As far as the National Football League calendar goes, the upcoming week is essentially the dress rehearsal for the rest of the summer.
All the voluntary workouts, rookie minicamps, and Organized Team Activities are now over and done with. From here on out, every single member of the Buffalo Bills roster must be in attendance at each and every practice of the 2016 season.
As of Tuesday morning, the Bills will descend upon Orchard Park for the start of mandatory minicamp, the first set of practices that require all players to be there — and if they aren’t, then they can be punished by the team.
So, with the three-day workouts ahead — in which all practices are available to watch for the media — what are some of the top things we’ll be tracking as it goes along?
Five things to keep an eye on this week:
1) Gilmore watch
- With Cordy Glenn’s contract already done, and with Tyrod Taylor having already shown his commitment to being at all the practices during OTAs, the last of the big names with expiring contracts is cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Through late May and the start of June, Gilmore was not in attendance at any of the 10 voluntary sessions. While it isn’t ideal for the Bills, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Now as the workouts shift to the mandatory variety, all eyes will dart immediately to the cornerback group to see if Gilmore is, in fact, in attendance. If he is not in attendance, it’s a story because at that point for the cornerback — who’s in the final year of his contract — he’d be considered a holdout. Head coach Rex Ryan said he’s of the expectation that Gilmore will be there. One of Gilmore’s closest teammates, Ronald Darby, also said he expects the top corner on the team to be there. With the track record of these contract squabbles in the NFL throughout the league, you can never be too sure until you see it with your own eyes. And if he’s there, perhaps that can help the line of communication in getting a new deal done between the two sides. It’s clear that the Gilmore camp would like that to happen, but what’s the price point? That’s something the two sides are likely fiercely negotiating as the summer comes into focus.
UPDATE: The Bills announced that Gilmore is in town for minicamp, but how compliant will he be during the workouts?
I'm just here so I won't get fined ?
— The Gilly Lock (@BumpNrunGilm0re) June 13, 2016
Gilmore's tone is certainly interesting in the tweet, and while he might be on the field, perhaps he won't be as much of an active participant as others until he gets a new deal. Time will tell.
2) How much will McCoy do?
- When we last left top running back LeSean McCoy, the only thing he was able to do last Wednesday was some individual work. During all team drills, McCoy was shut down as a precautionary measure. Following the practice, Ryan described the decision as one in which they were being smart with, due to a tight hamstring for the runner. McCoy had a detailed history of problems with a hamstring during the 2015 season, seeing as how it took a toll on him for about three months last year. With how Ryan was explaining it it seems like it’s a fairly fresh injury, and with how finicky hamstring ailments can be, it might just be the case that McCoy doesn’t see the light of day during team drills all week long, either.
3) Who’s getting the most reps at OLB?
- If first-round pick Shaq Lawson were available to the team, this would be an open and shut case as to who would be taking the first-team reps along with Jerry Hughes. Now that he’s down for the count for the early part of the season, we’ve seen an unexpected competition open up. It was assumed that Manny Lawson, the veteran linebacker that Ryan has spoken so highly about anytime he’s been asked, would take the starting role in Shaq Lawson’s absence. However, Manny Lawson has shown through the years to be a limited edge rusher, which in turn has opened the door for another player to factor in. Through three weeks of OTAs, the player that has taken advantage of that opportunity has been IK Enemkpali. While he’s a bit more limited in coverage than Lawson, Enemkpali is certainly a better pass rusher between the two options. Last week, he even took the majority of the first-team reps with the defense. Through the week, it will be interesting to see which of the two players is ahead in the race for the job, or even if there’s a split in reps. Either way, it’s setting up for a battle once the Bills get to training camp.
4) Tracking the WRs
- Even at this point in the offseason, the wide receiver group has received a lot of attention for how wide open the competition really is. Both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are the guaranteed entities of the group, but after that, roster spots and playing time is totally up for grabs. In the three practices that I’ve been allowed to see this spring, we’ve seen Greg Little, Dez Lewis, Jarrett Boykin, Greg Salas, and Leonard Hankerson all see time with the first unit in some capacity. These next three days will help the coaching staff set the depth chart when they first get to St. John Fisher College. A strong showing, and it could create even more opportunity in the immediate future. To this point, Lewis and Salas have been the most impressive of the workouts we’ve seen.
5) Carpenter vs. Morgan
- Through the first three weeks, the Bills only displayed a kicking competition on one of the days between veteran kicker Dan Carpenter and undrafted free agent rookie Marshall Morgan. Both players came through in the exercise, with Carpenter getting the majority of the reps. With all three days of the mandatory minicamp open to reporters, we’re sure to get at least one day of the kicking battle that will be setting up during the month of August. Last time, Morgan displayed a big leg, Carpenter showed his normal accuracy, and Jordan Gay wasn’t even given a chance. If the first two trends continue, it will be a compelling battle in training camp. And if Gay isn’t given an opportunity to kick field goals, even though the Bills hinted that they would in the offseason, that is going to put a major strain on his ability to make the roster outright with the new kickoff rules in place.