The Buffalo Bills got a full week off to prepare themselves for the last 11 games of the season, and upon their return on Monday, we saw at least one significant move in the Bills favor. It all has to do with a player on offense that can significantly help an area of weakness that was found against the Cincinnati Bengals.
What else should you know about the Bills as they get back from their bye week? Five notes from Monday’s practice:
1) Matthews making strides?
- On Monday, head coach Sean McDermott opened up with injuries and who would not be participating in the practice that day. McDermott listed starting wide receiver Jordan Matthews among the players not participating, but, then said that he was “day-to-day.” That, in itself, is an improvement based on what the Bills have been saying leading up to this week. When it comes to McDermott and injuries, there aren’t any specific timetables — which is smart, because you don’t want to pin yourself down to a timeframe and it not come true. So, instead, we either get ‘week-to-week’ (an indication that the player really has a long shot of playing in the upcoming game) or ‘day-to-day’ (the words when the player might be closer to a potential return to practice and/or a game. So Matthews getting that slight improvement in terminology is a positive step. However, after practice, Matthews was taking some time to catch passes. When you watch the below video… what don’t you see?
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) October 16, 2017
That’s right… no use of his injured right thumb. So after that, I asked him if they had allowed him to catch a pass at all with his injury, to which he replied that he hasn’t done any of that yet. He did mention he’s been catching some tennis balls and that’s felt good, but a tennis ball and a football zooming in during live action are two completely different things. Now, Matthews did say that he thinks it’s one of those things where that once he gets cleared for takeoff he’ll be fine to catch those passes. However, him not catching a single pass with a surgically repaired thumb within a week before the upcoming game might just be too soon to ask him to make it all the way back in time for Sunday. If he can get to practice in some capacity and catch some passes Wednesday or Thursday, he’ll have a chance. This will be an important couple of days coming up for his availability on Sunday.
2) Dareus out for “personal reasons”
- When the Bills opened up practice, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was not among the participants. According to McDermott, Dareus had been excused from the practice for “personal reasons,” to the extent of which we aren’t entirely sure at this time. Some fans have already taken to Twitter in their best attempt to roll their eyes through social media, given his vast history of stepping out of line. However, it’s always good to take a step back and allow it to develop. You never know what the situation might entail. After a frustratingly average start for the player that was once a star defender for the team, he had his best performance of the season against Cincinnati while only taking 33-percent of the defensive snaps — and one that the Bills are hoping for Dareus to build upon. With his well below average snap counts starting to normalize, that’s about how much they’ve shown to want to play the former starting defensive tackle. With another full week of rest, we’ll see if Dareus can get anything close back to the player that the Bills signed to a hefty extension.
3) Humber, Clay remains week-to-week
- Even with the relatively good news on wide receiver Jordan Matthews, it’s still slow-going for both starting tight end Charles Clay and weakside linebacker Ramon Humber. Both seem unlikely to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday due to injury, which has put them at “week-to-week” status according to McDermott. Clay will be sorely missed on Sunday — especially if the Bills are unable to get Matthews back in time by Sunday. While it’s true that Nick O’Leary can find the soft spots in coverage and can catch the passes thrown his way, he also is not a player to fear for the defense. What makes Clay so dynamic and explosive is his athleticism at the tight end position, and the ability to make people miss after the initial catch is made — and that will be missing on Sunday at least without him. As for Humber…
4) Humber won’t be losing his job to Milano
- … it doesn’t appear he’s in any immediate danger of losing his job, no matter how well rookie Matt Milano plays at weakside linebacker. While speaking with the media on Monday, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said that he liked what Milano did against the Bengals. He then, however, added that they’re also looking forward to Humber getting back on the field for them. To make it even more ‘matter of fact’ than it was initially, Frazier said outright, “[Humber] isn’t going to lose his job to an injury.” Both Humber and Milano have done some nice things for the Bills. For Humber, his biggest contribution has been in stopping the run. For Milano, it’s his athleticism that stands out. Either way, the Bills have found out a little about Milano and his starting potential in the event that Humber gets injured again, or for when the starter’s contract expires at the end of the 2017 season.
5) White’s shadowing days are merely temporary
- In the second half of the Bills’ loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, rookie Tre’Davious White started to do something we hadn’t previously seen from the rookie. The Bills had him shadowing A.J. Green on most plays down the stretch of the game — and to varying results. The Bills were in a bind at the cornerback position, already without usual starter E.J. Gaines in the lineup due to a groin injury and then suffering another injury to top nickel cornerback Leonard Johnson. They were down to three: White, Shareece Wright, and undrafted rookie Greg Mabin. Frazier told reporters on Monday that they prepared White that week in the event that they needed to have him shadow Green. The way he made it sound, was that it was a move totally out of necessity based on what had occurred on the injury report, as opposed to something they had been planning on doing all along. Frazier even said it’s something they don’t necessarily want to do every single week. From the way it sounds, had Gaines been healthy, I don’t believe we would have seen White going all over the field just to cover Green. Perhaps if Leonard Johnson didn’t get injured, White wouldn’t have made that move, either. However, if the duo of Gaines and Johnson cannot get back for the game on Sunday, I’d expect to see more of the same from White on top wide receiver Mike Evans. For the record, Gaines and Johnson did practice on Monday on a limited basis — which is a positive sign for both players. We’ll have to see their level of activity on Wednesday when the injury report is due.