ORCHARD PARK, NY (WKBW) — On Tuesday the Buffalo Bills began their second week of Organized Team Activities, hoping that all the attention to detail from the first week would show up as another cluster of practices were about to commence. And it was last week that we saw what the Bills' initial plan with a lot of their new pieces was.
However, just like last week, the Bills opened up the new week of practices with news of another free agent signing that required surgery. Quinton Spain, who was with the first-team at right guard last week, injured his thumb to the point of needing surgery.
Spain joins tight end Tyler Kroft, center Mitch Morse, and wide receiver Cole Beasley as the new signings that had surgery after signing with the Bills. The team was also without running backs TJ Yeldon (groin) and Frank Gore (foot/ankle), tight end Jason Croom (hamstring), wide receiver David Sills V (hamstring) and center Russell Bodine (shoulder).
As for the players on the field, seven observations from the day of work:
1) Josh Allen has a strong day
- From the start of practice in seven-on-sevens, Josh Allen put a throw on Devin Singletary's back shoulder in a perfect position which set the tone for the majority of the practice. Allen's placement, timing, ball speed and command all seemed in order on Tuesday as he dispersed the ball evenly throughout his receivers. A lot of the work in team drills (11-on-11s) happened in or just outside of the red zone, which led to a lot of opportunities to cash in a successful play for a touchdown. At the beginning of team drills, Allen put a throw right on the money to Knox in tight coverage in the middle of the end zone. Later on, he correctly allowed a designed play to take its course, allowing Zay Jones to run through the traffic over the middle of the field, which trapped his defender well behind. Allen spotted Jones, made the accurate throw, and the receiver scampered in for the touchdown. However, Allen's confidence grew and you could tell he was feeling it, so much so that he stared down Ray-Ray McCloud over the middle of the field which allowed Jordan Poyer to jump the route for an interception effortlessly. It is incredibly important to note that, due to the restrictions of a non-contact practice in what defensive players can't do, results from the OTAs should be taken with a pinch of salt. With the disclaimer fully acknowledged, Allen's practice on Tuesday was a good one. It wasn't perfect, but it was a good building block for the rest of spring practices.
2) Dawson Knox flashes some ability
- The Bills did not have much luck through the first week of OTAs with the tight ends on the team. After losing Tyler Kroft to a broken foot in the first practice, Jason Croom suffered a hamstring injury in the second session -- which was enough to keep him away from practicing this time around. So, the Bills were down to block-first tight end Lee Smith, and third-round rookie Dawson Knox to take the majority of the reps with the first-team offense. Considering Knox is more of a receiving threat than Smith, he worked in quite a bit with Josh Allen and showed a solid rapport with the second-year quarterback for having only practiced with him three times previously. Knox was winning on his routes and finding space, and finishing the plays with a catch -- for the most part. Last week, Knox had a few concentration drops and while that mostly went away this time around, it stung him again on a perfectly placed ball in the end zone from Allen. The pass hit him in the hands and rebounded into the arms of the awaiting safety behind him. As time goes along Knox will need to get those out of his system -- and it's still early, which means it isn't as though this is an ongoing issue just yet. However, the Bills will need to find out if Knox can be an earlier-than-expected contributor on offense, especially if Kroft's rehab time pushes him past the start of the regular season in September. For the most part, Tuesday was an encouraging sign for Knox.
3) Cody Ford gets bumped up but has a tough time
- The last time we could see practice, the second-round pick and rookie Cody Ford was with the second offensive unit at right tackle. Considering we only get to see one out of every three sessions this time of year, the Bills could be mixing it up more than we know. However, for the first time that I could see to this point, Ford worked with the first-team offense at right tackle all practice. And just as it is difficult for defenders in a non-contact practice, it's also hard for offensive linemen in that setting, which is why results must not be overvalued. However, Ford had some trouble with first-team defensive end Trent Murphy on three separate occasions in a limited number of team drill reps. The veteran player was easily getting into the backfield, and Ford just seemed a step behind on those specific reps. I'm sure once the pads go on and Ford can use one of his best assets, his physicality, he'll start to settle in a bit more. Though, the trepidation with him playing at tackle is with his athleticism out on the edge, which could elicit a small concern from today's results. But, until Ford has a full complement of ways to stop the oncoming defender, there's no use in getting worked up about it.
4) How to OL lined up - Part Two
Last week was the first time we got to see how the offensive line fit together with most of the options available. This time around, the Bills were without Quinton Spain (thumb surgery), Mitch Morse (core muscle surgery) and Russell Bodine (shoulder), which took their starting center and a strong contender to be a starting guard out of the mix. Even without them, the practice went on, and here's how they lined up, from left to right:
1st Team - Dion Dawkins, Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Wyatt Teller, Cody Ford
2nd Team - Ty Nsekhe, Vladimir Ducasse, Jeremiah Sirles, Ike Boettger, LaAdrian Waddle
3rd Team - De'Ondre Wesley, Vladimir Ducasse, Garrett McGhin, Ike Boettger, Conor McDermott
Among some of the notable parts of this, it was the second straight week for both Spencer Long and Jon Feliciano to be working in their respective spots with the top unit. Feliciano's center versatility, in addition to his usual position at guard, will be a big factor in ultimate roster decisions if he plays well enough there. Long getting yet another day at left guard means, at this point, the Bills are onboard with the idea of him winning one of those two starting guard jobs. Ty Nsekhe practiced for the first time at left tackle in front of the media, and he did so with the second unit. Last week, Nsekhe was the first-team right tackle. Having been short on guards, the Bills had to double up with Vladimir Ducasse and Ike Boettger getting extra time. We'll get one more look in a week, before we get to see three days in succession for the annual mandatory minicamp in mid-June. That minicamp will be a great look at how the rotation could start as the Bills head to training camp in late July.
5) Siran Neal practicing exclusively at nickel
- As I was going through and writing down the depth charts for each unit during Tuesday's practice, with the second and third units we saw Rafael Bush, Dean Marlowe, and sixth-round rookie Jaquan Johnson all getting some time at safety. However, I did not spot second-year player Siran Neal working at safety during the team drill portion of the day, which is odd, considering the Bills list him as a safety on the roster. Instead, Neal lined up exclusively as a nickel cornerback with the second-team defense. The former fifth-round pick has quite a unique skill-set, considering he lined up as a linebacker, a cornerback and a safety at different times in his college career. The Bills earmarked Neal as a player that could potentially fill the 'big nickel' role of Sean McDermott's defense, and with his skill-set, that makes sense. The team also used him in the same role for the majority of practice last week, too. Should Neal play well in that role, perhaps when constructing the 53-man roster we'll need to think of him as less of a safety and more of a defensive specialist and special teams player.
6) Ed Oliver starts working in with the ones
- Just as Cody Ford got some first-team run at right tackle, Ed Oliver mixed in with some snaps with the first-team defense on Tuesday, too. The Bills are following their usual mold to have Oliver earn his starting position with the team, but, with his rare horizontal movement ability for his position, it would be an upset if he doesn't take over the starting position from Jordan Phillips before long. Phillips is best utilized as a rotational defensive lineman that can give you some excellent snaps in spurts, which lends itself to the idea of Oliver eventually working his way into the first-team defense exclusively. Even in a non-contact practice, Oliver showed in one of a handful of first-team snaps what he could do -- almost effortlessly shooting past Wyatt Teller for a would-be sack. His speed off the snap, combined with his ability to get inside the pads of linemen and rip past them, makes him a headache to block one-on-one.
7) Levi Wallace gets more first-team time, but Kevin Johnson makes another big play
- For the second straight week, the majority of first-team reps at right cornerback belonged to second-year player Levi Wallace. The young cornerback looks to be stronger than he was a season ago, and all the more experienced as he tries to win the starting job over veterans Kevin Johnson and EJ Gaines. However, both Johnson and Gaines received a handful of first-team reps at cornerback -- though Gaines worked on the left side, with Johnson only on the right. At least as the spring goes, Wallace is facing some stiff competition from Johnson -- who once again popped with a big play. The former first-round pick read the comeback route of his receiver along the sideline and jumped Matt Barkley's pass to pick it off, and then made an acrobatic play to get both feet in bounds on top of it all. As is the case with the spring, you can never get too high or too low on performances because it's just a different form of the way the game is played. However, big reps in the spring can also lead to increased opportunities when the summer comes, and when the pads go on. Johnson has done most everything right to this point.