Following their first preseason game of 2016, the Buffalo Bills returned to St. John Fisher College for their last full week of training camp. The Bills took to the field on an overcast Monday morning, and went through a full practice with the introduction of something new: Actual game planning.
For the first time this summer, the Bills lined up their first-team offense and first-team defense against a scout team, to try and simulate looks from an opponent.
Who stood out during Monday’s practice? Seven observations from the day of work:
1) No Lawson(s), No Enemkpali, so now who?
- The correct answer, in case you were wondering, is none other than Lorenzo Alexander — the man the Bills pegged as their ace in the hole on special teams for the 2016 season. Some fans were likely holding out hope for undrafted free agent rookie Eric Striker to get some first-team time without Shaq Lawson, Manny Lawson, and IK Enemkpali, but those hopes were dashed on Monday. Alexander lined up at first-team right outside linebacker and is a player that Rex Ryan said that, had it been a regular season game, he would have started on Saturday. Alexander also isn’t someone that the Bills want to ideally start on defense. They view him as a big-time piece of their special teams units, and want him to be as fresh as possible for those plays. So, even with Alexander there, you’d have to believe there’s an opportunity for someone like the newly signed Kroy Biermann, Striker, or even Bryson Albright to get some defensive snaps in the event that Manny Lawson isn’t ready to play in Week One.
2) First-team WRs firmly established
- To this point in training camp, we haven’t seen a practice that has had the Bills really sticking with a first-team offense that featured the same wide receivers play, after play, after play. That’s partially due to Sammy Watkins only returning to practice last week, but the Bills have liked to rotate different receivers in quite often. On Monday, the Bills — almost exclusively — were using a combination of three wide receivers with the first offensive unit: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin. The Bills were, however, without Greg Salas at practice due to a hamstring injury, but Goodwin has been ahead of him during training camp practices before. That trio of receivers seem like the best bet for how the wide receiver depth chart will look right at the top, and Goodwin has certainly earned all the time with the starters with how he’s played this summer.
3) Scout team reveals Karlos Williams’ initial spot
- It’s been a long time since running back Karlos Williams has been a full participant at a Bills practice, but following the a successful conditioning test, Williams was back out on the field on Monday. The runner went through individual and some team drills, but he wasn’t lined up and getting time where some would have expected him to. After an awful offseason that will keep him out for a four-game stretch at the start of the regular season, it looks like Williams will have to work his way back up the depth chart in practice. During the scout team workouts, there were only two running backs over with the first-team offense, and the remaining four at practice Monday (Jonathan Williams, Karlos Williams, James Wilder, Jr., and Boom Herron) were working with the scout team. It’s at least a little jarring, considering that Karlos Williams was the backup runner in 2015. However, the Bills may just be playing it safe and limiting his reps for now, in the hope that he’ll be back at peak condition by the time Week Five rolls around.
4) Duke Williams gets first-team time
- A big performance during a preseason game can yield more opportunities for players trying to make the 53-man roster, and a perfect example of that happened during Monday’s practice. Duke Williams, a former fourth-round pick now in his fourth season with the Bills, had a fantastic performance at safety during Saturday’s preseason game versus the Indianapolis Colts. He was playing physically, breaking up passes, anticipating plays, and making tackles. As a reward for his high quality play, Rex Ryan put Duke Williams with the first-team defense next to Corey Graham on Monday. Now, that spot is normally reserved for Aaron Williams, but he’s out after being placed into concussion protocol by the Bills. Duke Williams has a tremendous opportunity to show he belongs, and to secure a spot on the 53-man roster once the final preseason game wraps up in Detroit. It’s a pretty compelling battle brewing between Williams, Robert Blanton, Jonathan Meeks, and Colt Anderson not only for a main backup job, but to try and force Rex Ryan’s hand to keep more than the typical four safeties in 2016.
5) Some scout team surprises
- In watching the first-team offense and defense go up against the scout team, there were some pretty interesting additions defensively that was getting time with the top unit. We already know about Lorenzo Alexander at right outside linebacker and Duke Williams at safety, but even along the defensive line and at linebacker in sub-packages, some names that you wouldn’t expect was getting some time against the scout team. That sub-package group included players like inside linebacker Brandon Spikes, outside linebacker Bryson Albright, defensive lineman Leger Douzable, and nose tackle Casey Walker. Albright and Walker are the biggest surprises, but both have had really strong summers and are likely auditioning for a spot on the practice squad in 2016.
6) Dray jumps right back into the TE fray
- Past Charles Clay and Chris Gragg, the tight end group has left much to be desired for the front office and coaching staff. Nick O’Leary hasn’t been overly impressive, Blake Annen has faded into the background a bit following a strong minicamp, Jimmay Mundine is completely undersized for the position, and Jim Dray has been injured for over a week due to an ankle ailment. On Monday, Dray returned to practice, and immediately was worked back in with the first-team offense. It was usually a combination of Clay and either Gragg or Dray when they were in sets with two tight ends, but it’s clear that Dray is valued much higher than O’Leary, Annen, and Mundine. Dray hasn’t been overly impressive this summer, either, and it wouldn’t be a shock if that position was one the Bills tried to address on the waiver wire after final cuts come through all over the league.
7) Backup OL woes
- Just as it was on Saturday, it was a tough day for the backup offensive linemen on the Bills roster. While there were some good plays made by Chris Martin during 2-on-2s against the defensive line, the rest of the backup linemen couldn’t really get their footing on Monday. Players like Marquis Lucas, Cyril Richardson, Robert Kugler, and Jamison Lalk really struggled to win the drill. It’s clear the depth of the offensive line isn’t anywhere near what the Bills have on the other side of the ball, and that was merely reinforced on Monday. Like tight end, offensive line not only might be, but should be a depth position addressed around the time of final cuts in early September.
Day 12 MVP: OLB Bryson Albright
- Albright was constantly in the backfield getting sacks, putting pressure on the quarterback to make a decision, and even showed some ability in pass coverage. He’s performed quite well over the course of the past week.
Day 12 LVP: G Cyril Richardson
- Of all the backup offensive lineman, Richardson had the roughest day against the Bills defensive lineman during 2-on-2s. Richardson has had his moments of good play during training camp this summer, but it just wasn’t there on Monday.
Not Practicing: RB Reggie Bush (personal, excused), G Richie Incognito (ribs), LB Reggie Ragland (knee), OT Cordy Glenn (ankle), S Aaron Williams (concussion), WR Dez Lewis (shoulder), WR Greg Salas (hamstring), WR Marcus Easley (PUP), EDGE Shaq Lawson (PUP), OT Seantrel Henderson (Non-Football Illness), EDGE Manny Lawson (Non-Football Injury), WR Kolby Listenbee (Non-Football Injury)
Up Next: The Bills next practice on Tuesday, August 16 from 10 am to 12 pm. Practice is open to the public, and a ticket is not needed for entry.
Miss a day of practice? Catch up with my daily observations:
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