On the heels of a big victory off the bye week, the Buffalo Bills got back to work on Wednesday as they start to get ready for their upcoming matchup with the Oakland Raiders. And just as it was on Monday, all eyes were on a pair of injuries that are critical to the Bills this coming weekend.
What were the big takeaways from the first day of practice? Five notes from the first day of work of the week:
1) Poyer, Gaines still day-to-day
- Without a doubt, the two biggest injuries of the week for the Buffalo Bills are the ones that cornerback EJ Gaines (hamstring) and safety Jordan Poyer (knee) are presently facing. The Oakland Raiders had been stagnant for a few weeks, but their passing attack woke up last week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Derek Carr was outstanding and Amari Cooper returned to his status as one of the best wide receivers in the league by having a dominant 11-reception, 210-yard, and two touchdown performance. The Bills really struggled against Tampa Bay when it was only Gaines out of the lineup — and now they might have to go against a higher performing passing attack without Poyer — who has been one of their best defenders in 2017. Both players are considered day-to-day, but neither practiced on Wednesday — which doesn’t give much an indication as to their outlook is for Sunday. Jordan Poyer indicated that it’s still up in the air right now, and given that it’s a hamstring injury for Gaines, there must be some legitimate concern about his availability on Sunday. If the Bills could get one of these two on the field Sunday, it would be huge for them in this specific matchup. If not, they’re going into the game with the prospects of both cornerback Shareece Wright and safety Trae Elston starting — which does not present a promising outlook.
2) Some flexibility with Dawkins now
- On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills saw the return of Cordy Glenn back to his normal starting position of left tackle — and two important things happened. First, he looked great in his first start since Week Two of the 2017 season. Second, he came out of the game healthy and was a full participant during Wednesday’s practice. With Glenn clearing a major hurdle in regards to his health, that means he’s likely to continue on as the starter on the left side of the line. The lingering question is what now becomes of rookie Dion Dawkins, and more importantly, where he’ll begin to practice. Dawkins has practiced at left tackle for all but a couple of weeks in the summer, and with all his college experience being on that side of the line, it’s logical to believe that he needs time on the right side before being in consideration to play there. With Glenn checking out healthy after a start, head coach Sean McDermott admitted that the situation for Dawkins is more “fluid” now to get some practice time somewhere other than at left tackle. If starting right tackle Jordan Mills struggles while Glenn continues to be healthy, Dawkins — with ample practice time — could actually start to figure into the picture. This week, however, it appears unlikely.
3) Incognito doesn’t practice
- For the first time this season, the Buffalo Bills didn’t have Richie Incognito for a handful of snaps on Sunday due to an ankle injury. Incognito missed a grand total of nine snaps before heading back out on the field and finishing the game, but the lingering effects have taken hold at the beginning of the week, Due to the injury, the Bills gave Incognito a precautionary day off from practice to rest the injury as the practice week began. The Bills seem to be optimistic about Incognito’s chances to both return to practice this week and to play in the game Sunday. The Bills will be going up against a Raiders defense that is highly susceptible to giving up big runs right through the middle, and Incognito would play a big role in that.
4) Dareus trending up?
- Against Tampa Bay, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus made his first start since Week Two of the season and played in over 50-percent of defensive snaps for the first time since Week One. Head coach Sean McDermott highlighted a great week of practice by Dareus, that led into a more impactful performance on the field Sunday. McDermott hopes that Dareus builds from the week and is “anxious to see” how he does this week. McDermott will continue to be optimistic about Dareus in the hopes that they can see the return of a once dominant force from the middle of the defense, and someone that it is a really good fit for the 4-3 defense. To this point, it’s been a see-saw battle with Dareus between injuries, off-field worries, and on-the-field performances getting in the way of the one true fact: he’s a talented player. If Dareus has any hope of sticking with the Bills past the 2017 season, he needs to show that the one week of practice and his performance in the Tampa Bay game wasn’t just a fluke and that it’s just the start of a trend that they’ve been waiting to see.
5) Milano may not start when Humber comes back, but is he glued to the bench?
- I have to admit… when watching the Bills victory over the Buccaneers back with the coaches film, I did not expect rookie weakside linebacker Matt Milano to have played as well as he did. He was fantastic in coverage, picked off a pass, was solid against the run, and showed the ability to get off blocks and make a play. In just his second start, it was impressive that it was one of the best performances on the entire roster — and Sean McDermott took notice as well, saying Milano made a “huge jump” from his first start to the second. Milano is a prototypical fit for McDermott’s defensive scheme but stopped any thought that the rookie could take the starting job from the injured Ramon Humber. However, if Milano continues to play as well as he has in Humber’s absence, the Bills would be foolish to take him out of the defensive game plan completely. I wonder if they might utilize him and his coverage abilities, and perhaps, maybe even take some snaps at strongside linebacker to give starter Lorenzo Alexander a rest every once and again. For the here and now, though, the Bills have to be feeling really, really good about their fifth-round selection as he continues to learn on the job — especially because McDermott admitted that they didn’t think they would play him this early in his career — and feel like they have a potential long-term solution to a key starting role on the defense.