Buckle up everybody, the live bullets are about to start flying. After three weeks of work, the Buffalo Bills have closed their practice schedule for training camp and now get ready to game plan for their first preseason matchup against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday.
It was a pleasure getting to go back and visit my alma mater of St. John Fisher College on Tuesday and check in with the Blue and Red as they get ready to start their preseason slate. Prior to practice, we got to hear a little bit from head coach Sean McDermott, who discussed a few topics heading into game week.
He talked about how great the "first rate hospitality" was on campus and how appreciative he is that his team gets the experience of going away to a facility like Fisher's for camp. In regards to the offensive line, the third-year head coach was happy to see how rookie OL Cody Ford made his transition from the right tackle slot over to right guard, to help the team after several injuries to the position group.
McDermott said that starters will play "roughly a quarter" in Thursday's action, also alluding to 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver's playing time to go along with this game plan. With so many new pieces being acclimated on the offensive side of the ball, McDermott feels that the flow of the game and the unit's rhythm overall will help determine exactly how long certain guys will be on the field.
One of the big headlines from McDermott's presser was him announcing that cornerback E.J. Gaines would be out a few more weeks with a groin injury. This will be something to keep an eye on as Gaines was deadlocked in a battle for the team's No. 2 corner spot, opposite of Tre'Davious White. With some injuries mounting up, he talked about the balance of nursing an injury and returning from it, especially those who are on the cusp of making the team or being cut.
"The thing that I ask is that there's urgency on (the medical side) and that's what seems to be the case," McDermott said.
"That's all you can do. So, what I can do as a coach is push the guys that are on the field and make sure we're bringing those guys along as much as we can. Whether that's from a teaching standpoint, learning standpoint, controlling what we can control in terms of day to day."
With one of the league's most unique running back battles in the league, McDermott also shared that he thinks that six-time Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy "has handled it well" in terms of the additions of fellow future Hall of Famer Frank Gore, the exciting rookie Devin Singletary and veteran T.J. Yeldon. McCoy was also quoted after practice as saying that he's been given the word that he'd be the No.1 back heading into the first preseason action. But with Marcus Murphy, Senorise Perry and the former rugby star Christian Wade still on the roster, there will be a number's crunch in the backfield before the regular season comes around.
I also got to speak with two of the Bills' cornerstone pieces in post-practice interviews — 2018 first-round picks in QB Josh Allen and LB Tremaine Edmunds. For Allen, he covered many topics, from how he excited he is to take the game field once again and just how "night and day" things have gone for him from year one to year two.
He offered up some advice to rookie QB and University at Buffalo alum Tyree Jackson, reminding him that it'll be a packed house at New Era Field, to go deep and show off his "big arm" (it may not be Josh Allen strong, but it's up there), to be prepared because "you can and will get hit" and to take what the defense gives him because "the smart play's the right play."
I also asked him how things had been going with his new receiving core, especially having new names like Cole Beasley, John Brown and Andre Roberts (who he mentioned as a player that's been "a good example for our younger guys").
"Obviously the timing's getting there, just little subtle eye signals and hand signals that we're getting down," Allen said.
"Reading their body language, like with the slot that we have with Cole and some of those guys, Ray-Ray (McCloud) and Isaiah (McKenzie). Just (understanding) their body lean and how they're getting in and out of breaks and trusting them in certain coverages to be where they are. I think that's gonna continue to build up and I'm excited that we've got guys that know what to do. Obviously, having an older guy like Cole, whose been around the league for a while, can kind of teach these young guys about certain ways to run routes in certain coverages and he's gonna be a valuable asset for us."
Allen had a little fun in the end too, taking one last question from long snapper Reid Ferguson. He told him that he goes out and long snaps "just in case. ... You never know, coach might call my number," before saying he thinks has "the best in the business" with Ferguson handling snapping duties.
As for the team's second year MLB, Edmunds stressed how big it will be to get in the habit of having a strong level of communication on the defensive front for Thursday night. He talked about how good he feels entering year two versus year one, but still feels as though there are still things he'd like to improve on so he can learn everyday. Finally being able to see another colored jersey against Indy, Edmunds talked about what the defensive side of the ball is preparing to take on a unit that ranked fifth in points per game and seventh in yards per game in 2018 (although four-time Pro Bowl QB Andrew Luck is not expected to see the field as he recovers from a calf strain).
"We're looking forward to it. Nothing changes for us (just) continue to do the things we've been doing all camp and everything will take care of itself," Edmunds said. "Just playing as team, playing as a unit, communicating, executing and just following the things that got us to this moment."
After watching the Bills' last practice session before the preseason schedule, I jotted down a few notes from Tuesday's session:
• For most of the day, the first-team reps on the o-line were as follows: Ty Nsekhe (right tackle), Cody Ford (right guard), Russell Bodine (center), Quinton Spain (left guard) and Dion Dawkins (left tackle). Some consistency upfront will be key on Thursday, as this unit tries to hold things down after still being without their man in the middle in Mitch Morse (still in concussion protocol on Tuesday) and losing LaAdrian Waddle to a torn quad over the weekend.
• The coaching staff was practicing with headsets on, assuming they are communicating with some "eye in the sky" in the press box. Not something I've seen too often at an NFL practice, but it should interesting to see if this give them a competitive edge.
• Devin Singletary seems to be improving in his route running and with catching the ball out of the backfield too. Singletary can be explosive with the ball in his hands (averaging 1,561 scrimmage yards and 22 touchdowns per year in three seasons at Florida Atlantic) but he struggled to put up any numbers as a receiver — in those three years, he totaled 51 catches for 397 yards and only one touchdown.
• Tommy Sweeney had himself a day at tight end, making plays as a blocker and a receiver, on top of scoring in several team drills. The 2019 seventh-rounder stepped in admirably for Dawson Knox, Jason Croom and Tyler Kroft, who still remain out due to injury.
• Even with 'Shady' saying he's still "the guy" in the backfield, he shared first team reps with both Gore and Singletary. Still no clue as to how this rotation will play out once September hits.
• Allen really seems to be harping on his underneath game. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll may be helping him with this, calling a few more plays that are specific to working the short game versus the deep ball. But even in 7-on-7 drills and with team periods, not only did Allen seem to be taking some heat off his vaunted fastball, he was also much more accurate than he looked through stretches in 2018. If this continues, good things could be on the way for Allen and the offense.
• Oliver continues to show flash plays and has gotten more first-team reps than just about anyone else on the d-line. This will be key for his development — instead of having to be an every-down player early on in his career, the former Houston Cougar will now be fresher in a unit that will be heavily rotated. Things could get spooky out there with a fresh and hopefully healthy group, led by a talent like Oliver.
• Defensive back Taron Johnson went down with what looked to be a leg injury, but it was far from a serious matter. He only appeared in several drills afterwards, assuming the team was being more precautious than anything. Johnson will be a key contributor in the secondary as he is slotted as the team's top nickel corner, as he returns in his second year to a unit that was ranked second in the league in yards allowed per game and first in terms of passing yardage allowed.
The Bills will host the Colts at 7 p.m. today at New Era Field.
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.