At long last, it's game week for the Buffalo Bills. The team went through their first official practice that required an injury report, which was kind to the Bills.
They'll be up against the Baltimore Ravens on the road on Sunday, but will they have their full squad along with them and ready to play?
Five notes from Wednesday's practice ahead of the Bills game against the Ravens:
1) Kyle Williams, Trent Murphy nearing their return?
- Perhaps to the surprise of some, the Bills cut down their roster over the weekend with the inclusion of only eight defensive linemen -- four defensive ends, and four defensive tackles. Considering the injury status to both defensive end Trent Murphy and defensive tackle Kyle Williams, that would have left the Bills shorthanded in their Week One contest considering how much they value a regular, four-person rotation at each of the positions. However, the concern that the Bills would be without those pair of starters may have been for naught. Just as they did on Monday, both Murphy and Williams partook in Wednesday's practice with however much they could "tolerate" according to head coach Sean McDermott. However, he did say that the duo both did some work in team drills on Monday, which is an excellent sign for potential availability by the time Sunday rolls around. Williams was sporting a wrap on his right leg but did so with full pads. As for Murphy, he was working in with the first unit during individual drills, which would indicate that he could be ready to play barring any setbacks. Having Williams helps take reps away from Adolphus Washington, and having Murphy helps the Bills in being able to use Shaq Lawson with the versatility they desire -- at both defensive end and defensive tackle. We'll see how Thursday and Friday go, but things are looking up.
2) Still no decision at cornerback, but, a hint?
- The Bills declared two starting competitions, quarterback and center, to be over as they're moving forward with both Nathan Peterman and Ryan Groy. However, that is not the case for who will start at right cornerback on Sunday in Baltimore, as McDermott kept that decision close to him for the upcoming game while saying they're still evaluating. The two main combatants there are Vontae Davis -- a long-time starter that had a sub-par summer of work -- and Phillip Gaines. McDermott not naming a starter leading into the first week of the season has happened before, only at a different position in 2017. If you recall, the Bills did not declare a starter between John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse throughout the week. However, if you paid attention at practice, you could see what was to come as John Miller worked with the first unit even during the individual drills that the media is allowed to view. So, was there a hint during Wednesday's practice? Well, during the only individual drills for defensive backs that would tip off a starting lineup, the man that was with Tre'Davious White, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer was... Phillip Gaines. Now, the Bills could have Davis work there on Thursday or even split team drill reps during the practices when the media isn't out there. However, should that trend continue with Gaines on Thursday and Friday, it's at least notable as to the Bills plans. I could also see a scenario where the Bills split up defensive series during the game itself between Gaines and Davis just to let the cream rise to the top in an actual game setting, though McDermott has been hesitant to do that in past instances. Should Gaines start though, that would lead to another answer on defense.
3) McDermott doesn't name starting nickel, either
- With Gaines occupied by a battle for starting outside cornerback, general logic would indicate that the Bills would then have the rookie and fourth-round selection Taron Johnson as the primary nickel corner for the game on Sunday -- just as it's been really for the last two weeks. However, McDermott wouldn't commit himself to have Johnson be the nickel corner throughout the game against the Ravens -- at least not yet. However, if the Bills wind up starting Gaines on Sunday, that would make the decision visible and in favor of Johnson. As for that hint with the right cornerback job, during the same drill, it was Taron Johnson with the first unit at nickel corner. All of that is in the 'take it for what it's worth,' category, but should that trend continue on Thursday and Friday, and we might see the defensive backfield set in a way that we weren't expecting even three weeks ago.
4) Zay Jones is back up to speed
- Ahead of the fourth preseason game, the Bills decided to make most of their weekly contributors for the regular season a part of a 36-person workout group well ahead of the game. That group was telling because the Bills wound up rostering all 36 of those players for the start of the 2018 regular season. However, the most significant omission from that group was none other than second-year wide receiver Zay Jones, who is likely to be the starter opposite Kelvin Benjamin to begin the upcoming year. Jones got some work in the final preseason game -- and the Bills likely used it as a chance to make sure the wideout's wind was in order due to his late start at training camp. On Wednesday, McDermott gave the ultimate indication that Jones no longer has any limitations, when he succinctly remarked, "He's ready to go." Jones is one of the more compelling cases on offense in 2018, given how his rookie season went. There seems to be a bit of a different attitude and an edge to Jones this year. Now, will that translate into fewer drops and more receptions in his second season? Both he and the Bills certainly hope so, because if he does then that likely makes wide receiver less of a pressing need heading into the offseason. And for Jones, this could be the last big chance he has to be the full-time starter. He can't let that slip away. Either way, he's fully ready for Week One, and the Bills seem to be excited about that.
5) Marcus Murphy lining up for a substantial role?
- Now that we've shifted into the regular season mode, the media doesn't get to see nearly as much of practice as we do in the summer during training camp -- which leads to a little bit more educated guessing as long as you know what to look for in the drills that you can see. In the case of running back and Marcus Murphy, based on what happened on both Monday and Wednesday, perhaps he's in line for a more prominent role than just the number-three running back? All through training camp when the practice shifted into positional groups, the running backs would take their carries from the quarterback in the order of the depth chart at the current time. For the longest time, it was LeSean McCoy, then Chris Ivory, and then the rest of the group based on the depth chart that day. However, on Monday the order went McCoy, Marcus Murphy, and then Chris Ivory -- perhaps indicating that Murphy might be second on the depth chart. Again on Wednesday, Murphy was taking his rep ahead of Ivory -- and all of this would make sense. Murphy has shown some electricity to his game, and the Bills seem inclined to use him in multiple ways as both a runner and a pass catcher. While all three players are likely to have a role, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Murphy's role is more prominent than Ivory's position on Sunday.