The Buffalo Bills are now two weeks into their three-week Organized Team Activity workouts and initial impressions are being made on head coach Sean McDermott and the rest of his staff.
On Thursday, the Bills went through with their second practice that was fully open to the media, and there was some progress -- and even some changes -- from the week before. It is fair to mention to always take the performances at OTAs with a grain of salt because we've seen plenty of players not match the same performances they had in May once the pads went on in August.
With that written, what did we learn from the most recent practice at OTAs?
7 observations from Thursday's session:
1) Ragland getting closer
- The Bills second-round pick from 2016, linebacker Reggie Ragland, isn't all the way there just yet but he is making definitive progress toward getting back to the field for practice in full. Ragland went through individual drills on Thursday, now a little over nine months removed from the torn ACL he suffered last August.
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Ragland was even making some sudden movements, putting his foot in the ground, planting and then taking off which shows he's starting to trust the knee again. While this can be considered a lot of progress, he still has another hurdle to clear before he's considered to be back in full. Ragland did not take part in any team drills (11-on-11 plays), which is smart at this point in time given his injury, and with the fact that it's only May. At this point though, he looks like he'll be back in full -- at the latest -- by training camp.
2) Switch up at nickel?
- The general thought about the cornerback position was that the Buffalo Bills would likely use some combination of first-round pick Tre'Davious White, Ronald Darby, and Kevon Seymour as their top three cornerbacks. We saw a little of that last week, too. However, on Thursday, Seymour has taken a back seat to another cornerback: Leonard Johnson. When the first-team defense lined up in nickel, White and Darby were the outside cornerbacks, with Johnson as the nickel man playing against the slot receiver. Now, it's early and they are likely just experimenting, but Johnson is now at least in the conversation of being in the running for one of the three major positions at cornerback on defense.
3) Cardale Jones with a hit-or-miss day
- Now that there are only four quarterbacks on the roster, the competition for the backup quarterback job is officially underway between T.J. Yates, Cardale Jones, and rookie Nathan Peterman. Of the three, the starkest performance of the bunch was made by Cardale Jones. There was some really good, some really bad, and not much in between for the second-year quarterback. There were a couple of throws where he fired it in between defenders with a lot of zip on the ball, to move the chains during 11-on-11 drills. In between those throws, he missed by a good four-to-five yards on a pair of throws that were easier than the ones he made. As for the other two, they didn't really do much to stand out one or the other.
4) Dawkins hanging at only left tackle for now
- The last two times we've seen the Bills at practice, rookie Dion Dawkins has lined up at left tackle in place of the still rehabbing Cordy Glenn. With Glenn still unable to take part in team drills Thursday, that trend continued once again... but to this point in time, we haven't seen him take a single rep at right tackle -- which was the position he was drafted to compete for. Head coach Sean McDermott didn't give much of an indication as to when, or if, Dawkins would be sliding over to the right side for some work, only saying that he likes that the rookie has the versatility to play both sides. In the meantime, Jordan Mills continued to take all of the first-team reps at right tackle with Dawkins on the left side. While Dawkins is losing out on some reps on that side, he is going against Jerry Hughes every single practice for multiple plays, and Hughes is one of the best practice players I've seen since starting to cover the team in 2009. Dawkins is learning pretty quickly about the speed of the game, which will help when he makes the likely eventual move over to the right side for the competition -- once Glenn is healthy.
5) Henderson struggles
- Speaking of the offensive line -- and the right tackle position, in particular -- it was not a good day for former seventh-round pick and starter Seantrel Henderson. He was the second-team right tackle throughout the practice and really struggled to keep his opponents out of the backfield. Max Valles had a couple of successful runs against him when rushing the passer, and then Henderson also had to resort to a blatant holding penalty on Shaq Lawson on another pass blocking attempt. He seems lighter than what he worked himself back up to last year, and that's showing a bit with how he's struggled through the first two weeks of OTAs. With a new coach, a new blocking scheme, and still the looming five-game suspension to start, his safety making it through this season on the Bills roster is not guaranteed.
6) Wood on the way back
- While the Bills are still waiting for Reggie Ragland to make the next step of working into team drills, the team did welcome back one big name to a full complement of work Thursday: starting center Eric Wood. He's not a full-go just yet, having some days that's spent not partaking in team drills to this point, but seeing this kind of progress this early on in the spring should make the Bills feel very good about his outlook for training camp, preseason, and of course, the regular season. For how much they want to run the ball and get the running back involved in the offense, they're going to need their top offensive line on the field as much as possible -- and that includes Eric Wood. Although next to Wood, there was a different right guard on Thursday. Starter John Miller sprained his ankle on Wednesday, which brought Vlad Ducasse up to the first-team to take all of the top unit's snaps.
7) Backup RB update
- As LeSean McCoy wisely said after practice, it's really tough to tell which one of the young, backup running backs is going to make the biggest impact for the team this season because it's not training camp just yet, and the pads aren't on. However, for the third week in a row (counting rookie minicamp) Cedric O'Neal -- at least to my eye -- was the most explosive, non-LeSean McCoy, Bills running back on the field. O'Neal has taken to the principles of the zone-read running system quite well and displays quickness when he plants his foot in the ground and cuts it up the field. Jonathan Williams was the second-most notable on the field of the backup runners, although, near the end of practice, a positional coach yelled out to Williams, "Put your foot in the ground!" Which, in coach-speak, means to plant the foot and move up the field, as opposed, to hesitate and keep running toward the sideline, which is what Williams did on that particular rep. There's still a long way to go at the backup running back position, but O'Neal is an early standout.