To open up the month of August, the Buffalo Bills decided to structure their practice a bit differently than the previous five days to see just how far they've come to this point. The Bills, rather than doing 7-on-7s and 1-on-1s, stayed as a team and continued along with the most reps of 11-on-11s in one day of camp.
Each quarterback neared around 20 pass attempts through the practice, which led to extensive opportunities for all players to make a name for themselves with meaningful reps.
How did the team fare? Seven observations from Day Six of training camp:
1) Sack frenzy in team drills
- Between the three quarterbacks, there was a total of 72 dropbacks by my count in team drills, which makes the next number even more alarming. In those 72 dropbacks, there were a total of 11 sacks allowed -- which is a shocking sack rate of 15.3-percent. The issue here is threefold, with one that has the potential to get better. First, and this is the one with the possibility for improvement, is that whenever training camps open up -- especially ones with new quarterbacks and a new offensive coordinator, the offense is going to appear behind the defense in the early stages. That usually becomes less of a problem the longer camp goes on. However, that leads us to the second problem, which might be a matter of a talent deficiency along the offensive line. Now it isn't just a first-team offense problem because sacks were given up all across the board between the first, second, and third-units. The performances across the line have to improve, but so do the quarterbacks. I've noticed a tendency -- especially with A.J. McCarron -- for the quarterbacks to hold on to the ball too long in the pocket. While it's good that they're trying to see if something opens up down the field, it's also not so good because it means their internal clock is not where it needs to be to release the ball before the play is dead. I suspect that these numbers might get better for the Bills QBs once players are trying to tackle them in a preseason game, but the internal clock must be improved. However, this is also a sign that the Bills have had an excellent defense to open up training camp in 2018 -- most notably the first unit -- and that has played into a lot of the struggles along the offense so far. I'm sure the Bills coaches would like to see this disparity start to meet in the middle as camp gets closer to reaching the halfway point, but that remains undetermined if it's a possibility.
2) The context behind the QB stats
- Following the practice with all the team drills, I tallied up all of the quarterback "statistics." In all of the extended work during 11-on-11s, the statistical results were unkind to the eye test. A.J. McCarron, by my count, completed 13-of-20 passes, had one interception, was sacked five times and had his pass dropped by the receiver three times. For Nathan Peterman, he went 13-of-19, took three sacks, and had one pass dropped by an intended target. As for rookie Josh Allen, he completed just 9-of-20 passes, was also sacked three times, and had three of his catchable passes dropped. Those numbers are all well and good but are effectively meaningless without the context of their day. We'll begin with McCarron, who mainly worked with the first-team offense. I thought he started off quite strongly on Wednesday. He was accurate, pushed the ball down the field, and was stepping into the pocket to avoid the rush. That was for the first 10 or so attempts. After that, though, the rest of McCarron's day involved holding on to the ball way too long and only putting the ball to closer targets than he had in the first half of team drills. McCarron has been holding on to the ball for far too long every day at camp so far. Through the last five days, McCarron has been called down for a sack a total of 13 times. The other two quarterbacks don't come near that number. McCarron's Day Six also ended on an interception (more on that in a bit), which is a painful way to finish a practice that he started so well. With Peterman, he dished aside a slow start to get into a groove, and at one point had completed 11-of-13 passes. That's the point when Peterman seemed to hit a wall, and also came close to a turnover (more on that in a bit, as well). With Allen, his 9-of-20 does not pass the eye test, but he threw the prettiest two passes of the day -- both hitting his target correctly in stride for a significant gain. Allen was pushing the ball down the field farther than either McCarron or Peterman, which could also influence the statistics a bit. There were a total of six dropped passes, and those were by Charles Clay (twice), Robert Foster, Taiwan Jones, Ray-Ray McCloud, and Malachi Dupre -- all of which should have been caught without more difficulty than a usual catch in the NFL. The offense needs to show some more signs of life, especially during practices that feature as many opportunities as Wednesday's did.
3) A whimpering two-minute drill
- To throw one more thing at the team, head coach Sean McDermott decided to end the practice with one set of a two-minute drill for all three units. It went quite poorly for the offense outside of two plays. With the first unit, A.J. McCarron hit Charles Clay for a 10-yard gain on the first play, but then proceeded to be sacked, threw the ball away the next two plays, and later on 4th-and-17 he threw the ball into triple coverage, which gave rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds a perfect opportunity to step in front of the pass for an interception. McCarron's squad gained only three yards on five plays. Working with the second-team offense, Nathan Peterman nearly was intercepted during his first play on a loft throw over the middle of the field that wasn't near any of his receivers. He then completed a four-yard screen pass to Marcus Murphy, took a sack, and on 4th-and-11 tried to force a throw into triple coverage to Malachi Dupre, only to see it drop incomplete. Between McCarron and Peterman, they gained just two yards on nine plays. As for Allen, he salvaged the two-minute drill on his first play with an incredible throw down the left sideline to Cam Phillips that hit a tight window between two defenders -- a total zone-busting throw, and it went for 26 yards. Allen's next two plays were both throwaways when he saw he didn't have anyone, but on 3rd-and-10, he had Ray-Ray McCloud on a slant pattern that he made in stride, but the rookie dropped it over the middle of the field. The field goal unit came out, and Stephen Hauschka nailed a 52-yard field goal. If it weren't for that one play by Allen, the two-minute drill would have been a complete failure by the offense.
4) Rod Streater getting extended first-team time
- One of the best ways to figure out the current standing on a depth chart is when someone has to miss time with an injury. So when wide receiver Andre Holmes, who had been working almost exclusively with the first-team offense through the first five days, had to miss the majority of practice with an injury it led to a chance for another player to step up. On Wednesday, that player was Rod Streater. The veteran receiver worked on the outside and even kicked inside to the slot -- although they used him outside more often than not. For the second straight summer, Streater has had a solid camp and is putting himself in a good light with the coaching staff once again. The trouble is, he doesn't offer much on special teams which could wind up holding him back against some of the other receivers hoping to crack the 53-man roster when all is said and done. However, he has been working his way up the depth chart again.
5) A tale of two undrafted rookie receivers
- I understand that this is going to be an unpopular paragraph because of how well one player has been taken in by many Bills fans on social media. However, without taking Robert Foster being a former five-star high school recruit or the fact that he worked with Brian Daboll last year into consideration, he has not been impressive so far in training camp. He has double-clutched more than a handful of catches, he's dropping some passes, and even though Foster is getting open, he's struggled to make a big impact on the practice field. In fact, the best rookie wide receiver at camp so far hasn't been Foster and it hasn't been one of the two draft picks (Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl). The best of the first-year guys through six practices is undrafted wideout Cam Phillips. He's one of those names that I write down in my notebook at least once a day for doing something that catches my eye, and today he came down with two of the best receptions of the morning. The first, a back shoulder throw from Josh Allen that he had to rise up and high point with a defender all over him, and even had the presence of mind to get his feet inbounds. He coupled that with a terrific concentration reception down the left sideline from Allen with two defenders by him during the two-minute drill. I don't know if he'll get a real chance to make the 53-man roster and might be more of a practice squad candidate, but Phillips has not let his opportunities slip away this summer. His performance is impressive so far.
6) Bills keep moving Keenan Robinson around
- Just before training camp began, the Bills went out and signed veteran linebacker Keenan Robinson to round out their roster to a full 90 players, although it was unclear as to how they would use him in Sean McDermott's defense. Through the first six days, they've been experimenting with him by lining him up both at weakside linebacker and at middle linebacker -- although he only was at middle linebacker for one day. He's also found himself working in with the second-team defense, which is also quite an intriguing development given their affinity for veteran backup Ramon Humber. To this point, Humber has struggled a bit. The linebacker has not performed well in the open field against quicker players, which could lead to problems should he ever have to play meaningful snaps this upcoming season. Robinson is faster, he's got more length on his frame, and should he start to get more reps with the first-team on punt or kickoff coverage, we might be in for a battle for a roster spot between Robinson and Humber. Based on how the two have performed, I wouldn't be surprised if that's one of the tough decisions the Bills have to make at the end of the preseason.
7) Proehl struggling to stand out
- After the spring practices, one of the players that had caught my eye for not only his route running, but for the chemistry he developed with Josh Allen was seventh-round selection Austin Proehl. It seemed like he was always both getting open and getting targeted by Allen, as well as completing the play by bringing in the catch. As we well know, the spring can often be deceiving because it lacks the physical element that makes or breaks a lot of players in the NFL. Out of all the passes thrown during team drills on Wednesday, I did not see Proehl get targeted once -- and a lot of it is his doing. It seems he's struggling to generate his quickness after taking some contact at the line of scrimmage, and by the time he does the ball is out of the quarterback's hands. As a smaller receiver, Proehl is going to have to overcome that challenge almost every play. The Bills have tried to help out as well, after having him lined up outside in the first couple of days, they've mainly put him inside at slot receiver the last several practices to see if that helps. To this point, he hasn't made any discernible plays at training camp, which has to be a disappointment so far for the Bills after the minicamp that he had.
Day 6 MVP: WR Cam Phillips
- As the pads have gone on, Phillips has risen to the challenge and is making an outstanding play almost on a daily basis. Wednesday was his best day so far.
Day 6 LVP: WR Austin Proehl
- Proehl needs to show up a lot more than he has because if he waits too long, he could get passed by a number of receivers trying to crack the 53-man roster.
Up Next: Day Seven on Thursday, August 2 at 8:45 am.