The Buffalo Bills got back onto the practice field this week for the start of Organized Team Activities, and on Thursday, the media was able to see our first practice in full with Sean McDermott as the new head coach.
Keep in mind, at voluntary sessions like these, players are only bedecked in helmets, jerseys, and shorts -- meaning, no pads. And because of this setting, where it's a lot less physical than what you normally see during padded practices at training camp, you have to take some results with a grain of salt.
We've had instances of players that set the world on fire during the spring, only to completely fall off in summer at camp and in the preseason. And then there are some who are slow to start, but really pick it up during the summer when games start to count.
However, it's always good to track their progress as the journey goes along. With that, seven observations from the first week of Bills OTAs:
1) Interesting first-team rep notes
- It's always compelling to see how a new coaching staff lines up his team along the depth chart for the first time. And it's especially important to see who is working with the first team. We'll start on the offensive side of the ball, and with the guys up front. While starting left tackle Cordy Glenn watched from the sidelines, rookie and second-round pick Dion Dawkins lined up in his place, which allowed Jordan Mills to take the first-team reps at right tackle. Eric Wood couldn't partake either, which pushed Ryan Groy up to first team center. The guards, Richie Incognito and John Miller, stayed the same. Without either Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones, or Charles Clay on the field, the wide receivers and tight ends that worked in with the top unit didn't speak too highly of the depth at those positions. At wide receiver, Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, and Brandon Tate took the reps with the top unit, and at tight end, we saw Nick O'Leary and Logan Thomas both get some time on the field. Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy also took their place on the first-team. On the defensive side of the ball, there weren't many surprises. The defensive line consisted of Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Shaq Lawson. The linebackers -- without Reggie Ragland doing team drills -- were Preston Brown in the middle with Ramon Humber and Lorenzo Alexander on the outside. At safety, the two free agent signings Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer was the top pairing. The most interesting were the cornerback position, which saw Tre'Davious White, Ronald Darby, Leonard Johnson, and Kevon Seymour all getting some time with the top unit. White and Darby both mostly hung on the outside, with Johnson mostly at nickel. Seymour was getting worked in both on the outside and at nickel, which means they're trying to decide what's best for him in this defense. I also wouldn't rule out Shareece Wright from the starting equation just yet, either. The corner battle will be a fun one.
2) Cornerbacks came to play Thursday
- To put it lightly, during team drills on Thursday, the defense won the day -- and there was no better evidence of that than by how the cornerbacks performed. It was an especially high-intensity practice that resulted in a couple of shoving matches between players after the whistle -- which is not a common thing to see at OTAs... especially in the first week. The two standouts at cornerback during team drills, to me anyway, was third-year player Ronald Darby, and the veteran Shareece Wright. Now Darby has quite the task ahead of him, having to switch to a zone-based coverage system and has mostly been a man-coverage cornerback for his college and professional career. The one thing he can do incredibly well, no matter the scheme, is to flip his hips and run with the receiver if he needs to. He showed a good feel for that in deep coverage, including a big pass breakup along the left sideline. He made up for Jordan Poyer on that play, who was a tad too slow to get over to the ball. As for Wright, he came to Buffalo to play for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Though he's getting up there in age, he showed a good awareness of zone Thursday and even brought down an interception deep on a Cardale Jones pass. The corners looked good on Thursday.
3) Andre Holmes fighting the ball
- One of the key acquisitions at wide receiver this offseason for the Bills was to bring in Andre Holmes from the Oakland Raiders. The hope was that he would compete to be the number-two wide receiver for the Bills, but so far on Thursday, he's off to a slow start. In limited opportunities during a fast-paced team drill exercise, Holmes dropped two of the three passes that were sent his way -- and both of which hit him right on the hands. It's hard to ignore his height and length for the position, but he needs to bring a lot better days than what we saw on Thursday.
4) Micah Hyde makes a strong first impression
- It was the first time we got to see the prized jewel of the Bills free agent class, safety Micah Hyde, in action on the field. Even though it was only a two-hour session, I have to admit I was impressed by how smooth he was in both drills and during team drills, almost making it look effortless. Hyde seemed to be a bit of a calming force on Thursday, even going out of his way to help correct some of the younger players as they begin to learn the nuances of the professional game. Hyde said when he signed that he wanted to become a leader in the safety room, and he's taking steps to doing that in the early going.
5) Jordan Mills picks up where he left off... and not in a good way
- Last year, the glaring weakness along the offensive line was right tackle Jordan Mills. It became a focal point of the offseason to try and fix -- to which the Bills even chased a high-priced free agent in Ricky Wagner to try and solve the problem. They ended up getting Dion Dawkins in the draft in the second round, but because of Cordy Glenn's injury, Dawkins played left tackle and Mills started with the first-team at right tackle... and players were zooming by him. On one snap, Lorenzo Alexander was in the backfield before we even knew it. Shaq Lawson got past Mills on a couple of different occasions as well -- and it likely led to some frustration for Mills. There was a play that ended up with both Mills and Lawson on the ground, and for a moment, it appeared Lawson was slow to get up. Lawson was infuriated with Mills and began yelling at him while Mills was in the huddle. On the next play, the two locked their arms holding each other's shoulder pads, even after the play was long over. Eventually, some teammates surrounded, and Mills even shoved defensive end Max Valles in the facemask. Cooler heads prevailed, but clearly, things were getting to Mills on Thursday. With a new coaching staff watching every rep that you take, and with him struggling a bit... that was not the type of impression he was probably hoping to make.
6) Rehkow coming for Schmidt?
- In the words of special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, we have a "straight-up" punting competition between Colton Schmidt and Austin Rehkow -- and there might be some reason for concern for the incumbent Schmidt. Rehkow is as versatile as a kicker could possibly be. He's listed as a punter, the Bills believe he can factor into the discussion on kickoffs, too. And on Thursday, he even kicked a few field goals -- including booming one from 58 yards out. Having that kind of versatile asset on the kicking side of things help you be prepared in case of emergency, and it also helps prevent anything from happening to the high-priced kicker Stephen Hauschka. He'll, of course, need to win the punting job outright, but a tie might just go to Rehkow because of how much he can do.
7) Zay Jones sidelined with a knee injury
- Those six words together are probably six that Bills fans didn't want to see in the first week of practices, but, here we are. According to the team, Jones has a knee injury and is considered to be week to week, which means there really isn't much incentive to pushing him back on the field during the month of May for OTAs. It's not ideal because if he was going to make an impact on the team in his first year, you would probably like to have him on the field for all the offseason workouts just so he can learn and make mistakes before things start ramping up at training camp. The lesser of two evils here, though, is not forcing him back which could also run the risk of a re-injury, which would be the worst case scenario. That said, it's smart to keep Jones on the shelf for now, until he's all the way back and ready to participate in workouts.