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Joe B: 2018 Buffalo Bills Training Camp Awards

Posted at 10:40 AM, Aug 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-15 11:48:53-04

August 15 has come and gone,  and that only means that training camp for the Buffalo Bills is over and done with until the summer of 2019. Throughout the three week stay at St. John Fisher College, we've had plenty of memorable days and a lot of roster fluidity.

We've also seen some players stand out for both good and bad reasons, which leads us to the yearly tradition on the final day of camp. So that we can wrap the practices with a tiny bow, it's time to hand out some awards.

Without further ado, the 2018 Buffalo Bills Training Camp Awards:

Flying up the depth chart: TE Jason Croom
- Ahead of training camp, the tight end depth chart looked reasonably rigid. Charles Clay was the top guy, Nick O'Leary was his primary backup, and Logan Thomas fits in as a reliable third option. Way down the depth chart, without much of a thought about him ahead of the start of the summer practices, was second-year player Jason Croom. The tight end came into the league trying to transition to the position after being a wide receiver in college, and the Bills even cut him at the beginning of the year last year after a full training camp and preseason. Croom then hooked back on with the Bills and their practice squad ahead of Week Nine and had been working behind the scenes since. After all that time, it showed this summer. Croom was continually getting himself involved in the passing offense during team drills, he showed he could make a play in the game, and has risen up the depth chart as a result. Croom is working in with both the first and second-team offenses, and he's also pushing the likes of Nick O'Leary for a roster spot. He still needs to work on his blocking a bit, but it's hard to ignore his receiving ability and the penchant for getting open with his athleticism.

Failed to impress: DE Trent Murphy
- This award is less about his performance during practices, and more about him not being able to stay on the field. It has to have been a frustrating three weeks for Murphy, who started the first week or so after having to sit out the entire spring mostly, only to injure his groin and miss another week of camp. He fought back to get on the field, and in the middle of his third practice back, Murphy injured himself again -- while pointing to his groin when athletic trainers came to look at him. Even before it, he seemed hesitant to do anything other than rush wide during all of his reps, to not upset the injury. With a relatively high level of expectations about his potential impact on the defense due to his free agent contract, not having him for the majority of the practices has been an upsetting sidenote for some fans. However, the Bills need him to be right for the start of the regular season -- as long as he can get there. There's no way of knowing if injuries will plague him, but that seed of doubt -- warranted or not -- has begun within the fanbase. His training camp injury all won't matter if he's healthy and ready to go for the regular season, which is what the Bills are hoping for in 2018.

Best fight: Kyle Williams throwing punches, then Hughes vs. Mills
- Of the ten Bills training camps I've covered in my time in the media, Kyle Williams has been a part of all of them. Through those ten years, I don't remember a single one of them that had Kyle Williams throwing punches in a mid-practice fight. That's what happened on Day 13 of camp, where Williams was on top of an offensive lineman laying on the ground, throwing several punches at him. That offensive lineman was first thought to be Jordan Mills after he arose from the pile without his helmet on. However, I found out the player Williams went after was left guard Vlad Ducasse, which makes much more sense based on where the two line up every play. Williams does have a bit of an edge to him, but in public practices, he usually keeps his cool. Not that time. Even if he wasn't the punch recipient, Mills had a starring role in the scuffle as well for his overall agitation of the defensive line, which to no surprise involved Jerry -- or in this case his alter-ego 'Gary' -- Hughes. The defensive end was screaming at Mills as teammates escorted him toward the sideline, and then while on the sidelines well after the rep finished. Mills and Hughes always seem to get themselves involved in those skirmishes in one way or another. Combined with Williams' involvement, this one tops the list.

Most memorable moment: Zay Jones throwing a helmet on his first day in pads
- Late in training camp on Day 14, Zay Jones showed a new edge in practice. It's not often that you get a skirmish during a 7-on-7 drill, but that's what happened between Jones and Micah Hyde. The two were locked with one another up after Hyde was trying to punch the ball loose after a catch, with some harsh words thrown around, and that's when teammates came to the rescue to break it all up. By the end of it Jones, who at some point had his helmet come off, took a helmet (not sure if it was his or Micah Hyde's) and threw it sky high into the air once they separated. Hyde then took a ball and punted it out of frustration. As a rookie, Jones mostly kept it light and wouldn't get in the middle of that stuff. In 2018, Jones has a bit of a new focus and a different demeanor to him, and with that as his first full day back at practice, the difference in approaches was more than noticeable. 

Rookie stud: DT Harrison Phillips
- Those hoping for Josh Allen or Tremaine Edmunds to steal this spot, hear me out. I find it hard to give the award to either a quarterback that the Bills wouldn't give meaningful first-team reps to until the end of camp, or to a linebacker that hasn't been able to show his ability to read running plays and finish them with a tackle. Both Allen and Edmunds have demonstrated unique traits, which makes for an optimistic future. However, the man that stole the show from a rookie perspective was the third-round pick and defensive tackle, Harrison Phillips. Early on, the Bills didn't want to put more on him than just one role along the line. They had him pegged as the primary backup to Star Lotulelei as the space-eating, block-occupying one-technique defensive tackle. That's a role he's still doing, but the Bills recognized early into camp that Phillips has an extraordinary ability to get into the backfield -- something he couldn't show a lot of in his time at Stanford last season due to his role. As a result, the Bills have worked him significantly as the penetrating three-technique defensive tackle on some days of practice, and even gave him the start in that role against Carolina for a resting Kyle Williams. As more time has passed, it seems Phillips could combine with Williams and Lotulelei for a three-person rotation that has all of them getting over 50-percent of the snaps. Phillips has a lot of untapped potential that the Bills have to try and harness. If he continues to play in the regular season the way he did in the summer, the Bills could have a steal on their hands.

Rookie dud: S Siran Neal
- This booking isn't an indication that the fifth-round pick and safety Siran Neal won't make the 53-man roster. However, with a clear opportunity to not only be the fourth safety on the team but to even carve out a role as the 'big nickel' against certain offensive looks, Neal was nowhere close to either for the entirety of camp. Neal has been locked in with the third-team defense all summer, and unless there is an injury, it doesn't look like that will be changing any time soon. Both Rafael Bush -- who the Bills identified as their potential 'big nickel' -- and Dean Marlowe have worked as the second pair of safeties, and both look like they have a relatively good chance to make the 53-man roster outright. I would have liked to see more of Neal's athleticism on display, or for him to make a play on the ball during team drills. Instead, he's looked like a rookie player trying to find his footing. The Bills may well keep five safeties, but at this point, Neal is the clear fifth of those five.

Camp LVP runners-up: WR Robert Foster, T Conor McDermott
- For both Robert Foster and Conor McDermott, the summer of work have been incredibly disappointing. After his spring workouts, Robert Foster has drifted so far out of contention that he's working almost exclusively with the third-team offense now. Despite getting open and having a bunch of passes thrown his way, Foster struggled with drops and couldn't make the big play often enough. He'll still be fighting for a spot on the practice squad, but he had many fans excited about him coming into the summer and hasn't lived up to it. The Bills had high hopes for McDermott, who was auditioning to be the reserve tackle on the 53-man roster. After an excellent first week, defenders started to attack him all in the same way -- by charging into his pads, getting his feet moving, and then dishing him aside. The 6-foot-8 McDermott has to learn how to battle that given his size, and the Bills haven't given up on him yet. We've seen offensive line coach Juan Castillo regularly in McDermott's ear and working with him after practice. However, McDermott went from the primary swing tackle to being demoted to the third-team offense. There is still a way to go for both to turn it around, but both look like potential practice squad candidates -- which is a disappointment given both were fighting for an actual roster spot.

Bonus LVP runner-up: PR Chris Fanelli
- For indefatigably not bringing the roster cards from his desk to practice every single day. (Just kidding. The Bills PR staff -- yes, Fanelli, too -- did a great job all camp long. Especially for putting up with us media people.)

Camp MVP runners-up: TE Khari Lee, DT Harrison Phillips
- The debut training camp for Harrison Phillips was so impressive that head to be on this list twice, but the work that he's done and the role that he's carved for himself in the defense is indicative of how well Phillips performed. Not to mention, he's been a real pain in the bleep to block for offensive linemen all camp. I discussed Jason Croom early on, but tight end Khari Lee might get the top billing for tight ends that have indeed shown something this summer. Of the six tight ends on the roster, Lee is the best blocker of the bunch, and it isn't close. He also started to show his athleticism and playmaking ability both in practices and in the preseason game in Carolina. As a result, Lee has been getting bumped up the depth chart and has now been working with the first-team in two tight end sets in specific instances. To have a player that can blend both significant responsibilities of the position with success is a great thing to have. While he won't be pushing for a starting job or anything like that, Lee has done everything right to keep himself in the Bills' good graces and potentially getting a top three tight end role in 2018.

Camp LVP: WR Austin Proehl
- After a spring that saw the rookie and seventh-round pick develop a chemistry with rookie quarterback Josh Allen, wide receiver Austin Proehl hit a wall as the pads went on in training camp. As time went on, we saw him drift down the depth chart. So far, in fact, that when the position was fully healthy that he was not getting regular reps. They've tried him on the outside and inside at slot receiver, but nothing has stuck. The area that has seemed to be the toughest for Proehl is the physicality of the practices. I noticed him having a tough time regaining his speed after being hit, and when he did, the play was already over. He also struggled with drops throughout camp, and through the first 13 or 14 practices, Proehl had about two or three catches total in team drills. Proehl needs a big rest of the preseason if he wants to make the 53-man roster, and it needs to start on Friday.

Camp MVP: RB Marcus Murphy
- When things started in spring, Marcus Murphy had to go out and earn it once again. He was fifth on the depth chart, ahead of only undrafted rookie Keith Ford. He flashed in the spring with some ability as both a runner and a pass catcher, but everyone knows that you can't fully trust what you see in the spring. Once the Bills got to Pittsford for training camp, Murphy continued to do more of the same. He was running with purpose, he was catching most everything thrown to him, he was making defenders miss, and he was showing that he could be lined up just about anywhere while still being useful. Then Murphy added special teams abilities to his repertoire, and all we've seen through summer is Murphy continue to rise. He passed Taiwan Jones within the first week. Within the past week, he's moved past Travaris Cadet. And after an excellent camp and a solid showing in his preseason debut, he looks poised to not only make the 53-man roster barring an injury but even to have a small role to begin the regular season. Considering he's the best option at running back they have that isn't either 30 years old already or pushing 30, Murphy has far exceeded any expectations for himself heading into the summer.

Until 2019, everyone. It's been a blast. Next up, three more preseason games and then the regular season. Thanks for following along!

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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