By the end of the week, the Buffalo Bills will wave goodbye to Organized Team Activities for the 2016 offseason. On Wednesday, the Bills went through their ninth of 10 allowed practices, and will next shift into mandatory minicamp in the middle of next week.
For the third and final time, the media was allowed to witness a session of OTAs. And by the end of the day, there were some clear takeaways from the workout.
Seven observations from the Bills practice:
1) Tyrod proficient once more
- Another week, and another practice that Tyrod Taylor looked the part during practice. The Bills starting quarterback was hitting his receivers in stride and giving them a chance to make a big play, even in tight coverage. Even more impressive, it was more of a typical fall day in Buffalo than the normal weather for June 8, with the wind whipping the ball around from time-to-time. Taylor cut the ball through the wind and was the far and away most efficient quarterback on the field. It’s the second straight week that Taylor has stood out, and even though it’s only OTAs, it’s certainly an encouraging start to the 2016 campaign for the Bills at the most important position in the game.
2) Cardale Jones has a day of learning
- The Bills sent Cardale Jones home last week to be there for the birth of his son, Owen, and so Jones had to play a little catch-up this week. On the field, it showed Jones has a ways to go in a few different areas. First, the aforementioned wind that Taylor was able to cut through with his throws, Jones wasn’t as lucky. On one play in particular, he tried to put some air under the throw and the ball hit a wall in the wind, fluttered in the air, and landed well short of the designated target — nearly being picked off by Jonathan Meeks. The footwork is an element to the game that has given Jones some problems in the early going, which just goes to show how raw of a talent he is at this point. He still hasn’t looked fully comfortable dropping back just yet. And then, even handoffs were an issue. Just watch:
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) June 8, 2016
To Jones' credit, he uncorked a beautiful sideline throw just one play after the wounded duck that was almost picked off. It’s going to be a long process, but one the Bills are committed to.
3) Salas back, shows well
- The last two weeks, the Bills have been without wide receiver Greg Salas during the practices. It’s allowed some of the other players like Greg Little, Jarrett Boykin, Dez Lewis, and Leonard Hankerson to get some time with the first-team (without the presence of Sammy Watkins, of course). On Wednesday, Salas was back and in a big way, getting loads of time on the field. He worked with the first-team, was one of the three punt returners during the special teams portion, and really looked the part as a potential slot receiver. Salas has quick feet and wins as a route runner, which helps in the shorter areas that a slot receiver will have to work from. A late addition to the roster in 2015, Salas was relied on for a plenty of snaps during the final couple of games of the season. He has a history with both Rex Ryan and wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal, so keep an eye on him to push for time in 2016. Everything is wide open, but he’s been among the most impressive so far.
4) Dez Lewis impresses yet again
- As has wide receiver Dez Lewis, who once again got time with the first-team offense this week. Lewis got his first opportunity to do so, at least in front of the media, last week and flourished with the chance. After one early double clutch of a catch, Lewis went on to shine through the rest of the practice. The best play of the day belonged to him and Tyrod Taylor, when the latter found the former in the back of the end zone. The 6-foot-4 Lewis reached out his left hand and corralled the catch while keeping his feet in bounds for the touchdown. As Lewis continues to make plays during OTAs, he’s setting himself up to not only compete for a roster spot, but for some time on the field as well. If you have some time, read up on the story about his mental journey in football from his rookie season to this one.
5) Enemkpali gets first-team run
- Over the last two weeks, the man getting most of the snaps at outside linebacker —opposite Jerry Hughes, that is — has been Manny Lawson. The Bills like Lawson as a smart veteran, but likely realize that he is limited as a pass rusher. Rex Ryan even hinted last week that IK Enemkpali has been pushing to get more time on the field, and on Wednesday we saw evidence of that. The outside linebacker worked exclusively with the first unit, while Lawson was with the second-team for much of the practice. Enemkpali brings more as a pass rusher, but is less of an athletic option to cover in the open field. It’s early yet, but the Bills have liked what they’ve seen from him.
6) Kouandjio in at left tackle
- The Bills were without their normal starting left tackle Cordy Glenn due to an undisclosed injury, which gave some reps to the team’s former second-round pick. Cyrus Kouandjio took all the time with the first unit as he continues to try and battle with Jordan Mills for the starting right tackle job. Any and all time Kouandjio can get with the top unit is the best thing for him. At this point, Jordan Mills is ahead of the former early pick, and the only way to unseat him is by showing up consistently when given valuable opportunity to do so. It’s hard to really analyze how well an offensive lineman does during non-contact OTAs, but Kouandjio didn’t have any glaring bad beats by defensive linemen on Wednesday.
7) Randell Johnson’s ever-evolving role
- Former seventh-round pick Randell Johnson has seen quite a few position changes since he entered the league. Johnson entered the league as a college defensive end, and was immediately made into an outside linebacker for the 4-3 scheme. From there, Johnson was then transitioned into more of an edge rusher role during the 2015 season but failed to see much time on the field. In the early stages of 2016, Johnson is now playing the MIKE role as an inside linebacker as the Bills are trying to find a home for the athletically gifted defensive player. I haven’t seen this many position switches for a defensive player with the Bills since Arthur Moats, who has gone on to have a successful career as an inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. If I had to guess, I’d think they’re cross-training Johnson to learn all of the linebacker spots to be a versatile weapon on game day — that is, if he earns a spot on the roster. He’ll be an interesting one to track this summer for that reason.