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The top six things we learned from the Bills offseason 

Bobby Babich, A.J. Epenesa (57). Buffalo Bills Mandatory Minicamp, June 12, 2024 at 1 Bills Drive.
Bobby Babich, A.J. Epenesa (57). Buffalo Bills Mandatory Minicamp, June 12, 2024 at 1 Bills Drive.

OTAs and Mandatory Minicamp are in the books which means all eyes will shift to St. John Fisher University for the start of training camp at the end of July.

These six storylines stood out over the last month and will be worth continuing to monitor when camp rolls around.

1 – Job openings available

With the largest roster turnover for the Bills in years this offseason, there are open starting and reserve roles on both sides of the ball.

Wide receiver will obviously see change on the depth chart as the number one and two receivers from last year's squad are no longer on the roster in Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. That void creates a wealth of opportunity for the balance of receivers on the roster.

The defense has a starting defensive end role open following the departure of Leonard Floyd, a starting corner role open with Tre'Davious White no longer on the roster, and both safety positions as the seven-year run of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer came to a close.

Others could surface due to injury or other circumstances once training camp opens, but it's clear there will be more heated position battles at St. John Fisher than we've seen in years.

2 – Shortening the learning curve

There figures to be a good deal of chemistry building even when the offense gets to training camp. But with Khalil Shakir being the only receiver on the roster to catch a pass from Josh Allen in a regular season game last season, Allen is doing everything he can to fast track the acclimation process.

Knowing there's a scheme that will see its fair share of changes and alterations under new full-time coordinator, Joe Brady, Buffalo's franchise signal caller knows they have time, but they do want to jell sooner rather than later.

"Obviously, we've got some new concepts that we got in," said Allen. "It's good to put that on tape and talk through it right now. But no frustrations at all, we're playing football. Sometimes it clicks right away for some guys, and some guys it could take a season, it could take three seasons and obviously the faster that we can expedite that process the better."

That's why Allen intends to have dates on the summer calendar prior to training camp for him and his receiving corps to get time on the field on their own to nail things down.

"I'm making sure that we're going to meet during the summer break that we have here, and then in the training camp, just make sure that we're talking and have an open line of communication with routes and concepts," said Allen. "What I see, what they see, what they feel and just trying to listen and just try to improve every day."

3 – New leadership

All those player departures also reduced the veteran leadership on the roster, and those vacancies must be capably filled too.

Terrel Bernard flourished as a first-year starter at middle linebacker and looks to be a promising leader for Buffalo's defense. Taron Johnson is an elder statesman now in the secondary and has discussed taking on a more vocal role this season. And head coach Sean McDermott saw Taylor Rapp step in to fill the leadership void in the secondary through the course of OTA practices.

"It really stood out," said McDermott. "Last year, when T-Rapp got here, new system, different environment in the room, and he did a great job of understanding his role and excelling at his role and now a new role this year. Taylor has really stepped into that role, and I would say asserted himself from a leadership standpoint a little bit and a communicator standpoint which is huge in that back end."

On offense, Josh Allen figures to be flanked by leadership candidates Dion Dawkins, veteran receiver Mack Hollins, and guard turned center Connor McGovern.

"Connor is at a leadership position on our offensive line," McDermott said. "He's the one that sets the table to call the huddle, to really start the next play. I think he's done a nice job to this point. He's got very good energy on a daily basis, which is important for us. And he seems very aligned with (offensive line) coach Aaron Kromer and what they want to get done up front."

The regular season is still a ways off, but it appears that the new leadership for Buffalo's roster is already finding its footing.

4 - Youth will be served

Buffalo's front office tried to hold together the veteran core of the roster as long as they could, believing it was championship caliber. But in the wake of being unable to move past the Divisional Round of the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, the club had to turn the page.

Not only did they need to tweak the roster and develop a different profile of talent to try to get over the Divisional Playoff hump, but they also needed to get younger after being one of the five oldest rosters in the league. That's why there will be an influx of youth in noticeable roles on both sides of the ball come this fall.

Kaiir Elam just turned 23-years old and got a ton of reps this spring with veteran Rasul Douglas missing the voluntary OTA sessions. He'll be in line to challenge for a starting outside cornerback role.

Fellow third-year player, Khalil Shakir, made major contributions down the stretch last season, and is in line to be a top target of Josh Allen this fall.

Second-year TE Dalton Kincaid, broke the club record for single-season receptions by a tight end with 73 last season, and figures to have an even larger role in 2024.

Top draft pick, Keon Coleman, is expected to have at least a top four role in Buffalo's receiving corps.

Second-round pick, Cole Bishop is expected to push veteran safeties Taylor Rapp and Mike Edwards as they try to nail down starting safety roles and could land a subpackage role in the process.

Third-round pick, DeWayne Carter has a legitimate opportunity to land the rotational role as Ed Oliver's understudy as a penetrating three-technique defensive tackle.

And fifth-round picks Sedrick Van Pran Granger and Javon Solomon could push for primary backup roles at center and edge rusher respectively.

5 – Brown and Milano on road back

Spencer Brown and Matt Milano were two starters who were working their way back from long-term injury situations through the course of the spring. Brown from offseason shoulder surgery, for an injury he sustained in the playoffs. And Milano, a serious leg injury that forced him to miss all but the first four games of the 2023 campaign.

Brown has been a limited participant during OTAs and that continued into mandatory minicamp. The general consensus is he'll be good to go come training camp.

As for Milano, he was not expected to be on the field in any capacity until the team reported to St. John Fisher, and even then, it was going to be in a limited fashion.

But Milano was able to begin his limited participation during mandatory minicamp in mid-June, which is an encouraging sign for what the All-Pro linebacker will be able to do in training camp.

Head coach Sean McDermott, however, did caution that there are still hurdles to clear for Milano, which will determine his level of participation in late July at St. John Fisher.

"He'll continue to build through the (summer) break," said McDermott. "And then hopefully in training camp, he's at a spot where when we open up, he's available. It's just a matter of taking it one day at a time and trying to put practices back-to-back. Don't know yet on that. We'll just have to see."

6 – Breakout candidates

In 2023, we witnessed right tackle Spencer Brown put together his best season in a Bills uniform. Second-year LB Terrel Bernard seized the starting middle linebacker job and was arguably the team's Defensive MVP. And Ed Oliver exploded for a 9.5 sack season in year five after signing a contract extension. So, who is in line to break out in 2024?

Dalton Kincaid may have already broken out finishing eighth among NFL tight ends in receptions as a rookie with 73. That combined with the subtraction from the roster of the only player in the Bills' passing game that had more targets than him in 2023 in Stefon Diggs, and the opportunity is ripe for the tight end to lead the team in that category in 2024. One of the top two catch rate players on the roster, Kincaid could be a top five tight end in the league this coming season.

Greg Rousseau did not put together the sack total he had hoped in 2023, with five on the season, but he was instrumental in steering quarterbacks into the waiting arms of his fellow defensive linemen at times like Leonard Floyd (10.5 sacks) and Ed Oliver (9.5 sacks).

Second on the team to Floyd in QB hits (18) and second on the roster in tackles for loss (13), Rousseau appears in line to put his entire game together in his fourth NFL campaign.

Khalil Shakir came on strong late last season, so much so that in the team's two postseason games he had just as many receptions as Stefon Diggs (10) did on five fewer targets, had a slightly higher receiving yardage total and two touchdowns. Those two touchdowns by Shakir in one playoff run tie Diggs for the number of postseason receiving touchdowns he had in four playoff runs for the Bills.

The highest catch rate players in the league at over 86 percent, Shakir is poised to explode in all receiving categories in year three for Buffalo.

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