Two practice down, and only one to go for the Buffalo Bills during their annual mandatory minicamp. That also means that only one practice -- and a little over a month of downtime -- separates the Bills from shifting into preseason mode with the start of training camp in late July.
As it was on Tuesday for Day One of minicamp, the second day was available to the media to view in full. Who stood out? Who is getting a longer look at some positions?
Seven observations from Wednesday's practice:
1) Cardale Jones at risk of falling behind?
- This is a crucial next few months for second-year quarterback Cardale Jones. Now surrounded by a coaching staff that didn't draft him, a general manager that didn't draft him, and a rookie draft pick that the coaching staff did bring in -- the deck is stacked against Jones this spring and summer. Jones will need to outperform one of backup T.J. Yates or rookie Nathan Peterman to show that he's worthy of a roster spot this season. This isn't normally the type of predicament a second-year quarterback finds himself in, but the Bills situation for Jones is a bit of a unique one. With T.J. Yates essentially controlling all the second-team reps during OTAs and minicamp, that leaves Jones in a dearth of reps at quarterback. He needs to take advantage of every single one that he gets -- specifically in team drills -- and today, he crumbled. Waiting to the side and watching four separate two-minute drills -- Taylor, Yates, Peterman, and then Taylor again -- Jones finally got his chance at the end of the practice. The second-year quarterback settled for dumping the ball down to the running back, didn't step into his throw, and sailed the ball over his intended target and into the waiting arms of linebacker Jacob Lindsey. Mind you, this happened on the first play -- and also served as the final play of practice. Yeah, that's not exactly the impression you want to leave on the coaching staff. Jones has been hit or miss over the past five weeks as it is, mixing in multiple misfires with one or two of the best throws you'll see all day. The consistency, though, just hasn't been there, and with brand new decision makers at One Bills Drive, he needs to find it to maintain employment in Buffalo through the summer, fall, and winter.
2) A backup quarterback steps up
- In stark comparison to Jones' attempt at the two-minute drill, veteran backup T.J. Yates conducted as good of a drive as possible for the situation at hand. Yates went on to conduct a 14-play drive down the field, in which he completed nine passes, that ultimately resulted in a touchdown throw to Nick O'Leary on fourth-and-goal. And Yates should have had a touchdown on second-and-goal, for what it's worth. Yates manipulated the cornerback with his eyes, freed up wide receiver Philly Brown in the end zone, made the accurate throw, and the ball bounced off Brown's hands and fell to the turf -- the cleanest of drops that you'll see. In the backfield, Yates went from elation to frustration in the matter of half-of-a-second. This was an encouraging sight for the Bills, mainly because the play of their backup quarterbacks this spring -- and even the play of Tyrod Taylor for that matter -- has left much to be desired. This was the strongest showing of all the Bills backups options to this point in time.
3) Zay Jones working in more with the first-team offense
- Throughout the practice, the Bills used a total -- by my count -- of six different receivers with Tyrod Taylor and the first-team offense. That list included Sammy Watkins, Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Brandon Tate, Walt Powell, and for the most time that we've seen to this point in the spring, second-round pick Zay Jones. The rookie seems to be near all the way back to full health from his knee injury early in the offseason workouts, which allowed them to expose him to quite a bit of time with the first-team offense. That said, that's where the positivity ended for Jones. It was a frustrating day in all for the rookie. While he did make some short catches for Taylor during team drills, there were a lot of things that could have drawn the ire of the coaching staff. He attempted to body catch a throw, letting a clear as day opportunity for a first down bounce off his chest, to which it popped up into the air and was nearly intercepted. The next play, Taylor went back to the rookie on an out route that he didn't sell nearly well enough, cornerback Ronald Darby read him like a book and jumped the route. If the pass wasn't deflected, Darby had a great chance at an interception because of Jones. Immediately after the play, Jones was corralled by wide receiver coach Phil McGeoghan, likely to give a lesson in route running. That relationship, dating back to last year when the two were both at East Carolina, will be critical to Jones' short-term success with the Bills.
4) The spring of Walt Powell continues
- Some players just have a knack for making great plays during the spring and summer practices, and it seems Walt Powell is in the process of doing it once again for the Buffalo Bills. Even with a four-game suspension to his name to start the season, it's clear the Bills have liked what they've seen out of Powell through the offseason workouts -- and Wednesday was no exception. Powell made multiple catches where he barely got his head turned around to the ball and managed to bring them anyway. Regardless of his suspension, if Powell continues this play into training camp -- as he did in 2016 -- he'll make a strong case to Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane to not part ways with him before the suspension kicks into gear.
5) Vallejo, not Milano, taking second-team reps
- In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills used two late draft choices on linebackers to add to their depth. In the fifth round, they selected Matt Milano out Boston College, and then Tanner Vallejo out of Boise State in the sixth round. By their draft status, you would think that Milano would be the superior player -- at least early on. However, on Wednesday, it was Vallejo working with the second-team defense alongside Reggie Ragland in nickel packages. For the final 53-man roster, it could even come down to Milano against Vallejo as the fifth or sixth linebacker to keep, which puts the latter in the lead for the time being. This is an underrated roster battle for the Bills this summer, especially considering both were drafted.
6) Backup running back depth chart
- Starter LeSean McCoy made his return to the practice field on Wednesday after having to sit out Tuesday with a stomach virus, but the majority of the work still went to the players listed after him on the depth chart. So, considering we only have one more practice before the more-than-a-month-long break before training camp, here's my best guess as to how the running backs stack up at the present moment. The top backup is Jonathan Williams, and he'll remain in that role until pads go on and we see them perform in the preseason. Past that, I think Cedric O'Neal has shown the best combination of understanding the running scheme, and juice in his legs to check him in just behind Williams. From there, the quick Joe Banyard is fourth, and the University at Buffalo product Jordan Johnson is at the bottom for the time being. Although he makes good reads, his legs just aren't nearly as spring-loaded as either O'Neal or Banyard. Mike Tolbert will also factor in, but more as a pass blocking option on third downs. I must stress this: it's early, and you learn the most about running backs during training camp and the preseason, but that is where I've got them for the time being.
7) Right guard rotation carries on
- On Tuesday, for the first time this spring we saw a brand new competition at an unexpected position along the offensive line. Third-year player John Miller -- at least to me -- was expected to be the locked-in starter at right guard, but that wasn't the case on Tuesday -- and it continued into Wednesday. Miller was splitting first-team reps and rotating with the free agent signing Vladimir Ducasse for the second day in a row. Ducasse, and not Miller, was brought in by this coaching staff in particular with the current blocking scheme in mind. I'd at least expect the rotation to continue into the third and final day of minicamp on Thursday. Then, once Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison gets a chance to review everything, we'll see if it actually continues into the start of the training camp.