The Buffalo Bills are back at St. John Fisher College for the home stretch of training camp — one last three-day practice schedule before the team returns to Buffalo for the rest of 2017. On Sunday, the first of those three practices took place — and the big attraction was the team having both wide receiver Jordan Matthews and cornerback E.J. Gaines on the field for the first time after Friday’s big trades.
How did they look, and what else stood out? Seven observations from Sunday’s practice:
1) Matthews’ first day and first injury
- The Buffalo Bills sent wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams which paved the way for the Bills to bring in Matthews to immediately contend for a starting spot in Buffalo. We saw the beginning plans for him in motion as he went through his first practice. Matthews mostly watched from the sidelines during team drills while firmly in the ear of wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan, but he did mix in with the first, second, and third-string offenses to try and get more familiar with the offense. Matthews connected with quarterback Tyrod Taylor for his first team drill reception as a member of the Bills, but there wasn’t too much to see on his first day. When he did mix in with the first-team offense, Matthews was in there with either Anquan Boldin or Zay Jones, or both depending on if it was a three wide receiver set or not. Everything seemed to have gone well on his first day until the Bills updated the media following practice that Matthews had suffered a chest injury and was still being evaluated by the medical staff. We’ll see if he’s back on the field on Monday, especially since the Bills were hoping to get him on the field Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles in their second preseason game.
2) Backup QB job is back up for grabs
- One of the biggest takeaways from the first preseason game of the year for the Bills was that the performance by backup quarterback T.J. Yates fell woefully short of what fans had been hoping for. His poor day, combined with a solid debut by rookie Nathan Peterman made the Bills take a longer look at their backup job, it would appear. Peterman, not Yates, took the vast majority of reps with the second-team offense on Sunday — only the second time he’s even taken a rep with that unit since the beginning of training camp, and that was in the first few days. Peterman answered the challenge with one of his best performances from training camp, which included him driving the Bills all the way down the field with only 1:27 to go, and finding wide receiver Brandon Tate for a touchdown with just seconds left. After practice, Sean McDermott confirmed that Peterman earned the chance for more time and that the two backup options will split reps with the second-team offense. That job after Tyrod Taylor seems to be clearly back up for grabs between the two, and it appears the rookie has the slight upper-hand at the moment.
3) Not a great Glenn update
- The Bills had been holding on to hope that left tackle Cordy Glenn would be able to shake off a now long-standing ankle injury in time to go through the last part of training camp, and to get him ready for the start of the regular season. The Bills had Glenn test out the ankle for a couple of days of practice last week, only for the left tackle to sit out of the first preseason game, and then again from practice on Sunday. Ahead of the practice, McDermott told reporters that they remained concerned about the ankle injury and that they’re “hoping” that Glenn will be ready for the start of the regular season. However, this has been the most ominous update we’ve heard to this point in time. McDermott mentioned that they now have to start making contingency plans in the event that Glenn is, in fact, unavailable at the start of the season. If Glenn can’t play, and with Seantrel Henderson still suspended, the head coach said rookie Dion Dawkins would likely slide back over to the left side — like he did during the spring workouts — and play left tackle for the Bills. A run-heavy team, the Bills cannot be encouraged by the most recent development with such a strong starting offensive lineman on their team.
4) Boldin lining up mostly in the slot
- Now that Sammy Watkins is only a memory as far as the Bills are concerned, the first moves have been made as to the plan after the departure of the top wideout. Even though Matthews was worked in, we also saw plenty of Zay Jones, Anquan Boldin, and Andre Holmes with the first-team offense a well. And with Jones, Boldin, and Matthews — three players that seem to excel while working out of the slot — it was interesting to see that the Bills had mostly been lining up Boldin as the slot receiver. Jones didn’t take reps with any other unit than the first-team offense but was only working on the outside. Matthews only lined up on the outside, too. We’ll see if the trend continues, but Boldin being the first player to work as the slot receiver more than anyone else is notable, considering what his potential role could be in the offense this season. Perhaps without a lot of long speed anymore, the Bills can look to Boldin to be a physical receiver that can make tough catches over the middle of the field, and be a sound blocker in the event that it’s a run play as well. Once Matthews gets a little more comfortable, it will be interesting to see where that trio of receivers lines up from a play-to-play basis.
5) Gaines not with the first-team defense
- In addition to Matthews, the Bills also welcomed in cornerback E.J. Gaines as the newest member of the team, coming to the team from the Los Angeles Rams. The Bills said that Gaines will compete to start, but that wasn’t where he started things off for the Bills. Lining up at right cornerback, Gaines worked exclusively with the second-team defense, while the Bills used Shareece Wright mostly with the first-team defense in the spot vacated by Ronald Darby. Wright suffered a thumb injury and had to leave practice early, which led to Greg Mabin getting time with the first-team defense. Now, it is fair to point out that second-year player Kevon Seymour is still not practicing with the team — though he is now out of his walking boot and was doing some drills with athletic trainers on the side of the field. Seymour will likely factor in heavily to this starting discussion as well, which means that there are now two main cornerback roles — right cornerback and nickel corner — that yet to have a defined starter as of this time. Once Seymour comes back, we’ll start to get a better picture as to what the Bills are planning.
6) Elston showing good instincts
- While most of the day was spent analyzing the different position groups and all the different changes we’ve seen since the first preseason game of the year, I really liked the day of safety Trae Elston. He turned in a solid game against the Minnesota Vikings and continued that into the first full practice following the team’s initial preseason contest. He showed a mix of speed and instincts in getting to the spot to break up a pass and was right there for several others. Even on the Nathan Peterman touchdown toss in the two-minute drill, Elston was about half a step away from batting down the pass — and he was mad at himself that he didn’t get there in time. Instincts are one of the hardest things about the safety position, and Elston has shown that there’s something there over the last few performances in working with the second-team defense. He’ll need to continue the positive play to try and sneak on to the 53-man roster.
7) Shaq Lawson getting back in the swing of things
- While it was Eddie Yarbrough capturing the preseason hearts of Bills fans against the Minnesota Vikings, to start the practice week, Shaq Lawson came back to team drills and with the first-team defense at left defensive end. Yarbrough, at least from what we’ve seen all through the summer, is clearly a solid depth option for the Bills, but that hasn’t allowed them to veer away from Lawson as one of the starters along the defensive line. In his first full day back from a groin injury, Lawson showed explosiveness off the edge and was the type of player we witnessed near the beginning of training camp — someone who could be a solid starting player in his second season. With as well as Yarbrough has been playing, Lawson needs to keep showing that type of talent and potential the Bills believe that he has — and the talent that he’s shown when fully healthy this summer.
Day 13 MVP: QB Nathan Peterman
- The rookie quarterback is right back in the discussion to be the backup quarterback and was the only quarterback of the three to lead his team to a touchdown during the two-minute drill.
Day 13 LVP: OT Seantrel Henderson
- Not mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, but Jerry Hughes was just a nuisance to left tackle Seantrel Henderson all practice long, continuing his solid summer of work. Henderson, after a poor outing against the Vikings, needs to get back on track after a solid start to camp.
Up Next: Day 14 of training camp starts on Monday, August 14 at 8:45 am at St. John Fisher College. The practice is open to the public.
Watch the first part of practice below!