I’m planning on attending all of the Bills’ St. John Fisher practices this year. I’ll be claiming my perch at the far end of the bleachers, top row, with my BillsMafia bucket hat and clipboard, and writing up each practice. My “Astro-Notes” are shared here, usually about 1:00pm EST. Please let me know on Twitter if and when you plan to go!
I’ve made a punchlist of things to watch for, using Chris Brown’s countdown, Robyn Mundy‘s viewpoints, Kay Adams on Good Morning Football, Erik Turner and his Cover 1’s insights, Matt Warren’s podcasts from Buffalo Rumblings, and Ryan Talbot from NYUpstate. My goal is to give you my opinion on what I see at camp, and provide you (and Bills’ writers) with a pretty detailed punchlist.
The Josh Questions:
=> How much does Josh profit from having Brian Daboll for a second year? He’s the only new QB in the AFC East who has the same Offensive Coordinator. Is that a bonus for the Bills?
=> Does Josh check down effectively, or does he put his body in harm’s way due to his competitiveness?
=> How’s Josh’s ball location? Is he placing that ball where only his receiver can catch it?
=> Does Josh demonstrate a “touch throw”? Does he vary velocity with distance?
=> Is there sideline evidence of Josh’s leadership? What body language do various position groups give him when he’s talking?
=> Does Josh’s leadership carry onto the field in 11-on-11’s? How’s his command in the huddle and at the line?
The McDermott Questions:
=> Does McDermott take a more active role at camp? Does he spend excess time with the defense? With the offense?
=> Does McDermott delegate well during practices?
=> Who does he speak to most often?
=> What body language do various position groups give McD when he’s talking?
=> Is there palpable evidence of team chemistry and camaraderie? Does the chemistry appear to grow as camp proceeds? Does any position group appear to lack cohesiveness with each other? With the rest of the team?
How do the injured players look?
These Bills were on the injury report in the last quarter of the season (at least the ones still on the team), were mentioned by McDermott in minicamp or OTAs as sitting out, discussed in this article by Buffalo Rumblings, or mentioned by Kyle Trimble (@bangedupbills). We’ll need updates on each of these past injuries during training camp.
=> Isaiah McKenzie, WR, toe, ankle, calf cramps
=> Cole Beasley, WR, rare groin/abdomen, aka sports hernia
=> Zay Jones, WR, undisclosed
=> Robert Foster, WR, foot
=> David Sills, WR, hamstring
=> Jason Croom, TE, hamstring
=> Tyler Kroft, TE, broken foot (2nd time; will miss preseason)
=> LeSean McCoy, RB, rib Wk 2, concussion Wk 7, left hamstring Wk 14
=> Frank Gore, RB, ankle
=> Mitch Morse, C, multiple concussions, core muscle procedure, red jersey
=> Russell Bodine, C/G, broken leg Dec 2018, shoulder surgery, red jersey
=> Quinton Spain, G, thumb in 2019 OTAs (knee in 2018), red jersey
=> Ty Nsehke, OT, knee 2018 Wk 15
=> Spencer Long, C/G, ligaments on right middle finger
=> Trent Murphy, ED, knee
=> Ed Oliver, DT3T, shoulder, red jersey
=> Eli Harold, undisclosed
=> Tremaine Edmunds, LB, concussion early 2018 vs Pats
=> Julian Stanford, LB, high ankle sprain
=> Corey Thompson, LB, ankle
=> Ryan Lewis, CB, concussion
=>Taron Johnson, CB, Shoulder injured reserve, red jersey
=> E.J. Gaines, CB, concussion w Browns, placed on season-ending IR
=> Rafael Bush, S, Oct 2018 shoulder, May 2019 groin, red jersey
=> Stephen Hauschka, K, back/pelvis
=> Corey Bojorquez, P, injured reserve, shoulder, now full-go
Is the Starting LG position really a 2-horse race?
=> Jon Feliciano (#76) and Quinton Spain (#67) are my 2 best bets for starting LG. Feliciano, signed for 2 years, was signed at Bobby Johnson’s request. Spain, only signed for one year, is Ourlads’ best guess. They could be spot on. Spain started 48 of 50 games for the Titans, all at LG, and is the better pass-blocker, per Pro Football Focus, so putting him on Josh’s left side makes the most sense. That would give Feliciano the RG spot.
Wyatt Teller’s still in the hunt, likely at RG (he was moved to the right side in spring practice). In limited snaps during live fire last year, Teller was graded 7th among NFL G’s in pass blocking, and 9th in run blocking. I’ll watch who’s getting the most reps.
I think Spencer Long (#61), signed for 3 years, has a shot at understudy C and G, similar to Groy’s role in the past. With his 1-year contract, Jeremiah Sirles (#71) has an uphill battle. He must either prove he can back up all 5 spots, or maybe beat out 33-year-old Ty Nsehke as swing tackle. LaAdrian Waddle, turning 28 July 21, would be a younger option. Conor McDermott is also an option at LT. His PFF 66.2 (63.0 pass) is 5th in the OL room. Bodine and Ducasse are on the outside looking in.
What do the LBs need to do?
=> I hope I am wrong about Vosean Joseph, and that he’s the third LB the Bills need long-term. Erik Turner’s recent piece on the linebackers is required reading.
=> Tremaine Edmunds has been focusing on getting stronger and faster in the offseason. Do these skills show up in 11 on 11s?
=> Linebackers can play faster just by being more instinctive. Is Edmunds doing more read/react, click-and-close, trusting his eyes?
=> Edmunds has had time to learn the Bills’ system and build confidence in its execution. Does he communicate the calls without hesitation? How’s his body language? Are his teammates “all in” on Edmunds as the defensive quarterback? How’s their body language when he’s speaking?
=> Who’s Tremaine’s backup? This is crucial, as the dropoff behind Edmunds is precipitous. Who runs at MLB with the twos? Is Stanford the choice by default, and is anyone else getting reps? Deon Lacey? Juwan Foggie?
=> Will we again see from Matt Milano the steep upward trajectory we saw last year?
=> Will Vosean Joseph be a terror on special teams? More than that? Is there a promising indication that Joseph will secure his rightful place with Edmunds and Milano, saving unnecessary wear and tear on Lorenzo Alexander and Milano, especially during preseason games?
=> Does Joseph miss tackles? His missed tackles in college (34 over 2 years) were a product of mechanics, poor angles, and abandoning his job, often going for the big hit and not wrapping up. We’ll look for this more in the preseason games than in the St. John Fisher practices.
Who will be the starting DBs?
=>Levi Wallace is the incumbent, but free agent Kevin Johnson impressed early. Watch for Johnson to pick off a few more during camp with that RD1 athleticism and make it a difficult decision. E.J. Gaines opposite Tre White was the 2017 pairing in Buffalo, where Gaines got 11 starts and made nearly 5.4 tackles per game, notching one interception and nine PBU. Will Gaines or Johnson supplant Wallace, and will it be health or interceptions that make McDermott’s decision?
=>Is Taron Johnson the NCB? Who comes in first to replace him? Rafael Bush is 32 years old. My money’s on Ryan Lewis, age 25. Beane claimed him off waivers from New England last September after he’d spent the better part of the 2017 season on the Pats’ practice squad. He proved his worth in the Packers’ game, leading the Bills’ defense with 8 tackles, 2 PBU, and 2 forced fumbles. Lewis is stellar vs the run, with PFF grading him at 66.7. Siran Neal, 25 in August, is a viable and versatile option, as he’s played some Safety, Linebacker, and Big Nickel. He had 11 tackles and 2 forced fumbles (both in the December Jets game). Neal’s PFF grade is an impressive 72.8. Lafayette Pitts has to contribute big-time on special teams, where he has excelled in the past. The Buffalo Bulls’ Cam Lewis, 22, led UB with 3 INT and 6 PBU in an injury-shortened senior season. He had noticeable leadership skills in the DB room, initiating study sessions with younger players. He’s only 5-9, but he’d be a nice option for the Practice Squad.
Which FAs make the most impact in camp?
=> Can Mitch Morse stay healthy for our 19-game season? Are his communication skills and smarts the glue that helps the new OL play with a “hive mind”? Will we see that starting five gel more quickly under Morse? This is one of my crucial questions.
=> Will Frank Gore be the most helpful to the Bills by advising McCoy? Being the RB room’s veteran mentor? Leading the Bills in yards?
=> Will John Brown be used across from Robert Foster, or will they alternate going deep to “gas” opposing CBs?
=> Will Cole Beasley, with his NFL-2nd-best separation at target, develop the role of chief outlet for Josh? Will we see Beasley gain an unspoken communication with him like Brady had with Edelman?
=> Does Lee Smith’s blocking at TE, which is among the NFL’s best, combined with Kroft, Knox, and Sweeney’s excellent blocking, spell the end for Croom, particularly with his hammy injury?
=> TE is a Top-5 position group (TE, RB, DT, S, CB). How does the role of TE change this year with the skillsets of the added players?
=> Is the athleticism of Knox and Sweeney noticeable enough to put Kroft on IR (broken foot on the first day of OTAs, requiring surgery)? Do the Bills have a case for carrying 4 TEs with a RB-FB stable of 4-5?
Special Year For Special Teams?
=> How well does Heath Farwell relate to the special teamers during practice? Note the body language. Beane said of Farwell, “he’s a worker, he’s played on the field, guys are gonna buy what he’s selling.” His youth and manner could be magnetic to a young ST corps, and the biggest upgrade over Danny Crossman, whose “bedside manner” was that of a porcupine, in my personal opinion.
=> Are there indications that ST will be improved just by adding Pro Bowler Andre Roberts? Who backs Roberts up, especially to save Roberts for the regular season? Who’s first in? For now, I have it Roberts, then Victor Bolden, then Marcus Murphy. It’d also be an excellent opportunity for first-year touches by Devin Singletary.
=> How many of the 2018 Bills’ special teams aces even make the team, including ST tackles leader Siran Neal, Neal’s runner-up Lafayette Pitts, Deon Lacey (who led the Bills in ST snaps in both 2017 and 2018), Julian Stanford, Murphy, Bolden, and even FB Pat DiMarco? Surely, performance in the preseason games will go a long way in securing these positions.
=> Will FA RB Senorise Perry and WLB-SS Mo Alexander have a roster chance –or a roster change– due to special teams play?
=> Will this year’s drafted players, particularly LB Vosean Joseph, S Jaquan Johnson, ED Darryl Johnson, and TE Tommy Sweeney (who met with Farwell at the Senior Bowl) make their mark on special teams? Will a new ST Coach be more likely –or less likely– to supplant ST aces from last year
The Pegulas (submitted by @STEVEWIBLE)
=> How involved is Terry Pegula at camp? What is he doing? Is he in the coach’s ear a lot? Is he standing on the side by Beane?
=> Do we see Kim Pegula, also a principal owner, on the sidelines?
Editor’s babble: Dean is going to be THE man covering training camp for us. Be sure to follow Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro. Look for his Astro-Notes from on camp days in the early afternoon. I can’t wait to read them.