1. Who’s next on the tight end depth chart?
Another Bills tight end was on the sidelines Sunday, this time rookie third round pick Dawson Knox, who injured a hamstring Saturday. With Jason Croom still out with a hamstring, and Tyler Kroft weeks away from returning from his foot injury, the Bills had four healthy tight ends to use in their Sunday morning workout.
Getting the bulk of the work with the first unit: another rookie, seventh round draft pick Tommy Sweeney. The 6-5, 251-pound Boston College product seemed comfortable and ready to take on the extra workload.
“I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, look as good as I can and get better every day,” Sweeney said after the practice. “When I get an opportunity just go out there and do my job right.”
Keith Towbridge, Nate Becker, and veteran Lee Smith also received extra snaps, but the Bills spent much of their offensive snaps in sets using just one tight end. There were many snaps involving extra wide receivers.
Quarterback Josh Allen connected with wide receiver Cole Beasley on several passes in a team 11-on-11 practice period. On the first play of the second team period Allen found Beasley coming out of the slot, down the right sideline. Beasley made a great diving catch just beyond linebacker Matt Milano for a big gain.
Two plays later, Allen hit Beasley again on a crossing pattern over the middle. And later in the period, the sixth practice period of the day, Allen zipped two quick passes over the middle that were caught by Beasley. After limited work in OTAs and minicamp for Beasley, he and Allen seem to be finding some chemistry in the last few workouts.
Up front, on the offensive line, a maintenance day for veteran center Mitch Morse meant changes in the first unit. Jon Feliciano split first team reps at center with Russell Bodine. Feliciano also got reps at right guard with the first team
Across the front, the first team offensive line went Dawkins at LT, Quinton Spain at LG, Feliciano or Bodine at C, Spencer Long or Feliciano at RG, and rookie Cody Ford at RT.
2. Kevin Johnson makes his case in the cornerback battle
The Bills were hoping to get a training camp battle at starting cornerback opposite Tre’Davious White. Four practices into camp, they’ve got one.
“I like our level of competition,” head coach Sean McDermott said about the CB battle. “With (E.J.) Gaines, with Levi (Wallace), who I think is playing well, and Kevin (Johnson) and a few other guys. That’s been fun to watch.”
Sunday it was fun to watch former Texans first round pick Kevin Johnson move around. He played with the first team defense opposite White for much of the workout. He replaced White with the “ones” on a couple of plays. And he moved inside and played nickel corner for several plays.
“Being a versatile player is a good thing,” Johnson said after practice. “I’m just lining up wherever the coaches tell me where to line up. Just getting familiar with the defense, just trying to be sharp on all my techniques.”
“I mostly played outside through my career so that comes more natural to me,” Johnson continued. “I can play inside as well, but I just have to understand and learn that stuff so you can play fast. That’s the most important thing.”
Johnson joined the Bills in free agency last spring, reuniting with his former Texans position coach John Butler, who’s in his second year as the Bills cornerbacks coach.
“John (Butler) was a big factor in knowing Kevin and also helping us recruit Kevin,” McDermott said Sunday morning. “I think he’s a classic case of a good football player, a good person, he’s competitive and he’s off to a good start making plays on the football.”
3. Corey Thompson defining his role at the linebacker position
Sunday was a maintenance day off for veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. And that meant extended first-team work for second year linebacker Corey Thompson.
He’s in his second year with the Bills and he’s become a reliable performer backing up ‘Zo on the outside. Last season, Thompson spent the first 10 weeks on the practice squad after signing with the Bills as an undrafted rookie. He played the final six games, mostly contributing on special teams, and got one start, on the road at New England in week 16. Thompson logged nine tackles, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble in that game.
In his second training camp with the Bills, Thompson seems relaxed and confident, and did not look out of place with the first team defense.
“Things are going a lot smoother mentally,” he said after Sunday’s practice. “I still have plenty of work, I still have a few kinks to work out. But overall, this year is a little bit easier to get settled in and be able to play fast and hard. “
Thompson’s contributions on special teams and his familiarity with the Buffalo defense bodes well for a spot on the roster for him. But he’s determined not to take anything for granted.
“I have to continue to work hard and make sure I earn a spot,” he said.