ORCHARD PARK, NY (WKBW) — With only two weeks to go until the month-plus layoff, the Buffalo Bills pushed forward for their final week of Organized Team Activities. Just as it was the case for the previous two weeks, the media only had access to one practice per week.
Starting next week, it will be 'training camp light.' It's the three-day mandatory minicamp that requires all players to be in attendance and is open to the media for each of the sessions. All that will be missing from training camp is the pads and the late July, early August humidity.
However, there was still one isolated practice remaining of OTAs. And on Tuesday, there were injury notes -- both of the positive and negative variety, player movement along the depth chart, and of course, some notable performances. How did it all look?
Seven observations from the third week:
1) Josh Allen's practice ends on a low note
- The practice was all going along as usual for second-year quarterback Josh Allen, hitting his receivers in stride on the lower-pressure reps -- as is the expected result for OTAs. It even extended into the first attempt at the controlled four-minute drill as he connected with tight end Dawson Knox for a back-shoulder throw down the right sideline that beat Matt Milano. However, once he trotted out on the field for his last reps, three straight plays wound up defining his day. And really, the majority of the first-team offense looked a bit behind on that five-play set, too. On the first rep, running back LeSean McCoy saw no room to operate up the middle and was stuffed. On the next play, defensive end Trent Murphy flew past rookie right tackle Cody Ford for a would-be sack, but Allen wound up completing the play with a throw over the middle to wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. From there, it went downhill for Allen. On the next snap, Allen panicked when a defender jumped up to take away his first read and you could tell his mind was scrambling by his next two physical reactions. Allen didn't get his feet set, and then impatiently threw a loft pass to his target that should have been intercepted by linebacker Corey Thompson. On the next play, Allen once again dealt with some pressure but needed to deliver a much better ball than what he did. Robert Foster ran a picture perfect comeback route along the right sideline, and without his feet set, Allen airmailed it out of bounds by a good 10-15 yards. Then, to finish the day, defensive endJerry Hughes whipped around left tackle Dion Dawkins, and that forced Allen to make a panic throw. The quarterback uncorked a deep ball to McCloud that sailed way past the intended target and fell into Jordan Poyer's arms -- as if he were calling for a fair catch on a punt. Just as it was unwise to overreact to a good day of practice from Allen last week, the premise holds for the poor result from him on Tuesday. We'll get an accurate gauge of Allen's progress through the spring when we get to see three straight days of practice next week.
2) Mitch Morse on the way back
- On the positive side for the Bills, they're about to get their prize of free agency back at full capacity. Center Mitch Morse, the player that the Bills hope that can be a catalyst to a massive improvement along the offensive line, in addition to being to be the leader of the group. Morse had core muscle surgery shortly after he signed with the Bills, and his rehab process kept him on the sidelines for much of the team's OTAs. However, on Tuesday, Morse took a step forward to participate in walkthroughs with the rest of the team all while donning a non-contact jersey. It's a big step forward for Morse, and up next, is a full return. That, he hopes as is indicated by the team's plan, will come next week for mandatory minicamp. Considering injuries had run roughshod to the center position through the OTAs, Morse's presence with the team will be a welcome sight for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson.
3) The OL without Morse
- In what the team likely hopes will be the final public practice without Morse, the rest of the offensive line had plenty of moving parts. Keep in mind, the Bills were still without both center Russell Bodine (shoulder) and guard Quinton Spain (thumb) in team drills as well, which shifted how things looked. Veteran tackle Ty Nsekhe also did not practice. From left tackle to right tackle, the three units:
1: Dion Dawkins, Jon Feliciano, Jeremiah Sirles, Spencer Long, Cody Ford
2: LaAdrian Waddle, Vladimir Ducasse, Ike Boettger, Wyatt Teller, Conor McDermott
3: De'Ondre Wesley, Garrett McGhin, Ike Boettger, Wyatt Teller, Conor McDermott
As you can tell, the Bills were quite short-handed, considering three of their 12 available had to pull double duty. And that was before another injury happened mid-practice. Before that, there were a couple of notable things with the first-team unit. Without the presence of Nsekhe, the Bills had to use Dawkins and Ford as their bookends at offensive tackle. The team used Jon Felicano at left guard for the first time in the three open practices, after spending the first two at center. Spencer Long also flipped from left guard to right guard for the first time to our knowledge as well. It was also the first time we saw Jeremiah Sirles with the top unit, but that likely has more to do with the absence of Morse and Bodine. That's where the injury comes in, as Sirles had to leave the practice prematurely, which led to more changes along the three units. From left to right:
1: Dawkins, Long, Feliciano, Teller, Ford
2: Waddle, Ducasse, Boettger, Wesley, McDermott
3: Wesley, McGhin, Boettger, Teller, McDermott
Feliciano again returned to center which continues to speak to his versatility as a potential backup for the Bills. It was also notable that with Feliciano shifting to center, Long flipped from right guard over to the left side. I think that can be more of a reflection on what the team thinks of Wyatt Teller for the time being. After working at left guard in the first open practice two weeks ago, Teller has exclusively been at right guard the last two sessions. While it's unfortunate for the Bills that they don't have their full stable of linemen to try and figure out the puzzle, it's enlightening seeing the depths of the line and the team's thought process in the event of injury. Again, it's still early, but these players are lining up where they are right now for a reason.
4) Safety duo already looks sharp
- As the Bills offense continues to try to jell together through these spring practices, one thing that is abundantly clear is how well the safety pairing of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is already playing. One of the best safety tandems in the NFL, the duo is already forcing the issue through OTAs. Hyde beautifully read a bootleg to the left and stopped Allen on third-and-short in team drills. He also has provided plenty of run support -- as much as one defensive player can in a non-contact practice. Poyer has been a playmaking presence in all three of the open sessions. Whether it be with pass breakups, interceptions, or in run support, Poyer has not had any sort of lag this spring. As the defense looks to take the next step in becoming a dominant unit in the NFL, having the combination of Hyde and Poyer on the backend is a real strength -- and the spring workouts have continued to prove that.
5) Yarbrough drifts to third-team duty
- Entering the spring workouts, I've mentioned that defensive end Eddie Yarbrough needs to have the type of spring and summer that he had in 2017 -- when he initially made the team. Yarbrough is now facing some real competition for his spot on the roster in the form of Eli Harold, seventh-round pick Darryl Johnson, and second-year player Mike Love. Through the first two open practices, Yarbrough remained with the second-team defense at left end -- the spot that helped him capture a spot on the roster back in 2017. However, on Tuesday, Yarbrough switched back over to right end -- the spot he played in 2018. Making it more apparent that he'll be in a fight for a roster spot this summer, Yarbrough was with the third-string, working behind both Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson. Perhaps they just wanted to give him some time on the other side for versatility, but I think part of it was in the team wondering how Love would do with the second unit at left end -- Yarbrough's previous spot. Keep in mind, Eli Harold also wasn't practicing today, which makes the position switch even more curious. We'll see how where Yarbrough lines up over three days next week.
6) Boettger struggles in core center responsibility
- To say the Bills are short-handed at center at OTAs would be an understatement, considering all three players they have signed to the roster for the position all missed at least a portion of Tuesday's practice. In response, the Bills used Ike Boettger -- a guard primarily -- at center with the second and third-team offensive units. It isn't the first time the Bills have done this with Boettger this spring, but this week was the first time that he showed a bit of inexperience during an open practice. The young player had a tough time getting the ball back to the quarterback on a handful of occasions. Earlier in practice, there was a misfire during walkthrough, which somehow resulted in Tyree Jackson dropping to the turf. He was fine, but the two then practiced a snap before getting on with the rest of it. As the Bills went into team drills, Boettger delivered a high snap that forced the quarterback off his regular course three times out of the 14 plays. Still, with practice squad eligibility, Boettger will likely get more chances than this to rectify the errors as a developmental player. He was satisfactory in snapping the ball earlier in OTAs, which means it was likely just a bad day. Though with Morse on the mend, and Bodine also probably nearing a return, the Bills' need for Boettger to play center could be a thing of the past.
7) Plenty of chances for young WRs to stand out
- As the Bills entered practice on Tuesday, they were without three of their presumed top five receivers on the roster. Cole Beasley is still working on getting back from core muscle surgery, with training camp being the target for a full return. Zay Jones did not practice but was in attendance working along the side. John Brown, the team's other big wide receiver addition in free agency, was not in attendance for the practice -- without any explanation given by the Bills. That left a lot of reps on the table for young players who will try to do whatever they can this summer to force the Bills to expand the wide receiver room from the likely five players, to either six or seven. Ray-Ray McCloud continued to receive first-team work as a slot receiver -- which will need to be his way of making the roster this year. After him, Victor Bolden, Jr., Isaiah McKenzie (slot), Cam Phillips, Da'Mari Scott, and Duke Williams all received legitimate time with the second-team offense. Undrafted rookies David Sills V and Nick Easley (slot) primarily remained with the third-team group, with a smattering of some of the second-group guys working in there, too. Of the battling wide receivers, McCloud and Williams made themselves open and available -- though Williams wasn't in a flashy way. I think with him his actual test will happen when the pads come on, and we can see his strongest asset -- his physicality -- come into play. I thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity for Phillips and Sills V on Tuesday. Phillips had a pass in his hands and allowed cornerback Lafayette Pitts to break it up for the incompletion. Later in practice, Phillips dropped a pass outright. Sills V had the most regrettable drop of the day. After working himself open and finding separation to the right sideline, he let an in-stride Jackson pass hit him in the hands and drop to the ground. The receiver had room to turn it up the field for an even more significant gain past the twenty-plus yards the original route would have garnered. Still, after not being able to work in through the first two weeks due to a hamstring injury, I'd imagine Sills V will get more opportunities to make good on his chances -- especially if he wins his routes in the manner that he did on that specific play. The moral of the story is this, one or two of this group of receivers will need to show extraordinary results in the summer to warrant the roster spot, because the depth of the overall roster has vastly improved. If none of them step up, I wouldn't be surprised to see only the prominent five players (Jones, Beasley, Brown, Foster, and Andre Roberts) kept around on Labor Day.