To borrow a line from my colleague Matt Bové, Friday was a fun dinner in reverse order.
First, we were greeted with the entree -- the meat and potatoes if you will -- of the media availability of the day, when we spoke with new general manager Brandon Beane for the first time since he'd been hired by the Bills.
After that was as exciting an offseason activity as any, but really, it was just an appetizer of what's to come in future practices.
58 players, consisting of a healthy mix of draft picks, undrafted free agent signees, second-year players, and players just hoping to impress the coaches in a three-day tryout window. It's always fascinating to track who rises above the rest.
So without further ado, seven observations from the first day of rookie minicamp:
1) Tre'Davious White vs. Zay Jones
- It was the main event of the two-hour practice, with first-round cornerback Tre'Davious White lining up against second-round wide receiver Jones during one-on-one drills on Friday. White didn't have much of a chance on a couple of the opportunities because he was playing off the line of scrimmage, and Jones ran a slant to the middle where normally in zone coverage, the corner would have some help over the middle of the field. However, on the most notable rep that saw Jones run a route in White's zone, the cornerback showed up in a big way. Jones ran a post-corner route to the right sideline and tried to get White to bite on his initial break. The cornerback didn't take the bait, smoothly flipped his hips, tracked Jones to the sideline, took away his angle to the ball, turned around, and knocked down the pass. It was by far White's best rep of the day. So, in the 'iron sharpens iron' philosophy that Sean McDermott employs, watching those two battle it out like that was a welcomed sight.
2) Peterman didn't force the issue
- Granted, it was only the first day of the on-the-field learning for a player taking snaps at the most complex position in sports, but fifth-round quarterback Nathan Peterman didn't wow the reporters on hand by any means. The one thing I did take away from Peterman's performance, though, was that he didn't try to do too much on his first day with the Bills. That's a tendency for some quarterbacks in this setting that I've seen over the years -- and we saw it again today with Josh Woodrum -- where a player will try to throw their way out of a paper bag, and the accuracy dips significantly. Instead, Peterman stayed within himself, followed his instincts and didn't take chances down the field where there were clearly defenders all over his man. He has the mobility to get out of the pocket when things break down, too, so those were two encouraging signs for the first day of rookie minicamp.
3) Bad day for WRs not named Zay Jones
- The wide receiver group is made up of three tryout players, two undrafted free agent signees, the injured Kolby Listenbee -- who didn't participate in drills on Friday, by the way -- and of course, Zay Jones. Outside of Jones, a few of those players really struggled and namely, they were tryout players Dres Anderson, Jalen Robinette, and undrafted rookie Brandon Reilly. Anderson struggled with his hands for the majority of the practice, although he did pull down the best catch of the day on a deep ball down the field. It's hard to miss Robinette (6-foot-3, 220-pounds), but he really struggled with his separation from defenders for most of the practice. He did have one rep that he effectively froze cornerback Justin Jemison in place on a double move during one-on-ones, but most times, the defender was attached to his hip. The undrafted rookie Reilly started off well but struggled near the end of practice with securing the catch. All three will need to be much more consistent over the final two days, especially if the tryout players want to get signed to the 90-man roster by the end of the weekend.
4) Dawkins lining up at left tackle
- This is most likely a product of the Bills not having much of a better option to put at left tackle for the rookie minicamp, but second-round pick Dion Dawkins took all of his reps on Friday at left tackle. It's still likely that the Bills will want to use him most at right tackle, but the one thing this does confirm is what position Dawkins will likely start at. Some had him listed as a guard, but it's pretty clear that the Bills want to see if he can make it at tackle, and perhaps even push for the starting right tackle job this season. As for his performance on Friday, the only notes I wrote down about him throughout the practice was that he was lined up at left tackle. By the standards for offensive linemen, that's a really good thing, because the more you're noticed, it's usually not for good reasons.
5) Cameron Jefferson struggled to protect
- While Dawkins didn't do anything to get noticed in a bad light, that was not the case with second-year offensive tackle Cameron Jefferson, who is presently signed to the Bills' 90-man roster. During team drills, Jefferson got burned a pair of times by speed off the edge, showing off a sluggish start at the snap and without the foot agility to overcompensate for a slow start. Eddie Yarbrough, who is listed at linebacker, was actually lining up at defensive end, and both times Jefferson was flailing at the passing by defender Yarbrough's number-75 jersey was the culprit for who got into the backfield so easily. Keep an eye on Yarbrough as the offseason rolls along. It was a strong debut, and the Bills aren't exactly the deepest at defensive end this year, so there could be an opportunity to steal a spot there for him.
6) Three unknowns came to play
- Part of the reason why I love rookie minicamp as much as I do is because it gives the unknown players in the exercise the stage to shine in front of coaches for three straight days. A trio of that type of player really impressed me on Friday and the first of which was on the offensive side of the ball. Second-year running back Cedric O'Neal showed a really natural feel for the zone-based rushing attack the Bills are going to employ this year, having the vision to find the right lane and exploiting it for huge yardage and before a defender had gotten to him. He also has a nice burst when he sticks his foot in the ground, so there is clearly some talent there. On the defensive side of the ball, I really liked the speed and coverage ability of linebacker Jacob Lindsey, the second-year player currently signed to the roster. Lindsey never gave up on a play, was consistently getting to the ball carrier, and even forced a fumble by tight end Jason Croom. Lastly, cornerback Terrence Singleton -- a tryout player from Prairie View -- really impressed me by how competitive he was in every drill. He's not the tallest player, but he was in on every single ball thrown his way, often times breaking it up. Another cornerback there on a tryout, Isaiah Jackson of Western Colorado, showed a really good ability to break on the ball in zone coverage. So, those four guys have a great day of work to build on moving forward into the weekend.
7) No White, Milano, Vallejo in team drills
- We saw them in bits in pieces in individual drills, and even during some 9-on-9 work that the Bills ran throughout the day, but that's where it ended for the trio of Tre'Davious White, fifth-round linebacker Matt Milano, and sixth-round linebacker Tanner Vallejo. Likely by the design of the coaches, the three players did not take part in 11-on-11 team drills in any capacity -- not even one rep. Although we did get one bit of information about the linebacking pair of Milano and Vallejo: each was lined up at outside linebacker. So if there was any thought that one of them would line up at middle linebacker in the 4-3, it appears as though that they will not be starting their careers at that spot.