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Training Camp

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Top 10 things we learned at the start of Bills training camp | 2023


1. Offense focuses on red zone during Day 1

It didn't take the offense much time to get working on their red zone offense. Within the first few minutes of practice, the offense and defense were in 7-on-7 working in the red zone. Right off the rip, quarterback Josh Allen fired one to rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid for a touchdown. QB1 targeted Dawson Knox next and then went right back to Kincaid.

"He's very smart, he's instinctive," Allen said about Kincaid. "He's got a good feel out there. So the more that he gets comfortable and incorporated into our offense and into our scheme, the more confidence that he's going to have. He's fun to throw to, I'll tell you that."

The tight ends, including Quintin Morris and Jace Sternberger, were involved early and often. When the team got into 11-on-11 in the red zone, Allen found Knox right away for a touchdown. The two also connected later on for another TD.

Much of practice No. 1 was spent working in the red zone for a reason. Even though the Bills ranked top 10 in red zone efficiency last season, the coaching staff wants to make sure they're setting the standard right away. The emphasis – finishing in the red zone.

"Nothing that we did last year carries over in this year but making sure that I'm being smart with the football and not trying to force things, especially down in the red zone," Allen said. "That's kind of why our first day was down here and coach alluded to that to our team. Making sure that we're finishing in the red zone."

2. Josh Allen + Stefon Diggs connecting early and where other WRs fit in

Josh Allen has plenty of new pieces to work with on offense, and training camp is the perfect time to get comfortable with his new weapons. One connection that needed no warming up was with wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Allen looked to Diggs right away during a team period in the red zone. Allen threw it on a line to Diggs who made catching a bullet TD pass look easy. The chemistry between the two looked great on Day 1.

"That's always going to be my guy," Diggs said of Allen. "So yeah, we're fine."

The duo had another impressive throw and catch later in practice when Allen found Diggs near the sideline who was being blanketed by cornerback Tre'Davious White. It didn't matter because Allen whipped it to Diggs who caught it perfectly while turning to the sideline so it couldn't be batted away.

Diggs knows his role on this team and within the offense. That's not the case for everyone in the WR room as there are several new players learning about how and where they fit into things.

When asked if the slot position could be run by a committee (Trent Sherfield, Kahlil Shakir, Deonte Harty) this year, GM Brandon Beane said he could see that happening.

"Yeah, no doubt," Beane told Chris Brown and Steve Tasker on One Bills Live. "And listen, some of those guys can also play outside. So it could be that they're in the huddle with two guys that primarily play slot and the defense doesn't know exactly who's lining up where. Sherfield can play outside. Shakir, you saw him do it last year as well. Even Harty can do it. He's a smaller guy but he's got enough straight-line speed to get him out that he can be a vertical presence for us, if he lines up outside."

Harty showcased his speed right away on Day 1. When the WR got the ball whether it was with the first unit or second, he drew separation due to his quick feet. Sherfield and Shakir had a few catches as well.

"I'm not sure how things are going to play out, it's yet to be seen," Allen said of the wide receivers. "But using this time right now to find the best opportunities to get our best players on the football field and to see how dangerous guys can be with the ball in their hands. So that's up to (Ken) Dorsey, the staff and myself, making sure that we're talking and understanding. We call it KYP – know your personnel. So just understanding how well our personnel fits into our scheme and how to best utilize their talents."

One other wide receiver that had a few nice plays was Isaiah Coulter. During 11-on-11 in the red zone, quarterback Matt Barkley tossed one over to Coulter who jumped up to pull the ball down for a TD while cornerback Kaiir Elam was right on him.

3. OL working to find the right 5

The offensive line is one position group that goes through quite a bit of rotation throughout training camp. It's the search for the best five, but the mixing and matching also happens in order to figure out who can go in where if a starter gets injured. One position group battle many are wondering about is at right guard where we saw Ryan Bates working at quite a bit on Day 1.

Center Mitch Morse said it'll take a few weeks to see who will take over that spot as well as others on the OL. 

"I think it'll play itself out these next few weeks," Mitch Morse said of who would become the starting 5. "Right now, I wouldn't put too much into who's playing where, it's really just guys getting repetitions, right, like trial by fire, especially for young guys, the greatest way to grow in this game – even for vets. Competition breeds better football players. And so right now, we're just trying to get guys in competitive environments so that they can put their best foot forward so that when those opportunities present themselves to establish themselves as one of the starting five, it's kind of a clear and concise thing rather than some up for grabs deal that doesn't make sense to anyone."

4. Christian Benford impresses early + defensive notes

The big defensive play of the day came from second-year cornerback Christian Benford. Josh Allen threw a pass intended for Stefon Diggs, but Benford was able to get in front of Diggs and intercept the pass in the red zone.

"Christian, his instincts are one of his best traits," Beane shared. "You can't teach that. You either got it or you don't, so that helps him. Going into year two, he's still learning the defense, learning how it all comes together, but when he doesn't know things, things that happen after the ball is snapped, that's when instincts take over."

Benford, along with Dane Jackson and Kaiir Elam are part of the battle for the starting cornerback spot opposite of Tre'Davious White. Benford played in nine games and started in five during his rookie season before being put on Injured Reserve due to an oblique injury.

5. MLB battle update

The middle linebacker battle will be one of the most exciting battles of training camp with an open spot due to Tremaine Edmunds no longer being on the team. GM Brandon Beane shared on One Bills Live that rookie linebacker Dorian Williams will no longer be competing for that spot at this point.

"Dorian, we messed around with him at Mike and it's a lot," Beane said of the rookie. "We talked about that when we drafted him with what he was asked to do and the complexity of the defense at Tulane versus the complexity of an NFL defense. A big jump. Even Terrel Bernard and Baylon Spector, talking to those guys about how much better they feel coming to this camp than last year drinking out of a firehose.

"So, Dorian's going to start out more over there with Milano kind of on an outside position. Doesn't mean we wouldn't move him back at some point, but we think you don't want those guys thinking too much then he's going to lose the speed and athletic ability he has."

Beane added the competition would mainly be between Tyrel Dodson, Terrel Bernard, Baylon Spector and A.J. Klein who offers veteran insurance.

Dodson had the biggest play out of the linebackers on Day 1 as he showed off his physicality with the first team toward the end of practice. Allen threw a pass intended for Knox who initially got his hands on it but didn't maintain enough possession before Dodson came in to force the ball out of his hands.

6. Von Miller is making progress despite landing on the PUP list

After tearing his ACL in November 2022, Von Miller is eager to return to the field.

"I made a lot of progress, I feel really good. I was hoping to avoid the PUP list but, hey, it is what it is," said Von Miller.

Miller, who also tore his ACL in 2013, feels like there are still steps that separate how he feels now and how he will feel when he is completely healthy.

"It was some things that I felt comfortable with, some things that I didn't feel comfortable with," said Miller. "We still got a lot of time, they do a great job here with the Buffalo Bills and the training staff and we just keep working. Whenever it feels really, really good and whenever it feels like I can play – which, some things I feel like I can do, but you gotta be able to do everything to be out there with the guys. So I'll just keep working until I can get to that point."

McDermott is impressed with Miller's progress as he recovers from the injury.

"He's been through this before, so I have full trust and confidence in Von, whether it's playing football or in this case, rehabbing and getting himself back to where and when he's ready. I wish I could heal as quickly as he's healed. I've got little cuts and they don't even heal as fast as he's healing off an ACL. I'm fully confident that he'll be ready," said Sean McDermott.

General manager Brandon Beane said he wanted to ensure that Miller didn't return to full contact until he was ready, in order to avoid reaggravating the injury.

"We want to make sure he's ready for the long haul. We don't want to rush him too much," said Beane.

Beane said that he could not provide an estimate as to when Miller will be ready for action.

7. Training camp is a bonding experience

Josh Allen is excited to be back at St. John Fisher University.

"I love camp. I love hanging with the guys. I love developing that camaraderie and that team chemistry. I think that's a huge, crucial piece of developing a winning culture and then sustaining a winning culture here," said Allen.

From playing cards to video games, holding training camp away from Orchard Park allows the team to build up their relationships as well as their connections on the playing field.

"Everything that we need is right here in this vicinity. So it's just you're around everybody at all times. Every waking moment you're around your teammates, which I freaking love," added Allen

McDermott seconded Allen's feelings about the importance of holding camp away from team facilities, calling the Pittsford area "absolutely beautiful."

"You just find guys after a meal sitting [in a common space], just hanging out, getting off their feet, but also talking life. And I think that that goes a long way in terms of building a football team, or any team for that matter. That chemistry is important. That bond is important. If you don't have that, it's hard to get it once the season happens because it's go, go, go during the season," said McDermott.

8. Beane and McDermott provide updates on Hines' injury

Running back and return specialist Nyheim Hines suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Multiple Bills expressed their disappointment with the unfortunate news.

"He's a great young man. Love who he is. I feel bad for him, going through this. … We're going to support him. He's got to get his surgery, he hasn't done that yet, but we'll hopefully get him rehabbed here and hopefully [2024] is the best to come for him," said Beane.

Hines was set to compete for a role in the Bills' backfield during training camp. The Bills signed running back Darrynton Evans Monday, who will join James Cook, Latavius Murray, Damien Harris, and Jordan Mims to compete for a role in the position group.

"Evans, he's a speed guy. He's had a few injuries that set him back at the start of his career and left Tennessee and went to Chicago last year. … Obviously, losing Nyheim, you lose some speed – not that he has Nyheim's speed, but he's another guy that can catch it out of the backfield and has home run juice ability," said Beane.

McDermott was similarly disappointed to have lost Hines for the season.

"I know what football means to him and what this team means to him and what he means to us. So it's a big loss for us. But we hope for a speedy recovery for Nyheim," added McDermott.

9. Beane reacts to contract extensions

The Bills announced in late June that they had extended the contracts of both Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott. In his first six seasons in Buffalo, McDermott has a 62-35 record and has led the Bills to the playoffs five times. Together with Beane, the two have revitalized a Bills program that had not made the playoffs since 1999.

“I’m very appreciative. There is no job that I would want – no job. … This is what I want to do. I want to be better at it, but I’m excited to be here.” – Brandon Beane

Center Mitch Morse thought that the extensions were warranted, but not a surprise.

"I think around here, someone gets paid, it's well-deserved. … It was just one of those things like I went 'of course, yeah it makes sense,' and then rolled off with my day. But I think that's a testament to the fact that that's not some big shock, that these guys are Buffalo," said Morse.

Beane hinted on the fact that, while the Bills have enjoyed more success than at any other point in this century, their job was not done.

"I'm appreciative of Terry and Kim renewing my deal and Sean's deal. Hopefully, we can deliver on what we're trying to get done," added Beane.

10. Allen wants to eliminate turnovers and keep drives alive

Last year, Buffalo's offense was one of the most efficient in the NFL. With 26.4 points per game, the Bills were the third-highest scoring offense in the league behind Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Josh Allen said that turnovers were a big part of why Buffalo didn't make it as far as they would have liked.

"Just making sure that we're holding onto the football. … Nothing we did last year carries over in this year, but making sure that I'm being smart with the football and not trying to force things," said Allen.

With 13 fumbles lost and 14 interceptions thrown in the 2022 season, the Bills had the second-highest turnover percentage in the NFL.

"I forget the stat of what we were, first or second or third in drives that ended in points. And when you calculate that and you can now limit some of those turnovers, what you can be after that," added Allen.

With training camp marking the unofficial turning of a new page in the storybook that is the NFL, Allen and the rest of the Buffalo Bills are ready to work at St. John Fisher University.

Scroll to see the best photos from Day One of Buffalo Bills Training Camp

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