For the first time this summer, the Buffalo Bills woke up bright and early for a practice that began at 8:45 am. And Saturday’s practice was significant because it was the first padded practice of 2017 — and even without live hitting, the intensity was bumped up a couple of notches. We were also greeted by some injury news for the first time this summer for the Bills.
Seven observations from Day 3 of Bills training camp:
1) Dareus spends the day on the sidelines
- Before practice even began, Bills head coach Sean McDermott addressed the media and delivered the unfortunate news about Marcell Dareus, perhaps the best defensive player on the entire roster. Dareus apparently tweaked his hamstring in the last part of practice on late Friday afternoon, which the Bills are being cautionary with. Considering how much players along the defensive line depend on their lower body to explode through the snap and, to what they hope, into the backfield. Considering his importance to the season, and with a severe lack of depth behind him, he should be given all the time he needs while we’re this early in training camp. There’s no need to play with fire. In his place, second-year player Adolphus Washington took reps with the first-team and continued his trend of unimpressive play through the first three days of camp. Based on past production, I’d argue that Jerel Worthy should get a look with the first-team defense if either Dareus or Kyle Williams can’t go, just to see if he can perform at a higher level than Washington. Elsewhere, the Bills suffered three separate injuries during practice. Cornerback Ronald Darby injured his ankle and is considered day-to-day. Wide receiver Brandon Tate is also day-to-day with a calf injury, while third string defensive end Ian Seau has a left foot injury, and I spotted him in a walking boot after practice.
2) Hughes playing with his hair on fire
- Defensive end Jerry Hughes continued his yearly assault on Bills training camp practices on the third day of work. Year in and year out, he has been one of the absolute best players at practice for the Bills — clearly putting his talent on display. It was much of the same on Friday for Hughes, who was flying past Seantrel Henderson during team drills. That’s impressive because Henderson has looked really good through the first three days of practice at St. John Fisher College. Hughes, though, was just getting pressure after pressure, teasing perhaps how good he can be in a more straight-forward 4-3 defense. After all, Hughes did have the best year of his career in 2014 in a similar scheme for defensive ends by accounting for 10 sacks, and countless other pressures that set the table for his teammates to bring the quarterback down. There should be some cautious optimism about the edge rushers for the Bills based on the beginning of camp.
3) A new-look Shaq Lawson
- And a big reason for that has been the early play of left defensive end Shaq Lawson, who is getting to take part in his first true training camp with the Buffalo Bills. And even from last year, Lawson just looks a bit lighter on his feet, perhaps with a more explosive first step — and there’s a good reason for that. After going through another practice that resulted in constant pressure on the backfield against his right tackle opponents, Lawson met with the media after the fact. Over the offseason, Lawson said he dropped a bunch of bad body mass and built back up to a similar weight with a muscular and leaner frame. This is also a stark difference from what he was during his senior season at Clemson, too. Lawson said he weighed anywhere in between 280-to-285 pounds at Clemson, and now, he’s at a lean 267-to-268 pounds. His new look has certainly helped him early on in camp. The play of the two defensive ends has by far been one of the best showings of training camp thus far.
4) A tough day for Leonard Johnson
- One of the lingering battles on the defensive side of the ball — for legitimate playing time, anyway — is at nickel corner. The job remains up in the air between former sixth-round pick Kevon Seymour, and veteran free agent signing Leonard Johnson. During the spring workouts we’ve seen Johnson take quite a few first-team reps when the defense goes to a nickel look and considering that the veteran has played for Sean McDermott previously, he is a legitimate contender for the job this year. However, even without doing anything too exemplary on Saturday, Seymour is likely slightly ahead considering the down day Johnson put together. It started early on as Johnson lined up against the second-team offense. He was lined up against Rod Streater during team drills near the red zone and bit hard on a T.J Yates play-action fake. Streater also sold the route well, giving him an exorbitant amount of space, and ample room to secure the catch for a touchdown. The struggles continued into one-on-one drills against the wide receivers, as two lower-tier wideouts — Dez Lewis and Brandon Reilly — ran through their routes unimpeded as Johnson dropped back into coverage. It’s fair to note that Johnson graded quite poorly on ProFootballFocus.com in coverage last year, ranking 104th out of 110 eligible cornerbacks (based on snap counts). He’ll need a bounce back day as camp wears on.
5) Ryan Groy mauling opponents in 1-on-1s
- The Bills have a lot of weaknesses all over the roster in terms of depth, but, one place they are completely fine is along the interior offensive line. That’s because of one man: Ryan Groy. The backup center and swing guard had a less than impressive training camp in 2016 but turned a corner when called upon to start for the injured Eric Wood last season. He’s rolled that positive play right into training camp as practices started to get a bit more physical today with the addition of pads. The headline isn’t misleading whatsoever. Whoever has lined up against Ryan Groy on the second-team defense has been easily thwarted. Then during one-on-one's, he was the clear star of the day. In two reps, Groy went up against Marquavius Lewis and then Nigel Williams, two defensive tackles with differing skill-sets. Lewis tried to use his length to bull-rush Groy back, Groy hand-battled him, and dropped him to the ground and immediately jumped on top to bury him for a classic pancake block. Against the short-armed and heavier Williams, he barely gave any ground up at all. Williams got maybe half-of-a-yard as Groy easily controlled him. You can tell that he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, which will be important in the event anyone along the interior offensive line goes down with an injury.
6) Second-team defense movement
- Through the first two days, we’ve seen a lot of the same people lined up with the second-team defense. We’ve seen both rookie linebackers — Matt Milano (fifth round) and Tanner Vallejo (sixth round) — lining up at outside linebacker with Reggie Ragland sandwiched in between. At safety, Joe Powell and Shamiel Gary has been a common sight with the second unit. Two players we haven’t seen a lot of with the second team was a pair of free agent signings: linebacker Gerald Hodges and safety Bacarri Rambo. On Saturday, that changed. Hodges went in for Milano, while Rambo was getting some run alongside Joe Powell with the second-team defense. Hodges rewarded the minor upgrade with some solid coverage when the Bills dropped back to pass. And with Rambo, him getting second-team looks basically only three days after signing says a lot about the opportunity that’s ahead of him. I’d anticipate the depth positions, on both offense and defense, to basically be a revolving door until some players start to discern themselves.
7) Third-string offensive line is tough to watch
- A common complaint from coaches and decision makers around the league is how there aren’t a lot of advanced offensive lineman coming from the college game anymore due to the advancement of the spread offense at that level. It’s a fair criticism because almost on a yearly basis, the drop-off from the second-team offensive to the third-team offensive line has been a big one — and this year is no different for the Bills. Players like Cameron Jefferson, Michael Ola, Zach Voytek, and Greg Pyke all struggled significantly during one-on-one’s and in the rare opportunities during team drills. Sometimes you hope for a gem or two — and it appears the Bills found one with Jordan Mudge, who has taken advantage of some work with the second-team offense with three days of solid work. However, to this point, Mudge has been the lone example of someone that has taken advantage of the reps at camp.
Day 3 MVP: DE Jerry Hughes
- On Friday it was Shaq Lawson, today it was Hughes. Basically, the play of the starting defensive ends through three days has been superb.
Day 3 LVP: OL Zach Voytek
- Of all the offensive linemen, Voytek struggled significantly in his lone one-on-one rep against Deandre Coleman. Normally a slower, prodding nose tackle, Coleman gave a stutter step and instantly ran past Voytek, who was caught flat-footed on the rep. There’s plenty of time left in camp and the preseason to improve, but players on the third-team offense have to take advantage of every chance they get.
Up Next: Day 4 of training camp, Sunday at 8:45 am at St. John Fisher College. Practice is open to the public.
Watch the beginning of Bills practice below!