What we learned from Week 1 of 2021 Bills training camp

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Dawson Knox (88) Buffalo Bills Training Camp, Highmark Stadium, July 31, 2021. Photo by Sara Schmidle

1. Trademark tempo

Under head coach Sean McDermott, the Bills have always practiced at a level that closely resembles game speed. But now entering year five under McDermott with a pair of coordinators in Leslie Frazier and Brian Daboll, who have spent each of the past four seasons together, the speed of play and execution in practice is faster than it has ever been.

"Man, it feels real good -- just guys out there playing with confidence, I think that's the number one thing," said Edmunds in reference to the up tempo nature of the practice sessions. "We've got a lot of guys that came back so a lot of guys are familiar with the defense, offense, special teams – everything. So you just see a lot of guys out there playing free, playing fast and playing free and just having fun with it."

Even some of the new additions to the roster have adjusted well to blend in with the pace of play exhibited by the vast number of returning players. It is a challenge for the rookies however, who have to keep up or get left behind.

2. Committed to re-climbing the mountain

Last season was special, but coach McDermott and his players are not relying on any of their accomplishments from last season to serve as momentum for this season. They know they again must start from square one and re-climb the mountain that is the NFL regular season and postseason.

"We didn't win it," said Josh Allen. "So ultimately that was our goal last year and we didn't accomplish it. I know a lot of guys have that sour taste still and it's pushing them and driving them. Personally, me, that's how I feel. I know that when the time comes, 53 or 55 guys on the roster - whatever that number is - that have that same feeling and that same mentality of we didn't do enough to get the job done last year so let's find a way to be better this year and attack it that way."

"I try not to think too much about last year just because it's a new year, everybody's starting from ground zero," said Stefon Diggs. "People who watched us play last year got a lot to watch as far as like finding new ways to stop us and doing different things. I trust in my coaches and my quarterback and everybody involved. We're equally working as hard to try to create new ways to make things happen and we've got excellent pieces on offense. So it's just a learning curve. I try not to think too much about last year. It was a great year, didn't end well, and I'm trying to keep it going. We'll see this year. Things might be different. Nothing's ever the same, so I just control what I can control."

3. Allen has been as patient as he's been accurate

The reports of the Bills offense coming out hot in the first week of camp have been wholly accurate. Josh Allen looks confident commanding the offense. As he has stated there were several elements of his game he strove to improve this offseason. Many of them involve the nuances of the game and one that has looked better is his patience with the ball.

Every quarterback needs to have a consistent internal clock in terms of knowing where you are in the down and when you need to get rid of the ball. Allen has a keen awareness in this area, but what looks to be improved is finding his receiving targets later in the play.

Through the first few practices he would capably find a receiver in the second window on their route. The receivers on this roster are excellent at getting early separation in the play, and Allen can deliver the ball then. But sometimes a greater opportunity for yards after the catch or even a score can open up in a second gap in the defense for a receiving target.

Allen demonstrated an ability to do this on occasion last season. His second touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs in the Week 16 game at New England was such an example.

His ability to manipulate the pocket to stay patient and fit the ball in to second windows on receiver routes isn't something he'll have to turn to a great deal with the talent in this offense. But it's clear he's learned when the first window might not be there or the timing of the play takes away the first window, he has the patience to recognize a second window opportunity.

"I feel very confident in the things that I worked on (this offseason) and it's fun to go out here and try to apply those to game-like situations," Allen said. "It's an honor to be back out here with the teammates and the guys and getting to work and talk over plays and concepts. Work on little ins and outs and little details that you get to share while you're on the field and you go through certain situations."

Again very nuanced, but Allen demonstrated an ability to find his targets in those areas of their route to make plays this week.

4. Young players blending in

With defensive end one of the deeper positions on the roster, there was question as to whether top draft choices Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham would get a fair share of reps. The answer is a resounding yes as they've seen more than their fair share of time on the field in practice.

"We've really been impressed with their attitude and work ethic," said Frazier. "And they really picked up where they left off in OTAs. They're really smart guys and we were concerned early on about how much we could throw at them when it comes to the volume of the defense, but they both have handled it extremely well. And it doesn't seem too big for them at this point. Now we haven't put on pads yet, we still have some more installation to go, but at this point, we're very pleased with where they are and they're just doing a lot of good things."

Third-round pick Spencer Brown is also getting a ton of time on the field through the first week during team segments due in part to the absence of two linemen who started games last year in Dion Dawkins and Ike Boettger, who remain on the COVID-reserve list.

Even the later round draft choices like Tommy Doyle, Marquez Stevenson, Damar Hamlin and Jack Anderson are getting opportunities to make a good impression.

Scroll through to see the best photos from the first training camp practice in Highmark Stadium, presented by Connors & Ferris.

5. Sanders has hit ground running

It's only been a handful of practices, but Emmanuel Sanders looks every bit the veteran receiver the Bills had been pursuing for the better part of the last two offseasons.

Buffalo was able to finally land him in free agency in part because he was just as intrigued by the Bills offensive scheme as they were in him.

"It's everything that I thought it was going to be," said Sanders of the Bills offense. "Obviously I came here for a reason. I did my research. Just talking with Cole (Beasley) and Stefon (Diggs) and the offensive coordinator in terms of the plays being called and just the energy just around the building. So, it's everything that I thought it would be. So, I'm having fun. It's been great."

Sanders has blended in quickly with his offensive teammates in the passing game.

"He's a separation guy," said his former college teammate Cole Beasley. "Anytime you can get away from DBs you're going to be pretty good at wideout. He brings a lot of juice and energy to this team and I'm excited to get to play with him once again. It'd be the coolest thing ever if we could kind of put this thing together and get a Super Bowl together."

Sanders' experience makes reading coverage seem effortless for him. Through the first week he's also used separation to pull in passes while wide open, but he has also shown an ability to make contested receptions as well.

He did step out of practice early on Saturday, but in many respects he already seems up to speed on all that he'll be asked to do this season.

6. Anger a new element for this team

It wasn't too long ago that head coach Sean McDermott said he wanted his defense to have some nasty to their style of play. Cornerback Levi Wallace took it a step further when asked what is different about this team this year.

"I think there's a little more anger this year, and urgency," said Wallace.

The fourth-year corner maintains that anger stems from their disappointing performance in the AFC Championship game at Kansas City.

"Obviously, I came back (re-signed) to be with these guys," he said. "There were many nights where I was just sick to my stomach about how we ended last year and I think a lot of guys are still (ticked) off about that. It's a new year, a new team, but you never forget those feelings, you know?

"And I hate losing more than anything. And I think you just see that in a lot of guys, and it starts with the leadership of Micah (Hyde) and (Jordan) Poyer. In the secondary alone we've been together for four years now and T. White, Micah and (Poyer) have been together for five. And it's like, OK, one, this doesn't happen a lot in the league where players are together a lot, but two, we don't want to look back seven years from now and be like, 'Oh damn, we should've gone harder, or we should've done more drills at the end, or we messed up.' We want to go put our best foot forward this year and put that urgency to the test."

Take a look at the fans that were in attendance at the first training camp practice in Highmark Stadium.

7. Looking ahead

The big part of the second week of camp this coming week will be that pads are scheduled to go on beginning Tuesday. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the first day of practice is considered a conditioning day. Days two and three are non-contact in helmets, then shells for two more days, mixed in with an off day. For the Bills their off day is Sunday.

A good number of the players are eager to get another step closer to real football.

"It's always fun to put the pads on," said Dane Jackson. "That's kind of the strong suit of my game, being aggressive and tackling. So the first day in pads I'll be excited to put that back on display."

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