With the end of the final night practice at St. John Fisher College in 2016, that wrapped up the public portion of training camp for the Buffalo Bills. Before they head back to Orchard Park for the remainder of the season, the Bills will have one final session for their players on Tuesday morning, but after that, everything finally starts to get real.
And for the Bills, the good news is starting to come their way — even if the last few weeks of the summer have yielded multiple bits of bad news. So, in the final night practice, who stood out?
Seven observations from the day of work:
1) The return of Incognito, Seantrel
- The Buffalo Bills have gone through the first few weeks of training camp without a fully stacked cupboard along the offensive line. The Bills have been without Seantrel Henderson since December of last season, and early into camp, the Bills suffered injuries to both left tackle Cordy Glenn (ankle) and Richie Incognito (ribs). Even with Glenn still on the shelf, the Bills welcomed both Henderson and Incognito back into practice on Monday night. Henderson was the bigger story, sheerly because of his battle with Crohn’s disease — and one that made him lose a reported 50-pounds and nearly claimed his career. Henderson, although he wasn’t given the full workload, did quite a bit in working with the second-team offensive line at right tackle. He got reps in team drills every once and again, just to get his feet wet. Henderson started 26 games over the last two years for the Bills, and with Jordan Mills leaving quite a bit to be desired, he could factor into the discussion if all goes well. The bigger return, based on impact, is Incognito. Backup Ryan Groy struggled during the team’s second preseason game, which made Incognito’s absence even more noticeable. The left guard was given the time to heal his rib injury, and appears to be on the way to being back to 100-percent.
2) Shaq Lawson appears
- The Bills have been without their first-round pick since the end of rookie minicamp, after offseason shoulder surgery took away the majority of his summer from an on-field perspective. Lawson has been seen every once in a while at training camp, but mostly just off to the side and near the locker room, clearly not doing any football related activities. While he still didn’t put on a helmet or anything like that, Lawson’s presence during Monday’s practice was quite noticeable. He stood outside with the defense during positional drills, and then for the first time to my knowledge, started doing some work to the side with trainers:
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) August 22, 2016
This is extremely early into Lawson is working his way back into consideration of playing. There are still plenty of hurdles that he’ll have to clear, but this was a definitive step forward for the Bills and their top rookie. Between Lawson, Incognito, Henderson, and the return of both cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, and wide receiver Greg Salas, this was one of the most positive days at training camp in 2016.
3) Defense continues their Saturday trend
- On Saturday against the New York Giants, the first-team defensive unit for the Bills did so well that the Giants offensive efforts were barely noticeable. Through the first half, the Giants didn’t score a single point, and their net yardage was a grand total of 37 yards. It had head coach Rex Ryan puffing his chest a bit during his post-game press conference, and it seems that level of play carried into Monday’s practice. The defense, by and large, dominated the practice against the Bills first-team offense. Just as it was on Saturday, Jerry Hughes once again led the way for the Bills defensively, consistently getting into the backfield to either secure a sack, blow up a play, or to set the table for his teammates. Over the last week-and-a-half of training camp, there might not be a better player on the field than Hughes. Without Marcell Dareus on Monday, both Corbin Bryant and Jerel Worthy made their presence felt along with Hughes, and helped the defensive front-seven really steal Monday night’s show.
4) Powell pushing
- The Bills wide receiver competition has been one that has been largely tracked throughout the duration of training camp, and while some of the players have had both their up and down days, one player has continued to shine both through training camp practices and in preseason games. Walt Powell, who was likely on the outside looking in on the roster when they first arrived at training camp, is making it awfully tough for the Bills to part ways with him. He made the highlight catch of the day, using incredible body control to bring in a pass from EJ Manuel inside the five-yard line during the team’s two-minute drill. He had the separation from the cornerback, tracked and located the ball, and secured the over-the-shoulder catch from Manuel. Powell also brings a special teams element to his game, and is the only one of the bubble receivers that is even being considered in a returner role. Keep an eye on Powell, he just might sneak on to the 53-man roster if he keeps this up.
5) Reggie Bush drops on the field, and on the depth chart?
- With the release of Karlos Williams over the weekend, that has led the Bills to a clearer path of what will happen to their running back group for the 2016 season. The team added Reggie Bush during camp, and they’ve really liked what they’ve seen from rookie runner Jonathan Williams. If they had kept Karlos Williams, they would have likely had to cut one of those two players following the four-game suspension, and they just weren’t interested in any of that. However, it’s been presumed that Reggie Bush is the No. 2 running back for the Bills, but Rex Ryan didn’t necessarily agree:
“And then Gillislee, I think is probably the number two back right now,” the head coach said. “Well Reggie is just—like I said, we’re going to be smart with him. I mean we don’t want to just run his legs off as the number two back. But make no mistake, he’s going to play for us and contribute not just as a returner but on offense as well.”
I think what is most likely, is that the Bills will employ a three running back approach with the majority of the touches going to McCoy. As for Gillislee, he’s a better runner than an option in the passing game, and at this point of his career, Bush is probably better suited as a pass catcher than an option to run between the tackles. I think both Gillislee and Bush will have a role when all three backs are healthy, just probably not a very big one. They’ll cut into each other’s workload because of their individual strengths. As for Monday’s practice, Bush dropped a couple of passes when he wasn’t being defended by anyone. That’s the first time we’ve seen that, and likely just an anomaly for the talented pass catcher.
6) Late veteran signing falling down the depth chart?
- When the injury to rookie linebacker Reggie Ragland occurred, that made the Bills comb the free agent market for inside linebackers to add to their system. The Bills made the move to bring in both Brandon Spikes and David Hawthorne, two veterans that they hoped would play differing roles. While Spikes has become a consistent performer for them throughout camp, and looks primed to make the team in 2016, Hawthorne is a bit of a different story. Hawthorne has suffered some bad beats while working at weakside linebacker for the most part, but we saw a bit of a hint to his standing during Monday’s practice. Hawthorne was working with the scout team defense, along with both Randell Johnson and Jamari Lattimore. Before that in previous practices, Hawthorne had been mostly working as a sub-in against scout team offenses, but there has been a subtle shift for him. It certainly didn’t help things that Hawthorne was burned deep by tight end Charles Clay for a big gain. Hawthorne could be in jeopardy of not making the 53-man roster if this trend continues.
7) Dan Carpenter’s hold on kicking job getting stronger
- The Bills gave kickoff specialist Jordan Gay a humongous change: they let him kick all the field goals during the team’s second preseason game. It just didn’t go well for him, after making his first extra point attempt, Gay hit the upright and missed both an extra point attempt and a field goal attempt to end his evening. Dan Carpenter didn’t have an attempt, but his solid performances throughout training camp has led the Bills to giving another indicator that this is his job. On Monday night, Carpenter was the only kicker to attempt field goals — getting all nine attempts. How did Carpenter do? Well, he nailed all nine chances, from 27, 30, 32, 34, 39, 41, 45, 47, and 47-yards out. I’ve been saying it for a while, but this competition at this point is anything but that. While the Bills won’t come out and say it, this is Carpenter’s job.
Day 16 MVP: OLB Jerry Hughes
- He’s giving Stephon Gilmore a run for his money as the best player at training camp in 2016.
Day 16 LVP: CB Jonathan Dowling
- He suffered two really, really bad beats deep down the field while going up against the first-team offense on Monday night. He’s a more natural cornerback and didn’t fit at safety, but he doesn’t have the hips to turn and run with receivers. He’s a classic ‘tweener, and will likely be left off the 53-man roster at the end of the preseason.
Not Practicing: DL Marcell Dareus (personal), LB Reggie Ragland (knee), OT Cordy Glenn (ankle), S Aaron Williams (concussion), HB Mike Gillislee (concussion) QB Cardale Jones (undisclosed), WR Marcus Easley (PUP), EDGE Shaq Lawson (PUP), WR Kolby Listenbee (Non-Football Injury)
Up Next: The Bills have one final training camp practice in 2016. It’s scheduled to take place on Tuesday, August 23 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm. The practice is not open to the public in any capacity.
Miss a day of practice? Catch up with my daily observations:
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