Following a day of rest, the Buffalo Bills got back on the practice field on Monday morning and were greeted by the return of three of their best players. Having practiced without wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and defensive linemen Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams through the first seven sessions, the super-talented trio finally passed their physicals and were back on the field to start the week.
How did they look in their first day back? Seven observations from Monday’s practice:
1) “Ty! What are you doing?!”
- Not to be outdone by the three big named returning Bills starters on Monday, quarterback Tyrod Taylor made waves during practice — not for a big play that he made during team drills, but for putting the heart of every member of the front office, coaching staff and roster in their mouths with one extremely dangerous decision. It all happened during a play in the red zone against the first-team defense. Taylor started off the rep by scanning the field, and found nothing to his liking. Taylor then took off for the end zone, and with a defender in the way of the goal line, looked like he was going to run out of bounds just a yard or two from pay dirt. Keep in mind, quarterbacks are strictly off-limits for other players to hit, and they’re not supposed to put themselves at risk. Taylor threw caution to the wind, planted his leg in the ground and tried to jump over the defender. Instead of staying on his feet, Taylor inadvertently got side-swiped and fell awkwardly to the ground. Taylor got up and walked away no worse for the wear, but one of his teammates screamed from across the field “Ty! What are you doing?!” Doing that in practice during a non-contact drill, and in a contract year no less, doesn’t make any bit of sense for the 27-year-old quarterback.
2) Sammy’s smooth debut
- The Buffalo Bills maintained through the offseason that top wide receiver Sammy Watkins would be ready by the start of the regular season. That was a bit of a safe estimate, because Watkins returned to practice on Monday, in full pads, for the first time since the 2015 season. While the Bills limited him to only a handful of team reps, it was clear as day who the best wide receiver was on the field. Watkins was so smooth coming in and out of his breaks, making it seem effortless while operating at a high speed. He caught everything thrown his way, and then topped it all off at the end of the practice by beating Nickell Robey-Coleman in the red zone with a beautiful over the shoulder catch in the back of the end zone that required a quick toe tap to secure the score.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) August 8, 2016
The Bills don’t need to push him to do too much too quickly, but it’s certainly a positive sign to see him back so quickly. If I were the Bills, I wouldn’t even let him touch more than just a handful of snaps during the preseason. He really doesn’t have anything to prove, and they know what he is at this point.
3) New-look defensive front
- The Bills welcomed back both Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus to practice on Monday, and as a result, the defensive line got a whole lot deeper. Some had wondered where everyone would fit into the scheme once those two got back to work, and we got those answers today. In the base 3-4 formation, Kyle Williams and rookie Adolphus Washington lined up at five-technique defensive end, with Marcell Dareus in at nose tackle. The Bills proclaimed Adolphus Washington to be a start, but it’s at least somewhat interesting because he’s been outplayed by both Corbin Bryant and Jerel Worthy to this point in training camp — and Bryant had another solid day of work on Monday. Zach Brown lined up as the weakside inside linebacker in place of rookie Reggie Ragland, while IK Enemkpali continued on taking reps at right outside linebacker. The depth of the Bills is already being tested on defense — specifically at the linebacker position, which could ill-afford a rash of injuries to begin with.
4) McCoy zipping around the field
- The Bills are being careful with starting running back LeSean McCoy for the most part, but they still allow him to get in some work during team drills at practice. On Monday, McCoy was hitting his fifth and sixth-gear on multiple occasions, leaving defenders in his dust along the way. On one rep early in the practice, McCoy ran over the left guard, pulled a spin move, and it sent Aaron Williams flying the other way as McCoy scampered up the field for more yardage. Later in the day, he roped in a 19-yard reception from Tyrod Taylor, and then another smooth, bang-bang reception from Tyrod Taylor of a touchdown in the red zone. There was at least one scary moment, when McCoy was given a run play that got stuffed by the defensive line in the backfield, and IK Enemkpali inadvertently helped knock McCoy to the ground. Although he didn’t suffer an injury, the running back didn’t look pleased as he got up and was then replaced on the next play.
5) Out with the old injuries, in with the new
- The Bills got a total of five players back from the non-practicing list with Watkins, K. Williams, Dareus, tight end Charles Clay, and inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore. All five players took a varying amount of snaps during team drills, and completely enhanced the depth of their respective positions. However, as they got on the field, the Bills had to deal with two other ailments to significant players and one top backup as well. Left tackle Cordy Glenn wasn’t able to practice at all on Monday due to a reported high ankle sprain, and was seen in a walking boot as he worked to the side with trainers.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) August 8, 2016
Making matters worse, starting left guard Richie Incognito left the field with trainers not even halfway through the practice and did not return due to an injury to his ribs. Without those two, the Bills used third-year player Cyrus Kouandjio with the first-team at left tackle, and a combination of Ryan Groy and Fernando Velasco at left guard. The Bills also lost Corey White in the middle of practice, who has been consistently working with the second-team defense at cornerback.
6) Hankerson falling flat
- During the offseason the Bills brought in a number of veteran wide receivers that were trying to re-establish their NFL careers with an opportunity in Buffalo. Among them: Greg Little, Jarrett Boykin, and Leonard Hankerson but the latter of the three is fading off in the distance a bit. While Little and Boykin have each gotten their opportunities to shine, Hankerson really hasn’t done much to stand out and couldn’t quite get a handle on Monday’s practice, either. The wide receiver dropped a pass that hit him squarely in the hands early on in practice, then followed it up with losing a 50-50 battle with rookie Kevon Seymour on a deep route. Even during the scrimmage on Saturday, Hankerson didn’t even make a blip on the radar, ending the night without even a target from one of the three quarterbacks. It’s a tad disappointing considering his relative success during the beginning stages of 2015 with Atlanta, but Hankerson just has failed to make any impact in camp so far, and if it all ended today, he’d be on the outside looking in on the 53-man roster. The good news, Hankerson still has plenty of time in camp and the preseason to show that there’s more to him than what he has shown.
7) The good and bad of Zach Brown
- In his second full day as the first-team weakside linebacker, Zach Brown showed both the good and bad parts to his game on two separate reps. Brown is an athletic linebacker, and has the ability to get out in coverage and stick with tight ends and running backs wherever they go. His problem, though, is not always feeling the play and then being caught flat-footed on deceptive plays. That happened on a perfectly executed screen to Reggie Bush, where Brown was slow to react and then got covered up by Fernando Velasco on a breakout block. He learned from his mistake later in the practice though, having been assigned Mike Gillislee pre-snap. Gillislee set up shop to be the recipient of a screen and Brown knifed through to be in the running back’s hip pocket. Tyrod Taylor smartly recognized it, and threw it at Gillislee’s feet to avoid a negative play, and show that Brown has the athleticism to stick with those smaller players.
Day 8 MVP: DE Lavar Edwards
- Though he’s had his struggles at training camp this year, Lavar Edwards was playing like a man possessed on Monday. He dominated his one-on-one reps versus the offensive line, and then continued that success into team drills by collecting two sacks. It will be an uphill climb to make the roster with the amount of solid players at the position as it is, but Edwards isn’t sitting idly by and just letting it happen.
Day 8 LVP: OL Robert Kugler
- It was a tough day for the Western New York native, not able to hold his ground against the mammoth nose tackle T.J. Barnes during 1-on-1s, and then struggling with the third-unit during team drills as well. He seemed to lack the strength and length needed against some of the defensive linemen on the Bills roster.
Not Practicing: TE Jim Dray (ankle), LB Reggie Ragland (knee), OT Cordy Glenn (ankle) WR Marcus Easley (PUP), EDGE Shaq Lawson (PUP), RB Karlos Williams (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 Tuesday, August 9 from 10 am to 12 pm. Practice is open to the public, and a ticket isn’t needed for entry.
Miss a day of practice? Catch up with my daily observations:
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