It may not have seemed like a big play at the time, but the 20-yard completion from Josh Allen to Tyler Kroft, last Sunday against the Eagles, was an indication to all who were watching of what the tight end can be for Buffalo’s passing game.
Kroft had what many might consider a pedestrian game last week with a pair of receptions on four targets for 32 yards in an 18-point loss. But knowing it was just the second game in a Bills uniform for the free agent signee, both Kroft’s teammates and coaches believe it could just be the introduction of a bona fide weapon in Buffalo’s aerial attack.
“That first catch everybody was super excited for him,” said Allen. “The team was happy to see him go out there and make some plays for us. We’re trying to get as many reps as we can in practice whether it’s routes on air or team and all the repetition we can get is going to help.”
Kroft missed most of the offseason practices due to a fractured foot in the spring. Just as he was healthy and poised to return, he suffered a badly sprained ankle in Week 3 and it delayed his debut for the Bills until Week 7 against the Dolphins.
Last Sunday against the Eagles was just his second game of regular season action with his new teammates in Brian Daboll’s scheme. But head coach Sean McDermott has witnessed progress from one week to the next.
“I think we’re getting there,” he said. “I thought Tyler built on game two from what he put out there in game one. It’s really us as coaches knowing our players and the longer you’re around them the easier it is to get to know what the player does well and where they’re challenged. Whether it’s Tyler or anyone else, those relationships and that in-depth knowledge of one another is important to make sure we’re putting those players in positions of strength.”
Kroft is trying to facilitate and accelerate that process with a dedicated approach to practice, all while being in constant communication with Allen on what he’s seeing out there live and then reviewing it on practice and game tape with his QB.
“The games haven’t been too fast for me and I’ve stacked some good days,” Kroft told Buffalobills.com. “There is a lot to clean up and get better on, but I think there have been steps that I’ve taken where I know I’m headed in the right direction. I’m going to keep coming in every day ready to work.”
Kroft may have made more of an impact last Sunday had Allen seen him wide open on a corner route against the Eagles in Philadelphia territory. The play could’ve gone for a touchdown if Allen had seen him running free, but his progressions appeared to take Allen to the other side of the field first.
That’s the gap Allen and Kroft are trying to bridge as they spend more time on the field together.
“The defenses each week are going to throw something different at you. They’re not going to be the same each week, so they’re going to try to do certain things to deceive you,” said Kroft. “So we want to make sure we’re seeing the defenses in the same way where if there are any read routes that we’re on the same page so we’ve got it locked down and can execute.”
Scroll through to see the best photos from Buffalo's practice as they prepare for Week 9 against the Washington Redskins.
Kroft was signed in the offseason to be a dynamic receiving weapon in the passing game. The chance to be a primary tight end in an offense is a relatively new concept to him, though he filled the role admirably in Cincinnati when his former teammate Tyler Eifert succumbed to injury in 2017.
It took a game or so for him to catch fire for the Bengals, but once he did Kroft posted seven touchdowns over the last 14 games that season as the starter, along with just over 400 receiving yards on 42 catches.
At his core, Kroft is a team player and always will be, but at the same time he realizes that opportunities to make an impact will definitely be there in coach Daboll’s scheme.
“I think there is room in the passing game for the tight ends. Everyone knows that this offense likes to use the tight ends and get them involved,” said Kroft. “We have a great group and all four of us have been used in the passing game. So hopefully we stick with that going forward.”
Though their time on the field has been brief, Kroft feels he and Allen have built a solid foundation and just believes time on task will get them to a place where game-changing plays are possible, and his quarterback agrees.
“As for the trust between him and I, I have supreme trust in Tyler and supreme faith that he’s going to come down with the balls that I throw him and we’re going to keep working on our timing,” said Allen.
Kroft has never been the kind of player who demands the ball in the huddle, which is partly what made him attractive to the Bills as a free agent. But at the same time, he knows why he was pursued by Buffalo, and after having to wait longer than expected Kroft is determined to deliver.
“It’s clear where the tight ends can make an impact in this passing game and in this offense in general,” he said. “I think it’s always been clear expectation-wise on what they’re looking for from me.”
And Buffalo’s quarterback is just as determined to help make Kroft’s impact a reality.
“He’s a very talented guy,” said Allen. “He can do things with the ball in his hands. He’s big and can move and can catch. So we’ve got to find ways to get him the ball.”