AstroNotes: Bills Practice 1

Photo of Brian Phillips, Dean Kindig, Mike McDonough.

“It’s a great day for a great day”, I say to the security lady. She and I are the only ones in the entire section of bleachers at 9:00, 45 minutes before Bills practice begins at St. John Fisher for the 2019 season.

The new turf on the practice fields alternates light and dark green, contrasting with the blue cloudless sky and mild wind. It’s a great day for a great day, for sure.

With me today are excellent spotters, the best crew yet. Thanks, Mike McDonough, Brian Phillips, Brian Rossignol, and Griffin Della Penna. Texting me was Joe Reagan. I’ve added all their observations in here.

Victor Bolden’s the early bird today, jogging a bit on the main field behind us. Sean McDermott’s one of the earliest arrivals; we saw him on his way in from Haffey Hall. In order of appearance, the players parade in. Tyree Jackson not yet in his jersey but he’s all of 6-foot-7. CFL Player of the Year Duke Williams. Darryl Johnson. Coaches Bobby Johnson (OL), Brian Daboll (OC), and Bob Boras (TE) are the first out there, Johnson taking a long walk around the field.

Corey Bojorquez and Reid Ferguson stop and sign autographs for the kids along the fence. Josh Allen doesn’t but loooks apologetic, knowing it’d start an autograph avalanche. As he comes into the Polisseni Field where we are, you hear in a high, singsong, fan-girl voice, “Heyyyyyyy Josh! Heyyyy Josh!” It’s Bobby Johnson. He’s such a cutup, and I instantly know the OL is going to love him. Johnson conducted his OL drills in that old-timey coach voice, but the players have bought in hook, line, and sinker because of his personality.

Ed Oliver’s one of the first out there, as well. The OL and especially the WRs and RBs assigned to chip him had their hands full today. Oliver’s the real deal.

Teller arrives, finally with a good-looking haircut. You’d let your daughter date him. Not likely last year. Longest hair likely belongs to OT Garrett McGhin, and he was Sampson-like out there. Nice practice-squad choice.

Dion Dawkins has eaten well, but Quinton Spain has REALLY eaten well. Cole Beasley hasn’t. He’s smaller than your youngest brother who always couldn’t play in your pickup game. He had to reach up to hi-five Billy Buffalo. Beasley signs autographs, and so does Matt Barkley. They sign one each. Lorenzo Alexander is next, and he signs three. Tremaine Edmunds signs six. Who says this isn’t competitiveness working its magic?

The last out onto the field today were Spencer Long, TJ Yeldon, Andre Roberts, Tre White, Eli Harold, Pat DiMarco, Micah Hyde, Star Lotulelei, and Dean Marlowe. Hauschka comes in at the last minute.

Practice hasn’t officially started, but players are going to their own position groups to talk. Bobby Johnson’s already started, though. He has on boxer practice gloves and he’s working on jabs with each offensive lineman.

John Murphy comes up the stairs to the press box, head down. He’s a little out of breath. I say to him, “Murph, would you like a copy of my roster?” He laughs and says, “No, I’m good.” Might be a mistake. My roster is up to date. Hope he doesn’t run into trouble with all the number switches.

The new routine begins practice with 11 on 11’s. We see the first-string O-Line, and 4 new faces are on it. From LT to RT, it’s Dawkins, Spain, Morse, Feliciano, and Ford. I saw nothing that would make me think it’s anyone else for a while. They did a B+, A-minus job of protecting Josh and opening up holes.

The first series had Josh connecting with everyone. First Tommy Sweeney this side, then a Foster completion on the far side. Josh put too much under the ball on the next one to Dawson Knox and 3 DBs were closer to the ball than he was. A completion to Knox on the next (very same) play shows a willingness of the coaches to “do it until you get it right”. Completion to Knox. Zay Jones ran an out route, but Josh threw it over his head. I said, “D’haquille would have had that one”. Beasley over the middle for a completion and a deeper slant to Zay finished the set, and it was time for calisthenics. Josh had a 71.4% completion rate on the 11 on 11’s.

Calisthenics were done toward each other, rather than in lockstep rows heading one way. The kickers were exempt from these. P Cory Carter was practicing being a holder. My Astro-Stars for effort in calisthenics go to Robert Foster, Zay Jones, Jason Croom, Ed Oliver, Trent Murphy, Kurt Coleman, Tre White, and Josh Allen.

My trusty spotters and I look for players not just going through the motions. “Wherever you are, be there”. “Playoff Caliber”. When drills were over, the D went to the other field. These guys ran: Conor McDermott, Cam Phillips, Quinton Spain, Ed Oliver, and Harrison Phillips. I’m always watching you.

In positionals, OL worked on doing three successive blocks against blocking pads held by another player, going “all-in” on the third block. I commend OTs Dion Dawkins and De’Ondre Wesley.

Some players (McKenzie, Foster, Tre White, Levi Wallace) were practicing releases from the line, either as gunner or as receiver. It’s possible this was to remedy something the coaches saw, as there was some “diagnostic coaching” going on last year.

Lee Smith is off on the side, working separately. I was agog at his blocks; they are textbook.

The Zone One sprinklers come on, spraying some players and coaches on the far side of the field. It was likely cooling, but it was the only wrinkle in this practice, which went like clockwork. It’s a great feeling. The coaches are better, the team is further along for the first day of training camp, and there are blockers and receivers.

Punt return is all about the order. Naturally, Andre Roberts was first. But Marcus Murphy was second, and Micah Hyde was third. No sign of other guys who have KR/PR experience, like Victor Bolden, Isaiah McKenzie, or RayRay McCloud.

Some shout-outs:

Bobby Johnson is a great coach. He teaches, he demonstrates, he makes the players pay attention and even laugh. OT Garrett McGhin is giving it his all in the blocking, and he deserves a shout-out and a shot, even at the Practice Squad. Dion Dawkins is impressing, as is Ty Nsekhe. Ducasse has run blocking all over Conor McDermott.

Corey Bojorquez (“BoJo”) had some wobbly punts in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before he was booming spirals 55-57 yards downfield. There was one where the returner had to back up 7 yards.

Brown, Jones, and Beasley had the most work with the 1s, but it’s academic, because Daboll had everyone lining up everywhere today. Foster was the next in all the time, but we saw RBs, TEs, even Pat DiMarco lined up out wide. It’s going to make a DC’s head explode.

When practicing handoffs from Josh, the RBs ran in this order: LeSean McCoy, Devin Singletary, Senorise Perry, Marcus Murphy, and Christian Wade. Gore was in after McCoy on some stuff, but, you know, he’s N.F.I. (wink). The next time they did positional drills, it was LeSean first, followed by Gore, then Yeldon.

Victor Bolden caught one of my Catch Of The Day awards. It was a bad pass, but he showed marvelous athleticism to reach back mid-air and snag it with a “hands catch”.

Lee Smith was out on the field for some blocking practice, and aside from too long of a readying step back before initiating contact, he packs a wallop. Nate Becker shows good form as a blocker, keeping low in his chair. Jason Croom showed good improvement during the drills. He was noticeable by the end. I was impressed …twice!

Some very nice receiving work followed. Zay Jones had another Catch of the Day for his athletic toe-tap in the corner of the end zone on a perfectly-thrown ball by Josh. Cam Phillips and Duke Williams caught nice throws from Matt Barkley –no double-handling, away from the body. Not to be outdone, Dawson Knox showed his superior pass-catching skills by snagging a bullet in traffic down the seam.

Some work from the 10-yard line gave us some more great catches. John Brown and Beasley were lined up on the left side, and the scheme plus Brown’s quickness let him separate to catch the pass in the deep corner. The two of them gave each other a body bump. Robert Foster showed his speed downfield with a catch on the diagonal, and then RayRay caught one on the back line. Note that I’m not using the phrase “but he dropped it” or “it was thrown in the wrong place” this year.

More 11-on-11s take place with the same line: Dawkins, Spain, Morse, Feliciano, and Ford. Don’t write it in ink, yet, but it’s working. Teller was a very able LG with the 2’s, and Conor McDermott got some plays at Center. Spencer Long and Garrett McGhin were strong backups, as well.

On the sidelines, DL Robert Thomnas and Darryl Johnson were bustin’ a move to the music. Not quite in the Tre White category, and not “So You Think You Can Dance”-ready, but good nonetheless.

Daboll is killing it with variety and imagination. His use of motion before the snap, often just before the snap, dictates to the defense where they should move, rather than the defense dictating the play. On 3 successive plays, Pat DiMarco, McKenzie, and Beasley were the motion men. On another play, DiMarco and Dawson Knox were lined up out wide, with Lee Smith in-line and Robert Foster on the far side. On another play in the same series, Singletary and Knox were out wide, with trips right. McKenzie and Foster with Knox in-line was yet another play. There was a “Three Tights Right” play with 3 tight ends on the same side of Center, illustrating Daboll’s masterful use of TEs, something I thought we’d see last year (but didn’t have this TE talent). The variety was impressive for Day 1 of camp, and it should be: This is one of those rare Bills camps where we have the same Offensive Coordinator.

On the sidelines we see the regained Gaine talking to Beane, hopefully about Michael Thomas, and not Jadeveon Clowney. Speaking of LeSean McCoy, he made two mistakes that I could see from the top of the bleachers –maybe we can make a deal. Terry Pegula was down there, the new ESPN guy (whose name I’ll learn), Rochester’s own Mike Catalana, Sal Capaccio, and the usual band of media folks.

More observations:

John Brown is so freaking quick. Good luck trying to keep with him on any route.

TJ Yeldon couldn’t block Ed Oliver. It wasn’t TJ’s fault. Barkley had Robert Foster and Tommy Sweeney, but I think Sweeney zigged when he should’ve zagged, and Barkley ended up passing it to E.J. Gaines. Kevin Seymour, it’s your turn tomorrow!

We saw lots of 4-wide with Barkley, and one play had Sweeney snare a high fastball on the back line of the end zone. That was my last Catch of the Day.

Singletary is making plays left and right. I can’t wait for the preseason games where we save McCoy and Gore and strut out Singletary for all the NFL to see. He’s a better blocker than Yeldon already, IMHO. While I haven’t given up on Marcus Murphy’s RB/KR/PR skillset on this team, you probably don’t draft a RD3 running back to let him ride the pine.

On my favorite Josh Allen play, Josh sidearmed it to Beasley, who was already off to the races for a TD. Jon Feliciano gives Beasley a hand-slap on the way back to the huddle. Chemistry.

My second-favorite play was when Josh became Tom Brady, changing the play with a code word I’m sworn not to reveal, and he hit a WR with a laser in the back corner of the end zone. “But Josh has no accuracy.” Bulltinky.

The best defensive play was Ed Oliver. One time, Andre Roberts came up empty trying to block Oliver. Another time, Ty Nsehke had to extend off his base For the most part, the OL was able to keep middle pressure at bay, but Oliver next to Lotulelei is a force that changed what the offense wanted to do.

My second favorite was a technical sack by Trent Murphy. He’s back with a vengeance, I think. He’s healthy, and that’s unhealthy news for quarterbacks.

On a bad snap from Mitch Morse to Josh, Allen immediately turned to run to the far end zone and back as self-imposed punishment. That’s my quarterback! Morse followed along, just in a more galumphy gait. Bodine gave Morse a breather at Center for about half an hour during practice. Nothing to see here. Boettget played some Center with the threes, as well. Asiata played LG very well, and De’Ondre Wesley did fine at T.

Tyree Jackson has lots to learn, but he certainly didn’t look out of place out there with the 3’s. He threw a nice TD pass to Foster, but then threw too high to Sills along the back line. He has a great ball fake. We’ll continue to monitor his likelihood on the 53 all the way through camp. Joe Regan texts, “Tyree is second only to Josh for the best camp arm in the St. John Fisher era…Remember watching Tyrod, E.J., and Cassel?”

See you tomorrow, because where else would you rather be?… Astro

38 Replies to “AstroNotes: Bills Practice 1”

  1. Many years ago, I supervised a crew that cleaned up the stands at War Memorial Stadium. Every day when they practiced there, Bob Chandler and Donnie Green and a couple of the other Bills would come over and talk with the guys in the crew after practice. Bob Chandler was listed by the Bills as being 5’10 and 185 lbs. I was a shade under 5’9″ and maybe 160 lbs. Yet it was clearly obvious that I was at least two inches taller and 10-15 pounds heavier than Chandler. Donnie Green teased him unmercifully about how small he was. The fact that he was so small didn’t prevent Chandler from becoming Joe Ferguson’s favorite target and the best Bills receiver during the Simpson era. Cole Beasley’s size isn’t going to keep him from being a key cog in this Bills offense. Like Chandler, Beasley could well become Josh Allen’s favorite target.

    • What a great story! Thanks for sharing! I think Beasley will be Josh’s best friend…if he lets Josh breathe a bit now and then. That’s when Someone in your ear becomes someone in your rear.

  2. Thrilled to have found Astro!!

    #BillsMafia

    One of the newest members of #BillsMafia, my grandson Dax Lewis, was born July 1st. Now he needs his first Bills’ autograph (Mike Robitaille provided Sabres autograph to Dax pre delivery).

  3. Thanks again Astro and Co. The news about the O-line, how the offense looked today and Josh Allen are all great to hear.

    From the reports I saw on social media, it sounded like Beasley and Allen had problems connecting in the endzone towards the end of practice. Do you think it was just from a lack of Allen and Beasley having time together in the spring during OTA’s? Otherwise, it sounded like Allen was able to connect with Beasley and others quite often today.

  4. Thanks for getting the 2019 season off to a great Astro-Start. Always look forward to your notes.

  5. Ranks Rastro!

    I am sending your reports to my son who’s in the Navy and could really use the distraction.

    Been reading your reports for year via TBD.

    Go Bills!

  6. Felt like I was right there in the stands watching…great job of analyzing…keep it up and thanks!

  7. Dean Thanks as always. I look forward to all the articles that you put forth. BillsMafia is a daily read.

    • I get that folks from all over can’t get to Rochester for training camp. Miles, jobs, kids, and spouses would frown on it. That’s why I feel useful doing this.

  8. You’re a treasure Dean!! Your work and enthusiasm is always a reminder that the best time of year is only weeks away

    • Actually, for me this IS the best timew of year, because I can help others picture what it’s like to be at training camp. I have no excuse. I live 5 minutes away.

  9. Astro, absolutely love your “astronotes”…thanks sooooo much for doing this. Great work!

  10. As always as “camp reporter for the fans” you my friend are the best!

  11. you’re depth of knowledge and insight about how to interpret the practices as it relates to the capability of our team is impressive and appreciated. i know it’s hard to be objective when we are such passionate fans but please try to share the bad with the good if you aren’t already. as a fan for many decades i read about the positives during every off season and unfortunately the off season has been the best season more often than not. please give us the critical as well as the complimentary.
    we can’t get this anywhere else and it’s really good stuff!

  12. Thanks for the great report. I am socked away in a vacation spot with no tv, no Buffalo news, and spotty internet. I needed this Billsfix!

    • I’ll file this under “First World Problems”.
      Although I was in the Outer Banks recently, and the Internet was bad.
      And there were midge flies.
      Bourbon helped.