It happens at least once every year at training camp, and 2017 was no different for the Buffalo Bills. During one of the days, a lot of players just seem to be on edge and it resulted in the fieriest practice of camp. And with camp dwindling down in days, it might have been all spurred on by head coach Sean McDermott.
How did it all come about, and what were some of the other takeaways from practice? Seven observations from the second-to-last training camp practice of 2017:
1) McDermott halts practice, then high intensity and scuffles begin
- Right from when practice started for the Buffalo Bills, something seemed a little off as compared to most days. When team drills began, there was a major lull within the players. It just kind of seemed like they were going through the motions a bit, and Sean McDermott was not happy about it. He called all his players to the field and had them take a knee as he addressed every last one of them. In an animated, fiery, and stern talking to, the Bills head coach said he was unhappy with the attitude and body language, and urged to his team that they needed to do things the right way at all times. He urged the leaders of the team to do just that, hold each other accountable and yelled out that some of the players needed to step it up. There were also a few expletives thrown into the speech as well. Whatever McDermott did, it worked, and the rest of the way ended up being the most intense to date. The Bills worked mostly on team drills and even went live a few times. We saw multiple post-whistle activities that involved the likes of Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Jordan Mills, Marcell Dareus, Eric Wood, Jerel Worthy, and heck, even Tyrod Taylor got into a heated exchange with some of the defenders. Both Hughes and Lawson had to be taken off the field after a couple of the exchanges to cool off. It just got to that point in camp, where the players are sick hitting one another, and it boils to the point of an explosion of tempers. It was the perfect concoction for the Bills at St. John Fisher College on Monday. After practice, the team cooled down, McDermott spoke to the team, and then spoke individually to both Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes once the practice was done.
2) So much for splitting… Peterman takes all the second-team work again
- On Sunday, we saw rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman taking all the second-team offense reps at quarterback ahead of T.J. Yates, which was the first time that’s happened since very early on in camp. After practice, McDermott said that they wanted to split the reps between both Peterman and Yates to get the rookie more experience. However, on Monday during practice, we saw the same thing as we did on Sunday — Peterman getting all the second-team reps while Yates was relegated to third-team duty. And once again, I thought Peterman looked sharp working with the second-team offense, while Yates struggled a bit more and at one point, was nearly intercepted for a touchdown that was dropped by Marcus Sayles because he stared down the receiver. If Peterman heads into the Eagles game on Thursday and has a certain degree of success, along with some more struggling by Yates, that will just help widen the gap in the race to be Tyrod Taylor’s backup. But first, let’s see what the rookie does with the opportunity if he indeed gets it this week.
3) Seymour is back and thrust into a big role
- It’s been about a week since we last saw cornerback Kevon Seymour on the field, but Tuesday was his on-field return to a now Ronald Darby-less cornerback group. On Sunday, we saw Shareece Wright taking the first-team reps in place of Darby — but also as Seymour watched from the sidelines in the final stages of his injury. Wright ended up injuring his thumb and didn’t practice on Monday, which paved the way for Seymour to take first-team reps in his first day back. Now, he didn’t take all of them as the Bills tried to limit his reps a bit, but this seems to be a huge opportunity for Seymour to become a starting cornerback in the league with no immediate threat to take the job from him. His main competition will be from Wright (who struggled mightily last season in Baltimore) and the newly acquired E.J. Gaines, though Gaines once again spent the day with the second-team defense. There aren’t any preferences here for the Bills as to who they’ll play… point blank, who ever performs the best over the final three weeks will be the starter along with Tre’Davious White. However, with Seymour should be quite encouraged by being thrown into the first-team mix as soon as he was available.
4) No OL rotation for first time this summer
- The Bills have had two starting positions along the offensive line up for grabs through the duration of training camp. Those spots, right tackle and right guard, have both seen a hearty amount of rotation with the first-team offense so to give enough experience to all four players involved. At right tackle, Jordan Mills would switch out with Dion Dawkins, while at right guard, John Miller and Vladimir Ducasse would both get their opportunities. The only thing that didn’t happen was for Mills to be with Ducasse, or for Dawkins to be with Miller. The Bills have kept Mills firmly with Miller, while Dawkins has always been next to Ducasse. Now, it’s only one practice, but for the first time since training camp began in late July, we did not see Dawkins and Ducasse take any reps with the first-team offense. Every snap that Tyrod Taylor took, Mills was at right tackle with Miller next to him at right guard. The Bills have been really complimentary of the job Mills has done all summer, and it’s plain to see the struggles that Ducasse has had, so it’s fair to think the Bills may have early favorites to win those jobs at this point. Now, I must stress that this is only the development of one practice, so we have to see if this is the start of a trend. However, it’s certainly a good sign for the Mills and Miller duo this late into camp.
5) Jonathan Williams stars on the goal line
- In a testy drill that featured the offense against the defense at the two-yard line for multiple plays to end the practice, there was one clear as day winner from the goal line session: running back Jonathan Williams. The drill was ‘live,’ meaning there was actually hitting and tackling like in a real game, and Williams was fantastic on both of his attempts. On his first attempt, he used his vision to find the right lane and plowed a defender back into the end zone for a touchdown. Then, on the final play of practice, Williams stretched the run just a little wide, planted his foot down, and pounded his way past the goal line for a second touchdown — and to my count, those were the only two touchdowns during the drill. The Bills gave Mike Tolbert credit for one, although I had a great vantage point, and he was clearly down before reaching over the plane. On another Tolbert attempt, Marcell Dareus basically was a solar eclipse to Tolbert’s sun and stopped him dead on the goal line while forcing him back and short of breaking the plane for a score. So, to me, Williams was spectacular in a goal line set which can be an important thing to keep an eye on as we move toward the regular season, especially if they want a goal line specialist. The second-year player has had a very strong start to his 2017 season.
6) Yarbrough still mixing in with the first-team
- This is now the third day in a row that we’ve seen Shaq Lawson back in full working with the first-team defense during team drills, since last week’s groin injury that forced him to miss the first preseason game of the year. Though on Monday, the Bills didn’t want to skimp on potential reps for training camp darling Eddie Yarbrough. Through a few sets of first-team work, Yarbrough lined up at the left defensive end spot that is normally taken up by Lawson with the first unit. I wouldn’t take that as a direct sign that Lawson is fighting for his starting job because the former first-round pick has looked explosive throughout the days he’s been available at camp for the Bills. I think they are looking to see if Yarbrough can be that first man off the bench for them at defensive end, to come in when either Lawson or Jerry Hughes needs a play or two off. This is just the newest test for Yarbrough, he seems incredibly close to locking up a substantial role with the Bills in 2017.
7) Bills cross-training another CB
- While the Bills will continue to try and find a definitive starter to use along with Tre’Davious White, they’re also trying to figure out which players to keep on as depth. It will certainly help some players that have the ability to play both on the outside and the inside, and that seems to be what the Bills are trying to see if Bradley Sylve can do. Sylve has lined up with the second-team defense for a majority of camp as an outside cornerback, but with the third-team defense today, I noticed they were doubling up his reps. Except, with the third unit, Sylve wasn’t lined up on the outside, he was being used as the nickel corner. Sylve has been somewhat of an afterthought with the Bills, but if they’re thinking enough of him to try and teach him both the outside and the inside of this system, perhaps he has a chance to crack the 53-man roster. At the very least, we’ll have to keep our eyes on him as a potential practice squad candidate.
Day 14 MVP: RB Jonathan Williams
- I’ve been quite impressed with Williams this summer after a sluggish start in the spring. He’s really taking to the offensive scheme.
Day 14 LVP: OT Cameron Jefferson
- Ryan Davis was consistently in the backfield, and that’s because Jefferson just couldn’t keep a hand on him in pass protection or run blocking.
Up Next: The final day of Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College is on Tuesday, August 15 at 8:45 am. The practice is open to the public.
Watch the first portion of practice below!