The start of the 2017 season is officially here for the Buffalo Bills, as they officially went through their first training camp practice of the year. Through the day of work, we now have some initial observations as to who’s playing where, how everyone looked, and much more as the Bills gear up for the long summer of work.
Seven observations from Day 1 of Bills Training Camp:
1) Watkins takes quite a few reps
- Following a significant step forward at the end of the offseason programs during minicamp, wide receiver Sammy Watkins had his workload go up even more to start training camp. He wasn’t a full go by any means, but he was able to do a lot more during team drills than from the last time we saw him. Watkins didn’t look hindered by the foot at all, going through his day of work without missing a beat. He even made one of the toughest catches of the day to show that he’s on the way back to finally being fully healthy. He’s also getting in plenty of work along the side with wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan, as the two worked together one-on-one during the special teams portion of practice. Watkins believes his foot injury is a thing of the past and exclaimed after practice that he doesn’t want to hear about it any longer. Along with him, both Andre Holmes and Zay Jones also took reps with the first-team, which sets up for a competition between the veteran and rookie as we go forward into training camp.
2) O-Line taking a little more shape than where we last left it
- In mid-June, the Buffalo Bills trotted out a first-team offense that had Dion Dawkins at left tackle, Vladimir Ducasse at right guard, and Jordan Mills at right tackle. Dawkins was filling in for the injured Cordy Glenn for the time being, while the Ducasse development was a bit of a surprise. On the first day of practice, Cordy Glenn was back taking some first-team reps throughout the day — though the Bills admitted they would be smart with how much work they give him in the early stages of camp. When he was off to the side while the first-team offense was out there, it was Seantrel Henderson getting work at left tackle. As for Dion Dawkins, who played left tackle exclusively during the offseason, he was moved to right tackle for the entirety of practice. Jordan Mills took the initial first-team reps at that position, though the rookie second-round pick worked in near the end of practice as well. I would expect to see both getting near an equal amount of time as camp wears on — that is, until one of the two separates themselves from the other. At right guard, John Miller took the initial first-team reps, but once again Ducasse worked in with the first-team at the position as well. Both of those positions are completely up for grabs, based on what we’ve seen over the last several practices.
3) Tyrod Taylor solid on his first day
- While you can’t learn as much as you’d like to in the first couple of practices (due to the sessions being without pads), there are some things that you can glean from a day of work. Take Tyrod Taylor, for example. He had a solid first day of practice, finding his targets and hitting them in stride. There weren’t enough opportunities during team drills to have him come in and absolutely cement a great day, but in his opportunities, he looked good. He showed touch on a nice rollout pass to Nick O’Leary along the sideline, he showed arm strength in a deep post that was in stride but dropped by Andre Holmes, and really, he just looked comfortable. Once the passing offense starts to get a little bit more work in, we can really learn more about Taylor in offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s system. However, it was a solid start.
4) Up and down day for Dion Dawkins
- In his first full day at right tackle since being drafted by the Bills, rookie Dion Dawkins showed a little potential and showed that he was a rookie all on the same day. During team drills, he looked strong on one pass blocking rep against Shaq Lawson, mirroring him the whole way. Later on, against the second-team defense, he was folded up a bit by the oncoming defender and lost his territory. During one-on-one drills, Dawkins made backup defensive end Max Valles look silly for trying to bull rush against him, not even surrendering much of any ground to the defender. On his next rep during the drill, Eddie Yarbrough hit him with a quick stop-and-start move, and Dawkins was left lunging as the defender easily got to the quarterback. As with most rookies, there is a learning curve — now it’s just on him to make the adjustments from what he sees on tape as to why those negative plays happened and learn from them.
5) You can’t miss LeSean McCoy
- Sometimes when you have a player that’s so incredibly talented, it looks like that player is moving at full-speed and the rest are in slow motion. That’s just what we saw during the first day of practice with running back LeSean McCoy, who will basically be how the offense operates in 2017. If there was one word to describe his first practice this summer, it would be ‘effortless.’ He moved so well, making the cuts that were needed on running plays, easily getting out into space and catching a pass during team drills, and it didn’t even look like he broke a sweat doing so. As long as he stays healthy, LeSean McCoy will define the offense in 2017.
6) Rough first day for Nathan Peterman
- Earlier in the day, GM Brandon Beane alluded to there being a big learning curve for fifth-round rookie Nathan Peterman, even though he explained why he liked the player as much as he did. We saw that steep learning curve firsthand on Thursday night. Peterman had one really strong throw deep, but the rest of the day was mostly defined by inaccurate throws and bad reads. One of his first plays of the day came during team drills, in which he tried to thread one over the middle of the field, but made the mistake of not looking off the safety on the play. The result? Safety Joe Powell jumped the route, deflected the pass, and it dropped into the outstretched arms of another defender for an interception. Later on in the day, Peterman tried a deep ball down the left sideline that had a wobble to it coming out of his hand and didn’t really give the receiver a chance on the play. He was just a bit all over the place in his first training camp practice — and that’s probably fair to expect, seeing as how there were probably some nerves mixed in. He has plenty more opportunities to right the ship this summer, and really, all year as the likely third-string quarterback this season.
7) Hauschka getting back into the kicking groove
- On Thursday during the Bills mid-practice special teams portion, it was a day for field goal attempts. During the offseason workouts, Austin Rehkow took quite a bit of field goal attempts as they were being smart with the free agent signing Stephen Hauschka’s reps. On Day 1 of training camp, it was all Hauschka, as the veteran received all six attempts. By my count, the kicker went 4-of-6 on the day, making attempts from 32, 35, 39, and 43 yards out, while missing two attempts from 28 and 39 yards out. With him really just getting back into the flow of things, those two misses aren’t any cause for concern. The notable thing here is that Hauschka, and only Hauschka, got the field goal work.
Day 1 MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
- When you make it look as easy as McCoy did on his first day of practice, you can’t look to a lot of other names for the first MVP of camp.
Day 1 LVP: QB Nathan Peterman
- It was a day that the rookie quarterback Peterman can learn from, but his interception early on was the starkest negative play of the day, and it didn’t seem like he recovered from it through the rest of practice. There is hope yet, considering it’s his first day of training camp in the NFL.
Next Practice: Friday, July 28 at 2:15 pm at St. John Fisher College. The practice is open to the public.