two picks," Whaley said in a recent radio interview on Bills flagship WGR. "With the Leodis McKelvin injury Ronald Darby has stepped up and exceeded our expectations and John Miller has been rock solid. To go against the two Pro Bowlers every day in practice and hold his own has been very exciting to see."
Miller has the tough job of lining up across from Marcel Dareus, Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams—all ranked in the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2015—every day. That's difficult for any player, let alone a rookie. Miller says that this unique opportunity provides him a chance to learn from the very best.
"It's awesome just to go out here and practice with those guys and get to see how they work," he said. "Those guys are Pro Bowlers, so I try to learn as much as I can but [if] I get beat on the play, I come to them and ask them, 'Ok, what can I do here, what can I do here, what'd you see' and just try and learn from those great players."
Darby has seen first team reps throughout training camp because of an injury to Leodis McKelvin. Since day one, he's taken advantage of that opportunity, holding his own against the likes of Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin; players who he calls "some of the best receivers in the world."
"They're going to give you great work," Darby said of the receiving corps. "Just coming out here and competing with them, it just helps better me. So when game time comes and you're locked in, you've seen it all, done it all."
Head coach Rex Ryan is excited for Darby to get his first opportunity against another team's first stringers on Friday against the Carolina Panthers.
"I think he'll just step right up," Ryan said. "He'll be going against his good buddy, his Florida State teammate [Kelvin Benjamin] … so that'll be good."
Ryan had high praise for both Darby and Miller after through their first two weeks of training camp practices. Both rookies have proven that they belong with the first team since day one.
"You wouldn't know that they're rookies," he said. "They step right in and play with confidence, passion, and that's what I expect them to play with."
As a third round pick, Miller came into the Bills organization with something to prove. According to Whaley, Miller is "on the shorter side and about five pounds less" than the NFL average. He also had a disappointing Wonderlic score; all factors that led to Miller dropping to the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. However, Whaley said that the scouting staff convinced him to look past the measurables.
"I give all the credit for John Miller to our scouting staff," Whaley said. "Our guys went in there and we always say that tape doesn't lie. After looking at the tape we thought he had a chance. You investigate further and find that he is smart and when we brought him in to visit with our coaches and they were blown away because he was able to regurgitate everything they told him five minutes earlier."
"I didn't really know what round I was going. I really didn't care too much," Miller said of his thought process during the NFL Draft. "I tried not to put so much pressure on myself. So me and my family, we got together and we prayed about it and we left it in God's hand."
With camp only nearing the midway point, both players recognize that they have room to grow. Although they've come a long way since being drafted in May, there is still a month to go before the start of the regular season against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I definitely feel like I've come a long way, but this thing is just getting started so I know I've got a long road ahead of me," Miller said. "I just try to get better each and every day."
"I feel like I'm doing some good things, messing up with a few things, but overall I feel like I'm doing the right thing," Darby said. "You're going to mess up here and there, but I just want to be prepared."