The 10th practice of Bills Camp had to be the hottest one yet. After an off day on Sunday, the team began the week with another padded practice. Cold towels and water were the star of practice with temperatures hitting the high 80s.
Unfortunately, it was also the most injury-riddled practice of camp yet. Matt Milano left practice early with a mouth injury. Stefon Diggs (knee), Jon Feliciano (non-Covid illness), Tommy Doyle (non-Covid illness), Vernon Butler (concussion), Forrest Lamp (calf) and Christian Wade (shoulder) missed practice. Mitch Morse also had a rest day.
Here are three things to know from Monday's practice.
1. Emmanuel Sanders returns to practice
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders returned to the field on Monday after missing three practices due to a foot injury. Even though Sanders is new to the team and missed a few days, his connection with Josh Allen looked pretty clean. With Diggs out due to a knee injury, different wide receivers got more looks in team periods.
Allen went to Sanders right away in one-on-ones. Sanders ran a nice route and was able to get enough separation from Tre'Davious White to make the catch. The wide receiver was targeted multiple times during team periods, having two-straight catches that showcased his hands and route-running ability.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll thinks Sanders is going to be a good fit for the offense.
"He's a smart veteran, has quickness, an ability to learn, can play multiple spots," Daboll said earlier in camp. "He can create separation. He's been productive. Played with a lot of good quarterbacks. He's been a really good teammate since he's been here. I think he helps the receiver room in terms of an education for a young receiver, too."
Jake Kumerow, Cole Beasley and Isaiah Hodgins also had some great catches throughout practice.
Scroll through to see the best photos from Day 10 of Bills training camp, presented by Connors & Ferris.
2. Offensive line shift amidst injuries and rest days
The offensive line saw a lot of mixing and shifting in Monday's practice due to the injury report. Forrest Lamp is dealing with a calf injury and has missed the last four practices. Jon Feliciano and Tommy Doyle missed today with a non-Covid illness. Mitch Morse had a veteran rest day. Finally, Dion Dawkins, who has been on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, was walking around at practice today but did not see any action.
With a list that long, you bet it was an opportunity for other players to step up. Spencer Brown, Ike Boettger and Ryan Bates were a few of several offensive lineman who had a fair share of reps in practice.
Bates flashed with a couple of nice blocks during practice. Boettger, who was on the Reserve/COVID-19 list to start camp, has been making up for lost days. And Brown, the rookie, has been able to soak up the offense with the valuable practice time.
Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips thinks the younger offensive linemen have had a great camp so far.
"I think that our young guys are coming along really well," Phillips shared. "I've been very impressed with Spencer Brown specifically. Just some of the things that he does on film, you're just kind of like 'Wow that's very impressive for a young player to be able to do that.' So I'm very optimistic about his future and a lot of the other guys up front. We've had some good battles there in the trenches, it's been fun."
3. Justin Zimmer doesn't want one play to define his career
Defensive lineman Justin Zimmer had one of the best game-saving plays of last season. It happened on Week 8 against the Patriots at home. The Bills were up by three points and there was 37 seconds left in the 4th quarter. It was 2nd & 10 on the Bills 19-yard line. Patriots quarterback Cam Newton took off running and Zimmer forced a fumble, which was recovered by the Bills. That play sealed the victory and produced the franchise's first win against the Patriots since 2016.
However, Zimmer doesn't want to be known for just one play.
"It was a good play, but there's always things you can improve on," Zimmer shared. "And I try not to focus on that play too much just because I don't want one player to define my career."
Before moving his focus to the 2021 season, Zimmer watched every play he was involved in last year and made a spread sheet of the positives and negatives. From that, he realized he wanted to work on his get off during the offseason.
"When I was getting off the ball well, I was making plays, playing better," Zimmer said. "When my get off was inconsistent, I played inconsistent, and that was the biggest thing. And just working on redefining my pass rush moves, just getting more comfortable, knowing the situations, things like that."
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Zimmer did a great job for the team last season, and Zimmer is working to have an even better season in 2021. He's feeling more comfortable in his second season with the Bills due to having the same defensive line coach as last year for the first time in his career.
"I really appreciate how with our staff, you go out there and if you make plays, you get more opportunities, and that's not the case everywhere," Zimmer noted. "Sometimes it's based on draft status, how much you're paid. But I really like our staff, because you go out there, and you're making plays, and they're going to reward you for it."