Top 3 things to know about the Return of the Blue & Red practice

Wide receiver Zay Jones makes a diving catch with Tre'Davious White looking on.
Wide receiver Zay Jones makes a diving catch with Tre'Davious White looking on.

1. Zay Jones finds rhythm in passing game

From a wide receiver perspective the first week of training camp has largely been the John Brown and Cole Beasley show. On Friday night, at the ‘Return of the Blue and Red’ practice at New Era Field, the team’s leading receiver from a year ago was the most consistently targeted wideout of the evening.

Zay Jones’ night did not get off to a great start. He had a shot at a tough 30-yard pass from Josh Allen, but couldn’t come up with it as it was contested by safety Dean Marlowe.

“It was a great look by him over here able to scramble out of the pocket and find me deep,” said Jones. “It was a tough catch. It’s one I know I can make. It was difficult. It wasn’t routine. I went up and did my best to bring it down, but I had an awkward fall and Dean Marlowe made a good play on it.”

Four plays later, Jones couldn’t hang onto a short pass near the right sideline, but the third-year receiver was determined to redeem himself.

“Next play we went back into the huddle and I said, ‘I got this one,’” said Jones. “Kind of telling him, give me this one. So he found me on the next play and got me a nice, easy catch.”

Allen found Jones along the left sideline and he turned upfield for five or six extra yards before being forced out of bounds.

The very next play turned into a scramble drill as Allen was fleeing the pocket from pressure. Jones came all the way across the field to the side where Allen was scrambling and came back to his quarterback. Allen found him late and Jones took the eight-yard completion out of bounds over the sideline.

“That’s what we’re about resiliency. Keep fighting. You miss one, you get back up and go catch the next one,” Jones said. “That’s what I pride myself on and I know he has trust in me.”

Jones had four catches on the day, easily his most productive of training camp.

The Buffalo Bills were back at New Era Field on Friday, Aug. 2, for "The Return of the Blue & Red" night practice, presented by Bud Light.

2. Short yardage, goal line go to defense

For the first time in camp there was an emphasis on short yardage plays and a live tackle to the ground goal line period.

During short yardage, Frank Gore was the first ball carrier on a 3rd-and-short. The offensive line got a slight surge and Gore did the rest with an extra lunge forward for what he thought was a first down. At least until the head linesman spotted the ball behind the yard to gain.

That’s when Gore got hot. The veteran back picked the ball up from the spot and started yelling and waving the ball at the linesman telling him he got the yardage needed to move the sticks.

“It was a first down,” said Gore, still agitated by the spot. “I got the first down, that’s why (I was hot). I got it. My line did a great job and I did the rest by getting a first down and he set it back.”

The spot of the ball on that play inspired Gore to make sure he was clearly over the line to gain on the next play. Gore ran off left tackle Dion Dawkins and though Corey Thompson had him in his grasp, Gore kept churning his legs and just slipped from Thompson’s clutches and got the first down.

The only other backs to get a first down were T.J. Yeldon and Senorise Perry as the defense stiffened toward the back end of the series of short yardage plays.

But Gore is not concerned.

“Short yardage you’ve got to be tough for it,” he said. “We’re going to be fine this year. We just have to keep working hard and believing in ourselves and our coaches.”

The best defensive play of the short yardage series was turned in by Siran Neal. Lined up opposite Ray-Ray McCloud, Neal got the angle on his draft classmate on a jet sweep and dropped him short of the line to gain.

LB Deon Lacey had a tackle for loss on the final play of short yardage.

Goal line was a much different story.

On nine live goal line plays, Buffalo’s offense could not crack the goal line on six run plays. The offense did post a pair of touchdowns off play action with both catches being made by TE Nate Becker. A pass attempt to Tommy Sweeney on another pass play went incomplete.

On the six run plays the defense won the battle at the line of scrimmage and kept Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, TJ Yeldon and Senorise Perry out of the end zone in succession.

“It’s about attitude, heart and the desire to whoop the other man,” said LB Julian Stanford, who got first team reps. “Just get off the ball and knock them back and tackle the ball carrier. Let the best man win.”

Even an attempted bootleg run to the end zone by Tyree Jackson would’ve been foiled if quarterbacks could get hit.

Playing on every snap of goal line was Bills top pick Ed Oliver.

“Lord have mercy, I think I had every rep of goal line,” said Oliver. “It was baptism into NFL football and I just had to take it.”

Oliver flashed again on Friday with a quarterback pressure and a tackle for loss.

Linebacker Julian Stanford lines up during Friday's practice at New Era Field.
Linebacker Julian Stanford lines up during Friday's practice at New Era Field.

3. Lineup notes

With a good number of veterans getting rest days like LeSean McCoy, Lorenzo Alexander, John Brown and Ty Nsekhe, it afforded others the chance to get more reps in team segments of practice.

Among the beneficiaries were Cody Ford, who moved back in at starting right tackle after Nsekhe replaced him in practice Thursday.

With Mitch Morse (concussion protocol) and Spencer Long (knee soreness) sidelined, Russell Bodine continued as the starting center with Jon Feliciano the starting right guard.

Quinton Spain returned from a foot injury to man his starting left guard position.

Backup middle linebacker Julian Stanford had the opportunity to get a good number of first team reps as Tremaine Edmunds had his workload scaled back Friday.

“Anytime you get a chance to get live snaps whether it’s the ones, twos or threes, you’ve got to make the best of it and make every play count and showcase your abilities and what you can do,” said Stanford.

With Alexander getting a rest day, second-year LB Corey Thompson got starter reps at outside linebacker.

Kurt Coleman and Dean Marlowe each got starter reps alongside Jordan Poyer at safety with Micah Hyde still sidelined by neck stiffness and Kevin Johnson rotated in for a few reps with the ones in place of Tre’Davious White.

Cam Lewis and Denzel Rice got a healthy dose of reps at cornerback with the second unit.

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