With the conclusion of Thursday's practice, that means -- as far as the media access is concerned -- that the 2017 version of Buffalo Bills organized team activities have now concluded. And now, the Bills will move on to the first mandatory event of the year: Minicamp.
As we move forward to the next and final phase of offseason activities, first is a look at the players that stood out, the players that struggled, and some other general notes from Thursday's session.
Seven observations from Week Three of OTAs:
1) Watkins, Ragland, Zay Jones return
- As offseason developments go, the return of these three players to a phase of the practice is noteworthy -- with the headline grabber being wide receiver Sammy Watkins. After undergoing a second surgery on his foot, the Bills haven't given many updates on the wide receiver -- so when head coach Sean McDermott made it known that Watkins has returned to practice to take part in individual drills, that is a big step in his rehab process. The Bills wouldn't commit to a firm timetable of when Watkins would be able to return in full, but this is promising step that could pave the way for a total return in training camp. And boy, do the Bills need him.
— Joe Buscaglia (@JoeBuscaglia) June 8, 2017
The Bills also elevated linebacker Reggie Ragland and rookie wide receiver Zay Jones from limited practice participants, to taking part in full. After the practice, Ragland said it took him a couple of series, but his instincts started kicking in once he got comfortable at middle linebacker. Both players are competing for substantial roles on the team.
2) Preston Brown taking first-team reps
- In Ragland's first day back to taking part in team drills, it was Preston Brown -- not Ragland -- working with the first-team offense. Now, it is unfair to expect Ragland to just jump right in as the first-team middle linebacker in his first full practice back since last August. If he were coming back as a player with a lot of experience in the league, I think it would be a bigger deal. However, since that isn't the case, this is just an example of a player trying to get reacclimated with the down in and down out way of practice. This will be a competition between the two players, and one that will continue into training camp this summer.
3) Tre'Davious White stands out
- If I were to award an MVP of a practice during OTAs -- as ridiculous as that reads -- it would go to Bills first-round pick and cornerback Tre'Davious White. The rookie, working exclusively with the first team as an outside cornerback, was consistently around the ball and very nearly came away with an interception on three different occasions. He's really taking well to the early installations of the zone-based defense and getting a good jump on routes when he spots something. White trusting what he sees, and not overthinking his responsibilities, is a solid sign as the Bills head into the next phase of the 2017 season soon.
4) QBs, in totality, have a day to forget
- Outside of an excellent post-corner pass from Tyrod Taylor to Andre Holmes for a touchdown near the end of practice, Thursday's session for all the quarterbacks was just a day to forget. Whether it was Taylor, T.J. Yates, Nathan Peterman, or most notably, Cardale Jones, the passing offense struggled to get out of the blocks during the practice. Taylor almost got picked off once -- which was wide receiver Philly Brown's fault for running the wrong route, but he also threw the ball into some double-covered areas that were instantly knocked down. Yates and Peterman did much of the same, with Yates almost getting picked off by safety Colt Anderson on a telegraphed deep throw. Jones was the worst of the bunch, nearly causing a huge collision between tight end Logan Thomas and Anderson because of how inaccurately a ball was thrown over the middle of the field. He was off on a lot of his deep throws and even made the error of trying to throw across his body while rolling out of the pocket. The good news is that Taylor, the starter, looked the best of the bunch, for what it's worth.
5) Bills suddenly thin at offensive tackle
- When the Bills released former second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, the Bills now find themselves in a bit of a bind for practices. With Cordy Glenn already sidelined while rehabbing his injury, the Bills were also without Seantrel Henderson as the fourth-year player was dealing with a cyst on a "sensitive area on the backside." The Bills were down to four offensive tackles: Jordan Mills, Dion Dawkins, Michael Ola, and Cameron Jefferson. It is only June, but as the practices continue to mount, that's valuable time without at least one starter to get comfortable -- and without the rookie, Dawkins, getting able to work in at right tackle.
6) WR impressions
- For the wide receiver portion, we'll go with a 'two-up, two-down' approach from today's practice. On the positive side, Andre Holmes seems to have calmed down since the last time we were able to watch him practice, and really had a nice practice -- including the toe-tapping touchdown he had to end team drills for the first-team offense. He was catching the ball much more naturally and wasn't seeming to think about it. Holmes worked exclusively with the first-team as an outside wide receiver. I also liked the day from Philly Brown, who outside of his one gaffe on a route, made himself available to Tyrod Taylor for much of the practice and came down with some tough, contested catches. Without Sammy Watkins and Zay Jones working into the first-team offense yet, Holmes and Brown took full advantage Thursday. On the negative side, it was a tough day for two players: Jeremy Butler and Dez Lewis. Both players fought the football, with Butler dropping a pretty clear pass to him during team drills. The lowest point was Butler letting a pass go right through his hands as the Bills were going through an offensive walk-through, with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison verbally taking note of the drop. Drops have been an issue for Lewis over the past two years, and it followed him again today on a route that he clearly won over the middle of the field, with room to roam after the catch. The ball was a shade behind him, but completely catchable, and it gobbled him up. It was a huge missed opportunity.
7) An undrafted free agent with versatility
- In the 'file this away for future use' department, it seems the Bills are trying a little something with undrafted rookie Marquavius Lewis. Listed as a defensive end, the long-limbed 6-foot-7, 270-pound player was working into team drills at defensive tackle. Sean McDermott loves players with a bit of versatility -- especially along the defensive line (see former Panthers first-round pick Vernon Butler), so this could go a long way for him this summer if he can work into both positions. Although Lewis was working with the third-team defense, he's at least a name to keep an eye on as we get to training camp.