The Buffalo Bills have only one game to go ahead of their bye week, but will look to head to the break in action with an impressive, and completely unexpected 4-1 record — along with a perfect conference record. They’ll have to do so against a Cincinnati Bengals that have played significantly better over the past two weeks.
As the Bills prepare for the game ahead, they’re doing so with their most significant amount of injury trouble since the 2017 began. How they deal with the new setbacks will be a new experience with this roster and with this head coach.
As practice opened up for the week on Wednesday, five takeaways from the Bills roster that are notable:
1) A lack of commitment to Dareus starting
- And we’ve reached another new talking point in the Marcell Dareus situation. On Sunday, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was on the way back from an ankle injury that kept him out against the Denver Broncos, and played the least snaps of any defensive player that actually registered at least one snap. He didn’t start the game like normal, which allowed Cedric Thornton to get those honors. After the fact, head coach Sean McDermott said that the lack of snaps was a combination of the normal defensive tackle rotation and Dareus’ injury. Now the ankle injury is moving “in the right direction” and when asked if Dareus will ramp up more this week, McDermott said “we’ll see.” Then, the head coach was asked, flat out, if it’s fair to call Cedric Thornton the starter, or that if Dareus can take the job back this week. His response:
“Right. There’s great competition on our roster right now and I love that and the players want that. That’s why they work during the week. They understand what’s at stake. We’re only going to continue. Competition takes everyone’s game up a notch. That’s good for us.”
That, folks, is what we call a non-answer answer. McDermott couldn’t seem to commit to Dareus getting his normal starting spot back upon his return to full health. That is just another sign to add the ever-increasing list of incentive for the Bills to walk away from Dareus ahead of the 2018 season. Even on the field, where all of the other stuff usually goes away for Dareus, he’s really looked like just another guy in this defense and has even struggled at times. This Dareus situation continues to get more and more intriguing as the weeks go by, and as the Bills get more of a picture as to what they have in the highest paid player on the team.
2) Milano set to start in place of Humber
- The Bills will be without starting weakside linebacker Ramon Humber due to a broken hand that required surgery, which will now allow for the Bills to start the fourth player of their six-man draft class in 2017 — which is pretty remarkable to think about. Fifth-round pick and linebacker Matt Milano has carved out a role in the early part of the season as one of the few core special teams players, registering a higher percentage of snaps on special teams (73.3%) than any other member of the Bills roster. Now, he enters a new challenge as base defense starter. A really quick linebacker, Milano has a tremendous opportunity here. Humber has been mediocre at best and has long been one of those players the Bills could stand to upgrade their defense. Now, they get a look at their draft pick in the role they selected him for, and to potentially see if he can take this job and run with it. When speaking about Milano and the task at hand to start, McDermott started his thoughts with a succinct sentence: “He’s ready.”
3) Cordy Glenn gets on the practice field
- For the first time in two weeks, the Buffalo Bills had Cordy Glenn back on the practice field working with the team. While it is too early in the week to know if he’ll actually be able to play on Sunday against the Bengals or not, it is a positive sign that Glenn was ready to go at the start of the practice week — as opposed to trying to rush to get ready on Thursday or Friday ahead of Sunday’s game. The trouble is, though, that if Glenn is ready enough to play, the Bills would be replacing one of their most productive offensive linemen over the past two weeks. Dawkins has progressed while on the job here and was my highest graded Bills offensive lineman last week after breaking down the film. Before they make a separate decision, the first action must be for Glenn to prove he’s fully healthy and able to play at a high level. To this point in the season, the injury has bogged him down to where teams have been taking advantage of him, and that’s out of the ordinary for his usual playing level. If he can show he’s healthy, the Bills should then start to think about which player would make more sense to try on the right side of the line. My guess, considering he played there for parts of the summer, would be that the Bills would think about giving Dawkins a crack at it rather than Glenn. If the focus is to really put the best five offensive linemen on the field, Dion Dawkins needs to be a part of that equation.
4) The Hughes hype is real
- When the Bills elected to return to the 4-3 defense, there might not have been a player happier to see the 3-4 scheme go to the wayside more than Jerry Hughes. He still played relatively well in the old scheme, but he just wasn’t being utilized the way that would make him a monster player for the Bills coming off the edge. All that is changed and Hughes has returned to monster status through the first four weeks. McDermott heaped praised on Hughes, saying that he’s been “phenomenal” this year. Most times those words are used with some hyperbole, but the defensive end has been that good. He’s been the best player on the field for the Bills, and as long as he remains healthy, a third double-digit sack season in his Bills career is almost assured to happen.
5) Hyde has “general soreness,” Lawson returns
- For the first time, the Bills had to operate a practice without one of their two starting safeties — and that man was the ever-impressive and Week Four standout, Micah Hyde. He did not practice on Wednesday and is considered “day-to-day” due to what McDermott hinted was a knee injury. Following the Falcons game, it also seemed like there was some concern that Hyde might not be able to play against Cincinnati from what the head coach said Wednesday:
“It looks like with the improvement he made over the last couple days we are headed in the right direction.”
That concern is the likeliest reason we saw the Bills bring Trae Elston back on Tuesday, who excelled in the preseason in the safety role. If Hyde can’t play or re-aggravates the injury, it could have been bad news for the Bills had they had to go into this week’s game with only Robert Blanton — who had been with the team all of two weeks. Instead, they brought back Elston and replaced Blanton with Shamarko Thomas for likely special teams duties. Elsewhere, Shaq Lawson returned on a limited basis Wednesday. He’s dealing with a groin injury, but the Bills will still try to be careful with him in the week leading up as they hope for a return in Cincinnati. Even if he is limited or is unable, backup Eddie Yarbrough more than capably filled in as the starter versus the Falcons. Starting cornerback E.J. Gaines (groin) was also limited at practice, while defensive tackle Kyle Williams and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander did not participate likely as veteran rest days.