COVID-19 has thrown everyone's spring and summer plans out the window. Just like your summer vacations have been cancelled, the NFL also had to say goodbye to minicamps during May and June. Without minicamps and team workouts, NFL teams have missed out on valuable time together. How can teams make up for lost practices? It won't be easy. There's no way the Bills, let alone any NFL team, can pack the lost reps into one training camp. Thankfully Buffalo has a few things going their way.
At the end of May, several players had the opportunity to meet up in Florida and train together for the weekend. The offensive skill players took advantage of this time knowing how important just a few days together could be. Several players spend the offseason in Florida and knew of an area they could safely train, so Josh Allen organized a group to meet up and focus on making up for lost time. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll thinks the group retained valuable time together and reps from the weekend.
"It was a really, really encouraging sign to see Josh along with some of the other guys get things together and be able to go down there and do some routes on air and throw some routes," Daboll said. "When they got back and we were talking about it in one of the Zoom calls the other day, I just thought that it was good for them to get together. They were very happy about it. It wasn't just football stuff. They did a lot of other things. Team building is always important. And again, we're only talking about a couple days here, but it was good. I know they enjoyed it."
Yes, three days together can't make up for more than 500 missed reps due to the cancelled minicamps. Three days is also better than nothing. Passing game timing won't be perfected from a few days of player organized training sessions, but getting those initial sessions out of the way with new players like Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis will pay off once training camp begins. It was also an important weekend for the rookies to test what they know from the playbook and learn in front of the veterans.
The fact that players organized this on their own also shows their desire to find a way to improve regardless of the situation at hand. This player-driven leadership will guide the team through a season that's going to be difficult to navigate.
Head coach Sean McDermott knows games aren't won in the offseason, but the Bills have won the offseason in one category. Buffalo returns the most players to their roster out of any other NFL team. According to an ESPN article that ranks teams based on continuity, the Bills have 88% of snaps returning. They return 95.4% on offense and 80.4% on defense. Looking at the numbers, the Bills return 10 starters on defense, 10 on offense and three on special teams.
"You know continuity is good to have, a good ingredient," McDermott said. "It's a good start. You know the thing we have to be aware of is games aren't won this time of year. Games aren't going to be won just because of continuity. So, you know, we've got to make sure that we take that continuity and build on it, and that's what we've got to do when we can come back together."
Buffalo also returns all three coordinators. It's definitely not common for a talented team to return almost everyone from coaches to players. But McDermott is right. Continuity doesn't directly translate to wins, but the team will be a step ahead when they return. The Bills don't have to start off at square one by spending time on introduction, culture and chemistry. All of that is already in place, so when they get to One Bills Drive they can focus on the task at hand.
For the new players, free agents specifically, many have ties to the Bills that will help them acclimate quickly. If you look at the new defensive players, seven out of the eight have all played for McDermott before. That means they have all been in the same defense at some point and will adapt at an accelerated pace during an offseason that has been cut short.
This staff knows how to develop players and get the best out of them. It goes beyond development into understanding each player's strength and utilizing it in a playbook. This coaching staff isn't going to build a scheme and ask a player to excel in it. They focus on what separates a player from others and create something that makes them shine.
Josh Allen, Dion Dawkins and Matt Milano are just a few young players who have developed into quality players under the Bills coaching staff. Allen raised his completion percentage from 52.8% in 2018 to 58.8% in 2019, dropped his interceptions from 12 to 9 and accounted for 11 more touchdowns in his second season. Dawkins has developed into a dependable starter and leader at left tackle. Milano has gone from being a fifth round pick to a starting linebacker who is a critical piece of the defense.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has seen his assistant coaches go above and beyond to assist players during the virtual offseason.
"We have a really good assistant coaching staff," Daboll explained. "The guys that work with me have really gone above and beyond for their players to try to help them in any way possible. And I would say that's not just with the scheme stuff, they're there for them for anything that they need."
It's more than the coordinators who are working on player growth. The assistant coaches are just as important in coaching the players to exceed expectations. The Bills are loaded with talented staff members who year after year are a part of the reason why Buffalo keeps winning more games.