In a blink of an eye, the final week of Organized Team Activities for the Buffalo Bills is almost over, and that means we're that much closer to the start of training camp. As the Bills took to the field for their second-to-last voluntary workout on Thursday, there was some movement within the depth chart along with some positive performances.
What stood out from Thursday's session? Seven observations from the Bills day of work:
1) Josh Allen sticking with the 3s
- For the third consecutive week, the first-round pick and quarterback Josh Allen remained with the third-team offense, which has started up some thought as to when they'll enhance his workload. The Bills, when they drafted him, said that they have a plan in place for Allen in how they wanted to develop him as the long-term starter of the team. Allen has been working closely with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and has undoubtedly shown the live arm the Bills knew they were getting when they selected him in April. If Allen is going to have a legitimate shot to win the job coming out of training camp and the preseason, they'll eventually need to work him in. However, the Bills have remained clear that they are unwilling to veer from their plan for Allen at the present moment, and will continue to do what they see fit -- without ignoring apparent signs that he needs some additional responsibilities. And on Thursday, while Allen showed that he could zing in some passes, he also made an incorrect decision with the ball late in practice with a big underthrow that led to an interception. Perhaps the Bills give him a series or two with the first or second-team offense during mandatory minicamp, but the Bills aren't tipping their hand on that just yet.
2) Milano's absence noticeable
- For the first time this spring during workouts open to the media, the Bills were without starting outside linebacker Matt Milano due to an undisclosed reason. Milano was on the sidelines in his jersey with some other injured players, but it's unclear what his injury is at the current moment. In his stead, both in base formations and in nickel, Ramon Humber took his place -- but the practice felt Milano's lack of a presence. There were a few instances throughout the day of run lanes not being filled -- especially when going out wide. There was also some weaknesses in zone coverage out to the sideline of where the linebacker should be. Those are two elements of Milano's game that made him such an improvement in the starting lineup last season, and it goes to show how important he is to the operation for the Bills. The fact that he was out watching practice and walking around with his teammates probably restricts this from being a serious injury. We'll have to see if he's back on the practice field for minicamp on Tuesday.
3) Kerley entrenched with the top unit
- The wide receiver depth chart has mostly been all over the place during OTAs -- except for two things. The first, Kelvin Benjamin in the starting lineup. The second, veteran and free agent acquisition Jeremy Kerley was lining up as the slot receiver with the first-team offense. His primary sources of competition are likely going to be from a pair of rookies in Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl, which gives him a leg up on the race based on all of his experience. Kerley has been a consistent target to both Nathan Peterman and A.J. McCarron in the three practices we've been able to see, and there's no reason to believe the Bills would replace Kerley in that top unit before training camp. He's been a firm fit so far -- something that the Bills sorely needed given the state of the wide receiver group.
4) Groy vs. Bodine
- During the first two practices open to the media, free agent pickup and center Russell Bodine took all of the first-team reps at the position, with Ryan Groy backing him up as a member of the second-team offense. There was some thought that Groy could figure into the competition at either of the starting guard spots -- but that hasn't been the case in any of the three practices I've seen so far. The only difference on Thursday was that Groy was actually with the first-team offense, and Bodine backed him up with the second unit. Now, the media has only been allowed to see three of the nine practices so far, so I'll be interested in tracking the different movements along the offensive line over the course of the three-day mandatory minicamp next week.
5) Lawson continues along with an added role
- After the Bills went after and successfully signed free agent defensive end Trent Murphy, that slid Shaq Lawson into a rotational position for the Bills in 2018. He'll be a backup left defensive end -- the spot that he started at for the early part of the season, and they'll hope he can build on his positive first month-and-a-half of the season in more of a limited role. However, we might also see him in a bit of a different capacity during specific situations. On third downs -- obvious passing downs, anyway, Lawson was lined up inside at defensive tackle -- likely so the Bills have a bit more of a pass-rushing edge from the interior of the line. Lawson's situational role isn't a new revelation with the Bills and Sean McDermott, as Ryan Davis sometimes kicked inside to defensive tackle at times. But with Lawson, the Bills are just trying some things out to see how they can best take advantage of his skill-set.
6) Taiwan Jones had trouble hanging on to the ball
- Most of the jobs on offense, outside of LeSean McCoy, Dion Dawkins, and Kelvin Benjamin are likely up for grabs this summer, and especially with the depth at many positions. That holds true at running back past McCoy and primary backup Chris Ivory, with the third and maybe the fourth spot -- should they keep one -- on the depth chart is there for the taking. And with those spots, you need to be able to do something that is usable on game days, and with Taiwan Jones, it's on special teams. The trouble is, the potential return man had trouble hanging on to the ball during kickoff return work on Thursday and even multiplied the problem by allowing a swing pass to go right through his hands. Too many days like that won't fly with the decision makers of the team, especially with plenty of competition for one of the last spots on the roster.
7) Undrafted wideout showing some progress
- So far Malachi Dupre has done a great job with some extended opportunities on the first-team offense, but a hamstring injury kept him on the sidelines on Thursday. That has allowed more reps to other players, and one that caught my eye for all the right reasons on Thursday was undrafted rookie Robert Foster. Now it helps his case early on for the 6-foot-2, 196-pound Foster that he spent all last year at Alabama with current Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. However, he's showing off a polished ability to run routes and is getting some opportunity with both the first and second-team offense in spots. While it's early yet and spring workouts have been known to fool people, especially at wide receiver, you can see the coaching staff starting to form some trust with Foster. As is always the case with wide receivers, you never honestly get a gauge on them until the pads go on in training camp and things get a bit more physical. It's been a solid start for Foster, though.