On Wednesday afternoon, head coach Sean McDermott announced a few starters for Monday night's game against the Jets. The Bills had several position battles going on throughout training camp but with Week 1 just a few days away, those battles have come to a close.
McDermott announced Terrel Bernard (MLB), O'Cyrus Torrence (RG) and Christian Bernard (CB) will all take the field as starters against the Jets.
WHY TERREL BERNARD IS READY FOR THE MOMENT
Bernard unfortunately didn't get a chance to showcase his skillset during preseason games as the LB was out with a hamstring injury for the last part of training camp. Although, McDermott thought he did enough at the start of camp to win the job.
"We thought he did some good things when he was healthy and available," McDermott said. "And unfortunately, that situation, that competition got cut a little bit short due to an injury. We're confident in TB, and I'm excited to watch him play. He's got to take it one play one play at a time."
"I'm just excited for opportunity to go out there and play, lock into the details, be out there with the guys and go play some football and have some fun," Bernard said after practice.
The middle linebacker played in 16 games and started in one during his rookie season in 2022. He mostly played a role on special teams but did see some time with the linebacking unit last season.
Veteran players like safety Jordan Poyer understand why a player like Bernard earned himself a starting role.
"(The) guy's come in and took control of the defense," Poyer said. "A young guy with a lot of speed, can go sideline to sideline and has a lot of power. He can hit, and he's very smart and instinctive. I can see why coaches gave him the green dot and the green light to be the starter.
"I'm excited for him. I'm excited to play alongside him. And I know he's going to help us make plays and win football games."
Now wearing the green dot, Bernard will be looked at as the captain of the defense and the one who calls the plays for the group. Even though the young player doesn't have years of NFL experience, he feels ready for this opportunity.
"I obviously put in a lot of work through OTAs, training camp and the preseason, just dialing in on the details," Bernard shared. "And obviously that's a huge part of the middle linebacker's job is communication and making sure everybody's on the same page. So, Bobby (Babich) and Coach McDermott have done a great job helping me out and giving me everything that I need so I can do the best job that I can."
Bernard will lineup opposite of a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro from 2022 in linebacker Matt Milano. He believes the two are off to a great start with their chemistry thanks to Milano bringing him along during his rookie season.
"I feel like we're on the same page," Bernard said of his teammate. "Going all the way back to last year, he was one of the guys that I looked up to. He mentored me a lot when I first got here, so having a chance to play beside him it's going to be super fun."
The second-year linebacker will take the field with confidence come Monday night knowing that his head coach believes in him.
"He's an extremely smart, young man," McDermott said. "He has good football instincts. The game makes sense to him. He works extremely hard. He's got the respect of his teammates all around him. And again, it's not an individual sport. It's a team sport. So, he'll just be 1/11th of the overall operation out there."
Bernard said he believes the aspect of his game that's taken the biggest leap from last year to this year is his ability to get the call and checks out, and he's excited to do that for real against the Jets.
'BIG, STRONG' O'CYRUS TORRENCE TO ANCHOR RG
O'Cyrus Torrence's NFL debut will come on a national stage against what is expected to be one of the best defensive fronts in the league. The rookie believes he's prepared for the moment, recalling his first day of practice in a Bills uniform.
"I went in with the ones (starters) my first day of OTAs, kind of just trial by fire. I didn't know the plays, I barely knew the cadences," Torrence remembered.
The Bills tested Torrence through training camp and preseason, getting him ample reps with the starting unit to elevate whether the rookie would be able to handle starting Week 1. Torrence answered the bell at every turn with a "workman-like approach", according to Bills head coach Sean McDermott.
"Thought he handled himself well," McDermott said Wednesday, moments after announcing Torrence as the team's starting right guard.
Torrence shared that the news came "out of the blue" during a recent team meeting and the second-round pick was overwhelmed with gratitude for being named a starter.
"It means a lot to me because it shows that they noticed all the work and grind and stuff I put in," Torrence said, "and the attention to detail that I show each day. I just feel like they understand and they appreciated the work that I've put in."
Because of the amount of practice reps he's already received, Torrence is gaining the trust of QB Josh Allen heading into Week 1.
"He's a big, strong man. He doesn't seem like a rookie," Allen said. "He communicates very well with the offensive line. When he gets his hands on defenders, he does such a good job. So I don't think anything's too big."
Torrence's first challenge as an NFL starter is slowing down 2022 First Team All-Pro DT Quinnen Williams and the rookie is excited for the opportunity.
"It's definitely gonna be a good challenge for myself to go up against him in my first NFL game, it's something I'm definitely looking forward to. I'm just ready to go out there and play it and see what I can do," Torrence said.
BENFORD ON MENTAL PREPARATION FOR YEAR 2
Second-year player Christian Benford shared that it was a blessing to get named the team's second starting cornerback across from Tre'Davious White, but he's not letting change his humble mentality.
"Never get too high, never get too low. Never get complacent," Benford said. "I'm gonna just keep doing what I've been doing, regardless of the title."
Benford, a sixth-round pick out of Villanova last year, made an immediate impact during his first NFL season. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound corner was already a standout during last year's training camp, so much so that he played in over 50% of the team's snaps Week 1 against the Rams.
Benford appeared in nine regular season games and both postseason games; he believes that experience gave him confidence heading into his second year in Buffalo.
"The experience is helpful physically, but really mentally," Benford shared. "Just understanding the situation."
Throughout the spring and summer, Benford spent additional time learning from McDermott and defensive backs coach John Butler on ways for his mental acumen to catch up to his already physical frame.
"He was on his assignments, think he contested balls and made some interceptions, made some plays on the ball as well," McDermott said.
One of the nine games Benford appeared in last year was at the Jets in Week 9; he's looking forward to the challenge of facing Aaron Rodgers and potentially covering star WR Garrett Wilson.
"They got a good offense," Benford said. "We gotta respect them and they have a good receiving core."
Scroll to see practice photos from September 6, 2023 as the Buffalo Bills prepare for Week 1.