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Top 3 things to know from Day 3 of Bills training camp

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The Buffalo Bills wrapped up their first few days of training camp on a hot and crowded day at St. John Fisher University in Rochester. The team will be off on Saturday and return to the field on Sunday morning.

During Friday's session, Josh Allen and the rest of the Bills were met by raucous cheers as they made their way to the practice field, cheers that did not die down until Allen was already back in the locker room hours later.

Here are three things we learned from Friday's practice.

Matthew Smiley evaluates PR/KR competition

Special teams coach Matthew Smiley spoke to the media Friday morning before practice, and started by expressing his disappointment with running back and returner Nyheim Hines' recent season-ending injury.

"First of all, it's sad for him," Smiley said. "You don't want that to happen to anybody, doesn't matter the caliber of player but you guys were able to witness some of the things he did last season as a returner. And so that loss is tough."

Smiley mentioned that receivers Deonte Harty and Khalil Shakir are in the running to replace Hines as the Bills' primary kick and punt returner. The competition for the spot will go on throughout camp. Smiley said that it is exciting to have an option in Harty, who has NFL experience fielding punts.

"Deonte had a lot of success in New Orleans on punt return, especially earlier in his career," Smiley said. "I think that it's always nice that somebody has NFL reps so his comfort level at that position is definitely a benefit."

Kicker Tyler Bass had a strong showing Friday, hitting all six of his kicks on the grass field, including a 60-yard field goal that could have been good from even further out. Bass signed a four-year extension with the Bills in April.

"He is a phenomenal talent, but probably more importantly, he has made sure he has the correct mindset when he first stepped in the building," Smiley said. "He came in, did great, hit big kicks in playoff games, but it's because of right away he was thinking, 'what is the appropriate mindset? How do I learn, how do I get better?'"

The NFL will debut a new rule regarding the kickoff this season. Instead of being restricted to the end zone to call a touchback, a fair catch called anywhere inside the 25-yard line will also result in a touchback. Smiley said that the Bills will work on taking advantage of the change.

"That will play a part of how we're figuring it out, whether Nyheim was here or not, but just figuring out what the strategy is to work with that new rule," Smiley said. "Every year there's tweaks to the rulebook on special teams, and then it's just a matter of getting comfortable with them as a coaching staff and then making sure the players are comfortable with the rules and what it means and how it'll affect our strategy."

Smiley is happy to have veterans in charge of his field goal unit, with punter and holder Sam Martin, long snapper Reid Ferguson and Bass all returning from the 2022 season.

"Reid, Tyler and Sam, unbelievable group of three guys. I think this is the first time in my career in the NFL that I have had three guys that are veteran guys that are a solid unit going into the season so there's not a talk of competition," Smiley said.

The offense and defense fight to overcome equilibrium

The defense had a strong day yesterday, nabbing four interceptions as a unit. Friday, the offense looked in sync, especially Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

In an 11-on-11 drill, Allen threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to a streaking Diggs, who blew by Baylon Spector and Cam Lewis almost as soon as he got off the line of scrimmage.

In one-on-ones, tight end Quintin Morris bobbled a pass from Kyle Allen before securing it with one hand. It was his second one-handed catch in as many days, and both instances saw an excited reaction from fans and players alike.

Gabe Davis and Tre'Davious White had balanced results in their two head-to-head battles. On the first rep, Davis ran a corner route and beat White, who lost his footing trying to keep up. In their next matchup, White broke in front of Davis and broke up Allen's pass.

In the same drill, Shakir made a leaping grab over safety Taron Johnson on a pass from Kyle Allen. Kyle threw another good ball to running back James Cook, who beat LB Terrel Bernard for a touchdown.

Finally, rookie receiver Justin Shorter made a diving catch under cornerback Dane Jackson, immediately popping up and showing his excitement.

Veteran safety Micah Hyde spoke on the strong combination of offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey and the arsenal of talent available on the Bills' roster.

"Dorsey in the past has obviously been able to draw some things up," Hyde. "He motions a lot, he does all that type of stuff so, you really got to be on your Ps and Qs and understanding the defense and knowing what defense you're in and getting everybody lined up and all that, and on top of that he has the weapons with the receivers and bringing in somebody like Kincaid and he's all around doing stuff."

Safety Jordan Poyer was highly complimentary of Allen and Diggs, and spoke on the mutual benefit that the offense and defense get from going against each other.

"That's what training camp is, man. We're just out here continuing to make each other better," Poyer said. "That's the best quarterback in the game, best receiver in the game, and they're making us better and we're making them better and that's how we're gonna get better and get to our goal."

Poyer and Hyde, together again

With Hyde back on the field after suffering a neck injury in Week 2 last season and Poyer feeling 100% healthy after a grueling season, the pair aim to play together in an NFL game for the first time since mid-September 2022.

"It's just cool to get that rhythm back going again. It almost seems like it never left," Poyer said. "So it's really fun to be around those guys again and playing football with those guys."

Hyde, with his two young children joining him at the podium, was glad to be back.

"I feel amazing. I've never felt better to be honest," Hyde said. "Just happy to be out here with the guys, running around and having fun. 11th training camp. It's a blessing."

Hyde, in between being told he has a "big ol' head" and "big ol' teeth" by his son, spoke on the uncertainty that his Week 2 neck injury initially had on his future.

"When it first happened, and my teammates would be the first to tell you, I didn't know what the outcome was going to be. I thought I was done," Hyde said. "To be in this situation right now with my babies here, having my wife here, I can't even put into words how amazing it is."

Poyer signed a two-year deal with the Bills in the offseason, making 2023 his seventh year in Buffalo. Hyde and Tre'Davious White are also about to begin their seventh seasons, with Taron Johnson set to start his sixth.

Hyde said it was tough to watch the secondary without some of their key pieces last year. Hyde, White and Poyer all missed significant time last season.

"It's given us all a little extra motivation, because we understand that it could be gone like that," Hyde said. "You never know when it's our last snap together. So we're putting in the time in the meetings, we're hanging out, those core guys that I'm talking about."

Poyer similarly noted that the groups' time together has translated to success on the field.

"We played together for so long, like we just know," Poyer said of his dynamic with Hyde. "We hear a call and I automatically know where he's going, he automatically knows where I'm going … I mean not even just Micah ­— [Matt Milano, White, Johnson], we built this thing — [Dane Jackson] and we built this thing to have the trust in each other."

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