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Top 3 things to know from Day 9 of Bills Training Camp

Buffalo Bills Training Camp at St. John Fisher University, August 06, 2023.
Buffalo Bills Training Camp at St. John Fisher University, August 06, 2023.

The Bills were back at St. John Fisher University on Sunday afternoon for another training camp practice after yesterday's off day. 

Players did not have pads on for the two-hour practice but still spent plenty of time in 11 on 11 and 7 on 7 situations; the defense in particular had a standout day. The defense welcomed back DT Jordan Phillips who was activated off the PUP list and participated in a portion of practice for the first time this camp; LB Matt Milano and CB Taron Johnson also returned after sitting out Friday's Return of the Blue and Red with general soreness. 

Here are the top things to know from Day 9 of Bills Training Camp.

MLB competition could be nearing a resolution

The Bills have been upfront since the onset of offseason workouts that it would be an open competition for the starting MLB spot and that has proved true in training camp. 

Players that have competed for the starting spot include Terrel Bernard, Tyrel Dodson, Baylon Spector, AJ Klein and rookie Dorian Williams. Head coach Sean McDermott and linebackers coach Bobby Babich have used words such as "instinctual", "leader", "physical" and "athletic" to describe their ideal MLB.  

As the Bills head into the final stages of training camp, Babich said the team has a clearer picture of the competition. 

"We want to see a little bit more Tyrel (Dodson) and Terrel (Bernard). That's just where we're at right now," Babich said before Sunday's practice. 

Over the last several practices, Bernard and Dodson have largely worked with the first team defense among the middle linebacker group. Spector has also rotated in on occasion, though less so than the other two.

"That's not an indictment on Baylon by any means," Babich said. "He's getting the repetition load that's needed where he can prove himself just as well as Terrel, Tyrel, AJ, all those guys."

Babich went into detail on why Bernard, a second-year pro out of Baylor, and Dodson, a fifth-year pro out of Texas A&M, are the two who've emerged from the pack. One of the biggest reasons, Babich shared, was both player's strong command of the defensive huddle. 

"There is growth there for sure. I know they take a lot of pride in the command and the operation of what we do, as I've talked about before, and they're growing every day, which is great to see," he said. 

In recent days, McDermott and now Babich have both stated an intent to name the starting MLB soon. While there is no firm date for the decision, the plan is for it to be in the near future. 

"The sooner the better," Babich said. "And like I said in the spring, it will show when it's ready to show."

Defense ends Day 9 with flurry of standout plays 

The Bills did not wear pads for Sunday's practice, yet still devoted a large portion of the day to 11 on 11 situations. The defensive line has been one of the team's strongest units throughout camp and they were a  noticeable factor again.

LB Shane Ray continued to flash his edge speed working with the second team as he combined with DT Eli Ankou to sack QB Kyle Allen. Ray has had multiple sacks throughout training camp. DT Kendall Vickers also got home for a sack against QB Matt Barkley. 

LB Matt Milano, LB Leonard Floyd and DE Greg Rousseau were flying around the line of scrimmage to make life difficult for QB Josh Allen. Early on in 11 on 11, Milano forced Allen to throw off his back foot underneath to RB James Cook, while Rousseau and Floyd were able to get pressure on Allen in a sequence later on.

CB Christian Benford had one of the standout performances of practice as he came away with two INTs against Kyle Allen. On the first one, Benford was in coverage against WR Deonte Harty on a deep route and leaped up to make the pick. The CB's second INT of the afternoon came during a hurry-up situation where he read the throw to TE Quintin Morris and jumped the route for the takeaway to end practice.

CB Cam Lewis left practice early after his head slammed against the turf from contesting a catch against WR Trent Sherfield. Lewis appeared to be shaken up after landing hard on the ground and the training staff came over immediately to assist. Lewis was eventually able to get up and leave the practice field under his own power.

On the offensive side of things, Josh Allen continued to heavily target WR Stefon Diggs and WR Gabe Davis when the first team offense took the field. Both wideouts were impressive in the short to intermediate passing game to move the chains.

During the final sequence of practice, the offense had a minute to drive down the field from their own 25 and score. Allen had two completions to Sherfield, one to Diggs and one to Cook to get the offense near the red zone. With three seconds remaining, Allen fired down down the right side to the end zone for WR Khalil Shakir but Taron Johnson was in great position to break up the pass and end the series.

Phillips 'felt good' after first training camp practice

Since entering the league in 2015, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips had never undergone surgery as an NFL player. That changed this offseason when Phillips needed surgery to repair a shoulder injury that he dealt with throughout the 2022 season.

"I got my surgery on Valentine's Day… and it was long," Phillips shared after Sunday's practice. 

Phillips, who turns 31 in September, started training camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, meaning he was still on the active roster but ineligible to practice with the team until getting taken off the PUP. 

After spending the first two weeks of camp working off to the side with the training staff, Phillips was activated off the PUP on Sunday and participated in individual drills on the field. 

"Felt good to be back out there with the guys," Phillips said. "It was a long offseason, just hanging out in the training room, trying to get healthy. So it was nice, it was refreshing."

When healthy last season, Phillips held an important role in the Bills defense. He played in 12 games in 2022 and recorded six QB hits — his most in a season since 2019. Between the surgery to repair the shoulder and the offseason workouts to get back in shape, the DT is feeling confident in his ability heading into 2023. 

"From all the rehab and working out that I had to do, I would probably say this is the best shape I've been in. So that's a cool part about it, I guess. And just more of the relationships that I built with the guys that I was working out with and the training staff and stuff like that," he said.

See exclusive photos from Day 9 of Buffalo Bills Training Camp at St. John Fisher University.

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