Fresh off their day off, the Buffalo Bills ran out on to the field at St. John Fisher College on a day that was noticeably warmer than any other practice so far at training camp. Some of the players were told to take off the hoodies that they usually wear under their jerseys, in the fear of potential overheating during practice.
On the field, the Bills started getting into some more game-like situations as we’re now just a little over one week ahead of the team’s first preseason game. How did the players on the field perform Thursday morning?
Seven observations from Day Five of Bills camp:
1) Tyrod bounces back
- For starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, it hasn’t been an ideal start to training camp in terms of accuracy and precision. Compared to what we saw in the offseason workouts, Taylor’s accuracy has dipped and he even showed a hint of frustration in himself during Tuesday’s night practice. Taylor was back and in charge on Thursday morning, putting the ball right where it needed to be through the majority of team drills — whether it was just normal, in the two-minute drill, or in the red zone for the most part. There was actually a few times that his receivers let him down after Taylor put the ball on their hands. His throws were a bit behind his wideouts on Tuesday, but that problem quickly subsided during the day’s practice session. During team drills, he connected for three total touchdowns (Chris Gragg, Charles Clay, and Marquise Goodwin) the recipients. The only glaring error from his practice was not recognizing safety Aaron Williams double covering a receiver running a slant in the red zone, and Williams came down with an interception thrown straight at him. Regardless of that one play, Taylor was clearly a strong performer on Thursday morning.
2) Striker promotion short-lived
- The Bills gave undrafted rookie Eric Striker the chance of a lifetime by mixing him in with the first-team defense at right outside linebacker. One practice is all the undrafted rookie received, because he was back down with the reserve units after IK Enemkpali retook his spot with the top unit. Both of those players were only in there due to injuries to both Shaq Lawson and Manny Lawson, but it seems as though the Bills weren’t overwhelmingly impressed with how the rookie performed on Tuesday. As far as an athletic option goes, Striker is the superior option. However, he needs to know the playbook and be able to withstand some punishment from much bigger offensive linemen he’ll be up against. The Bills opted for Enemkpali who does have the frame to battle in the trenches with bigger offensive linemen.
3) Darby has a day
- Much like 2015, the start to training camp for starting cornerback Ronald Darby was slow. There were times that Darby was completely turned around by receivers (Robert Woods was the most common perpetrator of the Darby bad beats), and this was in the shadow of Stephon Gilmore, who decided to make a statement through the first few days of camp by showing off his ball skills and playmaking ability with a pair of interceptions. While Darby didn’t pick a pass off on Thursday, he was consistently in the hip pocket of whichever wide receiver he was assigned to. He came away with at least three pass breakups by my count, clearly making Day Five his strongest day of camp thus far.
4) Preston Brown’s coverage struggles
- The Bills are depending an awful lot on Preston Brown to be the man that controls the defense from the middle inside linebacker spot. On Thursday, his coverage abilities were exposed on a couple of instances. Early on in team drills, Brown was covering Charles Clay over the middle of the field and Clay clearly had him beat. Brown grabbed Clay’s jersey and the ball went skipping by which should have been called, at least, defensive holding. Later in the practice, in red zone, it was once again Clay versus Brown, with the tight end getting the better of the linebacker this time around. Clay caught a pass right over Brown for one of Tyrod Taylor’s three touchdowns on the day. There was also a play that left Chris Gragg wide open in the deep left of the field, and while the blown assignment wasn’t clear, Brown was the closest man in coverage — even if it was a long way away. Coverage hasn’t been a strong suit to his game since entering the NFL.
5) Wilder, Jr. shows well in important area
- Reserve running back James Wilder, Jr. is getting close to being one of the training camp fan favorites of all the players, mostly for the amount of engagement he has with the fans both on social media and after practice with signing autographs. On the field, Wilder, Jr. showed an impressive and necessary component to his game once again. He was a standout in the one-on-one drills on Thursday, where running backs had to block linebackers. What made his rep on Thursday even more impressive was that he not only showed that skill, but this time it came during team drills. Wilder, Jr. was in pass protection for rookie quarterback Cardale Jones, felt the delayed blitz coming from the opposite side, got into position, and laid a huge block on the defensive player. Jones stepped into the space, and delivered a ball to a wide-open Walt Powell — a reception totaling 26 yards. If the young running back shows more things like that in addition to special teams prowess, he could make a compelling argument to be kept on the team.
6) Kouandjio sits out of practice
- The Bills haven’t sustained many injuries through the first few practices of training camp, but the first notable name had to sit out a practice today. Former second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio could not participate in the practice with an unspecified injury, and instead rode on the stationary bike with a member of the training staff. This is a big summer for Kounadjio, who has failed to live up to the expectations of a second-round pick since entering the league. To this point, he has been outplayed not only by starting right tackle Jordan Mills, but by second-team offensive tackle Chris Martin — who has shown well through the first five days of camp. Needless to say, he needs to be back on the field to secure a spot on the 53-man roster when all is said and done in early September.
7) Worthy keeps flashing
- The defensive line group is as set a position as you’ll find on the Bills roster, but it was still necessary to see a couple of the veteran depth players perform well during the summer. Through five days, both Jerel Worthy and Leger Douzable have done a fantastic job at making big plays in the backfield. Worthy has led the way in that respect, having gotten into the backfield for a would-be sack about four or five times already. Douzable hasn’t been in on as many sacks, but he’s also getting in the backfield and disrupting run plays before they even get started. The more those two perform as well as they are, the less room they leave for a player like undrafted rookie Justin Zimmer to potentially steal a spot on the roster.
Day 5 MVP: WR Walt Powell
- More often than not, when the ball was in the air, it was going to Walt Powell during team drills. Powell secured catch, after catch, after catch in what was surely his strongest day at training camp so far. He needs to string together a lot of positive days to steal a spot on the active roster, because he’s probably on the outside-looking-in at the moment.
Day 5 LVP: CB Javier Arenas
- Not only has Arenas all but lost his chance at winning the job as the team’s main punt returner, he hasn’t been able to string together a good practice defensively. It all came to a tipping point during one-on-ones in a rep against wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, where Arenas got crossed up, fell on his rear end, and Boykin easily ran down the field to complete the catch. A second round pick, his odds of making the roster are quite long.
Not Practicing: OT Cyrus Kouandjio, LB Jamari Lattimore, WR Sammy Watkins (PUP), WR Marcus Easley (PUP), EDGE Shaq Lawson (PUP), DL Kyle Williams (PUP), RB Karlos Williams (Non-Football Illness), DL Marcell Dareus (Non-Football Illness), OT Seantrel Henderson (Non-Football Illness), EDGE Manny Lawson (Non-Football Injury), WR Kolby Listenbee (Non-Football Injury)
Up Next: The Bills will practice on Friday, August 5 from 10 am to 12 pm. Practice is open to the public, and a ticket is not needed for entry to the session.
Miss a day of practice? Catch up with my daily observations:
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