Stefon Diggs took notice when Dion Dawkins spoke on his behalf in the moments after the Bills defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers last December. Diggs hauled in 10 receptions for 130 yards during the Sunday night victory, prompting high praise from his left tackle.
"Diggs is so special that as I see him play, I want to rip off my captain's 'C' and throw it on his chest," Dawkins told the media that night.
The remark was significant enough to Diggs that it stood at the forefront of his memory when he met with the media Tuesday, hours after he was elected one of eight Bills captains for the upcoming season.
"It meant a lot to me then and it means even more now just as far as being acknowledged by your peers," Diggs said. "Not only your peers, but your teammates. The guys that you ride for every game, at practice, and the fact that they trust you. They trust you in the biggest moments and they trust you on a daily basis that you're going to do the right thing on and off the field. Yeah, I was happy."
Diggs was admittedly taken aback when he received the news. This is the first captaincy of his career, perhaps of his life. That it comes just one year into his tenure with the Bills – a group that has largely been together for four seasons or longer – is a testament to the strong first impression he made in 2020.
Questions persisted about Diggs the teammate after the Bills acquired him from the Minnesota Vikings. Diggs says he considered it fair for people to question him from the outside looking in, given the nature of his departure from Minnesota. He looked as his arrival in Buffalo as a chance at a fresh start.
What happened next is well documented. Diggs got to know quarterback Josh Allen, during informal workouts in South Florida and offseason "Call of Duty" sessions. He wowed teammates with the energy he brought to training camp, then put together the most prolific receiving season in Bills history with league-leading totals in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535).
It only took a few weeks for Diggs to realize he had been accepted by his new team.
"After those first couple of games, I was like, 'Damn, this is my new home,'" he said.
Diggs prepared to join a new locker room last season by reading up on leadership, be it through books ("I think it was Leadership for Dummies," he says) or online searches. He's done the same this year, particularly on the different types of leadership. A captain can be vocal or lead by example. A captain can rile the troops with expletives or calm his quarterback under pressure.
Knowing when to do each – and with whom – is the key.
"For me, a true leader is knowing your teammates," Diggs said.
Now, onto more notes from Bills practice on Tuesday.
Positives signs for McKenzie, Lotulelei
Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie practiced with the team on Tuesday and is expected to play Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, head coach Sean McDermott said. McKenzie missed Buffalo's preseason finale with a shoulder injury.
Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei did not practice but is "trending in the right direction," McDermott said. Lotulelei missed two practices last week with a calf injury.
Return of the Mafia
Allen said he plans to drive to work a bit earlier on Sunday with the threat of traffic, a welcome byproduct of Highmark Stadium's return to full capacity for the first time since 2019.
"To have Bills Mafia here with us this year - I know they're excited," Allen said. "But as players we're equally as excited get them back in the stands. They'll have an impact on the game whether they think so or not. Those third downs if you can force one foul start or one delay of game or one penalty, that can change the course of the game."
Checking in on the Steelers
The status of All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt will be a storyline worth following throughout the week. Watt has not participated in team drills during training camp as he and the team negotiate a new contract, but head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters he expects the linebacker to be a full participant when the team practices on Wednesday.
"I remain optimistic that something's going to get done from a deal perspective," Tomlin said, according to Steelers.com. "That aside, I'm expecting him to (practice) tomorrow. I'm proceeding with the assumption that he's going to (practice) tomorrow. That's kind of the approach I'm taking."