1 – Passing game on point
The offense has experienced a few good days at training camp at St. John Fisher, but on Friday evening at Highmark Stadium the passing game was locked in from the beginning. When rookie receiver Khalil Shakir was asked what was working so well in practice, his one-word answer summed it up.
"Everything," he said.
Whether it was the first, second or third unit, the offense found making plays in the passing game almost routine at times. Yes, there were some run stuffs and a few sacks by the defense, but it was easily the best passing performance of training camp.
Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis led the effort as both proved difficult to cover for most of the practice session.
"That's what superstars do. Superstars make plays," said OT Dion Dawkins. "Big guys block. So, keep the ball and the skinny guys hands and the big guys protect. That's what it is."
Josh Allen's first pass attempt of the night went to Diggs, who unofficially had five receptions in the practice session. Davis looked just as dominant with five receptions, three of which went for touchdowns.
But they weren't the only receivers making plays. Rookie Khalil Shakir continues to shine as he takes every new assignment and executes. His biggest play came on a deep route downfield that he adjusted to make the reception in the end zone for a score.
"When the ball is in the air go get it right? It's my job as a receiver," Shakir said. "It was all go (routes). Just go, so in my head I'm thinking just beat my guy. Just went over the top, burst downfield and then look for the ball and (Matt) Barkley, he threw a good ball. I just had to go back and get it and the result was a touchdown."
Receiver Tanner Gentry turned in his best practice in training camp as he capably worked the middle of the field for some big gainers to move the sticks. Undrafted rookie Neil Pau'u also made a handful of plays mostly outside the numbers. Tight end Dawson Knox pulled in a touchdown despite tight coverage from Jaquan Johnson on a supremely accurate pass from Allen. And fellow tight end Quintin Morris made a high difficulty one-handed reception.
Allen, Case Keenum and Barkley all had solid nights throwing the football, even when they had to leave the pocket to make plays on the move.
The second unit led by Keenum had 1:02 on the clock and began the drive at their own 26 with 31 seconds left, but three timeouts. Keenum hit Jamison Crowder with a strike on the right side for a 16-yard gain for a first down, but with the clock running, the offense called timeout.
After an incomplete pass, Keenum hit Duke Johnson for a short gain to bring up a 3rd-and-7 where they only picked up two yards. Facing a 4th-and-5 at their own 47, Keenum found Tanner Gentry over the middle for an 18-yard play to set up Tyler Bass for a game-winning 53-yard field goal with one second left on the clock.
The third team offense led by Barkley had 1:02 on the clock at their own 27 with one timeout needing a field goal to tie the game and a touchdown to win. Barkley hit RB Raheem Blackshear on the first play from scrimmage and the undrafted rookie got out of bounds to stop the clock with 56 seconds remaining.
After a sack by DT C.J. Brewer forced the offense to use their only timeout, Barkley converted on third down and followed two more completions for first downs to Isaiah Hodgins and Neil Pau'u to bring them down to the defensive unit's 25-yard line. After an incomplete pass to Pau'u, Barkley hit Hodgins for a gain of nine to bring up 3rd-and-1 at the 16 with 11 seconds left.
Facing an all-out blitz, Barkley tossed up a lofted pass to TE Tommy Sweeney, who in an effort to come back to the ball was interfered with by Daniel Joseph. The officials called defensive pass interference, giving the offense 1st-and-goal at the one-yard line. With six seconds left, Barkley fired a dart to Blackshear just inside the goal line for the winning touchdown.
2 – Two-minute drill cashes in
Late in practice, each of the three offensive units got a two-minute drill drive against their defensive counterparts. Josh Allen and the starting unit got the ball on their own 48-yard line with 1:05 left needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion with no timeouts.
Allen hit James Cook out of the backfield for a first down moving it to the defense's 40-yard line. Stefon Diggs picked up a first down on the next play on a pass from Allen to pick up another 15 yards. After an incomplete pass, Allen came back with a strike on the far sideline to Gabe Davis for a touchdown to end the drive with 28 seconds left on the clock. To have enough time for the other two units, they did not attempt the required two-point conversion.
The first unit was given a second drive at the defensive unit's 25-yard line, they had just 26 seconds left in regulation. After an incomplete pass and a 10-yard run play, Allen from Isaiah McKenzie for an eight-yard gain down to the seven-yard line. Ed Oliver came up with a sack to force a 3rd-and-2 situation with just two seconds left. Josh Allen tried to run it in and though it looked like he reached the end zone, Coach McDermott spotted it the two-yard line for a first-and-goal.
Allen then found Davis with a tight touchdown pass to complete the drive as time expired.
"In football everybody just has to do their job," said Dawkins. "There are 11 guys on the field. As an offense we have to play as a full unit. So, if everybody is doing their job, especially the O-line, Josh can be comfortable doing his thing. So, all of the credit and the glory goes to Josh Allen, 17. The big guys are just going to do whatever it takes to keep him as clean as possible for as long as possible, so he can continue to be great."
3 – Offensive line gets a bit healthier
Buffalo's projected top offensive line has not had a single rep together since training camp opened. Rodger Saffold is still recovering from injured ribs in a car accident a few weeks before camp and Spencer Brown has still not been cleared for team segments of practice. Guard Ryan Bates had also missed a few days early in the week, but returned to practice midweek and on Friday got some of his first team reps.
Dawkins, who missed a couple of days himself to tend to a personal family matter, knows the value of getting the reps together with the guys who he's likely to be playing with on Sundays, like Bates who was re-signed to a new four-year contract this past offseason.
"Anytime that we can have familiar faces in there, everybody is on the same page," said Dawkins. "And as I always explain to the O-line with new guys and older guys, it all just goes in a bucket of speaking the same language and with Bates back in, everybody's just a little bit more like on the same language base because we're familiar with what he's doing. It's a blessing. The Buffalo Bills signed him to play ball. So as long as he's on the field, he's doing what he's supposed to do."
Coach McDermott indicated midweek that Brown is getting closer to returning to full practice participation. Whether that comes next week remains to be seen.
Bills hosted Return of Blue & Red practice on Friday, Aug. 5 at Highmark Stadium.