AstroNotes: Bills Practice 4

“Happy Birthday, Matt Milano, Happy Birthday to yoooooooo!” Our crew sang the birthday song to him as he proceeded past the JUGS machine.

Today’s crew: Connor, me, Mike McDonough, Patrick, Mary Phillips, and Brian Phillips. Not pictured but Joe Reagan, his wife Linda, @BillsDad and kids, plus two Bills fans from England all were kibitzing as they watched. Milano wasn’t the first out on the field; first player was again Tyree Jackson, who does some field work with resistance bands around his ankles. Coaches Heath Farwell and DL Coach Bill Teerlinck were the early birds, walking around the practice field. I’m reminded by Mike that Farwell has plenty of special-teams experience, 5 years with the Vikes as well as a Super Bowl ring in 4 seasons with the Seahawks. Sal C. is late for something, as he is running for the field. He says the coffee’s not so good, so they go to the Dunkin Donuts in town for their morning joe. That’s today’s commercial.

Brian Daboll arrives with a bearded, black-curly-haired twentysomething who’s taller than he, and looks like he’s into Fortnight over football. Could be Dabes’s son, a he’s getting introduced. BoJo and Robert Foster are over throwing medicine balls against a wall. Josh appears in blue today. I’m told he was on his motorized scooter again this morning to and from breakfast, so he truly IS the NFL’s most mobile quarterback.

I’ll try and answer a comment I got from yesterday’s #AstroNotes. “What are the most palpable differences between this BillsCamp and previous camps?” The atmosphere is more family-like –for real. Coaches talking to players 1 on 1, maybe with an arm around the player, Kim Pegula stopping to pet the security guard’s German Sheperd, Sean McD with hands on both shoulders of Vosean, players connecting with each other. That’s good to see, as there are so many new faces in the family. Another difference is better posiitonal group teaching. No other coaching group in my 20 years at camp has been better, and I know teaching from my 44 years in special ed and supervising 22 student teachers. Another area of difference is successive approximation. This is making practice more and more like a real-live game as the practices go on. They used headsets in Day 2 of practice. Uh, Rex didn’t do that. They’ve already added down and distance markers, and a sign on the sidelines indicating, say, “12” personnel. They’ll add referees in the coming days. Still another difference is how far along the offense was in the first days of practice. It helps to have an Offensive Coordinator back with the same syste,. It helps that your QB is playing with the 1s from the beginning. Finally, the battles run deeper at many positions: CB2, WR4, WR5, WR6, backup returner, backup Center. Some of those are separating themselves out, but nobody knows with others.

Some vets (Morse, Lorax, Hauschka) are getting time off, but so is Dawson Knox. Jason Croom. Morse is on the exercise bike off to the side, and looks perfectly fine. Haushka would stick around practice to watch Chase McLaughlin make 5 of 5 field goals near the end of practice, and like an older brother would in our family, shakes the hand of McLaughlin afterwards.

Everyone has their own way of stretching before practice. Some have evolved it into an art form. Deon Lacey’s jitterbugging wiggle left and right could catch fish. Julian Stanford’s gets down and crosses his legs waaaay over like scissorsCorey Thompson practices linebacker moves using quick feet. Ty Nsehke does deep squats like a baseball catcher. Bodine does snaps to Barkley. RayRay stretches his mouth, chatting up an assistant coach.

The first action begins, with the 2’s in “There’s Little Time Left on the Clock” offense. Bodein hikes to Barkley, who completes an out to Robert “Why Am I A Two?” Foster. Barkley deals a nice throw to Tommy Sweeney on this side. Bark spikes the ball to stop the clock. Only :20 to go. He hands the ball off (missed the number, but I’m being my best self) and spikes the ball again with :03 remaining. The horn blares for calisthenics, sso we won’t see Norwood –I mean Hauschka–I mean McLaughlin try for the game-winner.

Astro-Stars in cal today were harder to find, because, frankly, not everyone is happy with 4 straight days of high-heat, high-humidity practices. Some stood out, though. LaAdrian Waddle was most notable, but Teller, all three QBs, Jaquan Johnson, Morse, Star, Senorice Perry, Victor Bolden and Foster got mentions from my spotters. Astro-Slackers were Feliciano and Nate Becker. I was unsuccessful for a fouth day in handing my roster to John Murphy, but at least he’s laughing now, which takes the additional respiratory effort that’s good for him.

I forgot to mention: the music is worse than most years, accentuated by the loosened rivets in the bleachers so that the subwoofer’s thraaaaagggghhhhh reverberates right down to one’s very soul. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, St. John Fisher. The bleachers’ rivets (and many of us fans) will have completely come undone by The Cardinals’ first game.

Positionals have clear objectives. For instance, it’s obvious Bobby Johnson’s objectives are (1) Have the players come out of stance lower, and block to the whistle and (2) Lose his voice completely by yelling. The LBs and others on the special teams are all gunners, and the clear objective is breaking off the line and bending a tighter arc, defined on the ground by a giant orange hula hoop that’s custom-made for sumo wrestlers. They practice this going clockwise and counter-clockwise. Farwell gives individualized instruction to specific players, asking one to turn away more from the blocker (demonstrates it). Mike McDonough observes that there’s no music during these instructional sessions, so the players can hear the coaches and to give my innards a rest.

Kick Return practice was all The Andre Roberts Show. Like it or not, he’s on the team as the WR#6/KR#1. Some key special teamers out there were Pat DiMarco, Stanford, Sweeney, Isaiah McKenzie, and my man Nick Easley. Players reaching Roberts first were Easley, RayRay, and McKenzie.

The 11 on 11s feature a OL which is beginning to jell into a gel of (L to R): Dawkins, Spain, Feliciano subbing for Morse, Long and Ford. When they switched, it was Dawkins, Spain, Long subbing for Morse, Feliciano and Ford. Bodine subbed at Center as well. Allen distributed the ball to Beasley, Foster, Bolden, Brown, McKenzie, Foster again, and Beasley again, before a missed connection with McKenzie. That’s 87% accuracy using my “Old Math”, where it’s more important to get the right answer than understand why.

Zay had a slight hammy, and gets stretched immediately. He and the trainer go back into the end zone for more stretching. Meanwhile, Nick Easley makes a very nice catch with the ones (I told you to keep an eye on him when we signed him), and Robert “Why Am I With The Twos” Foster makes a neat fingertip catch. McKenzie (one of The Smurfs McDermott speaks of) does a deep dig route. D’haquille Williams has a trainer stretching out his adductor/abductor muscles.

Barkley gets the start for 7 on 7 drills, missing low on his first attempt and connecting to John “I’m The Reason You’re With The Twos” Brown and a fully-healed D’haquille Williams. He finishes his series with a connector to Zay Jones for a 50% accuracy rate. Tyree Jackson comes in and throws 2 incompletions. His eyes are locked in on his target; there’s no eye manipulation.

Josh comes in and throws a laser 25 yards downfield to Nick Easley, but he was off. Allen’s next pass to RayRay is on the money, and the WR with the Fastest Turn Upfield On The Team is gone. He’s Smurf 2.

Bark returns with a throw ahead of Isaiah McKenzie, who dives for the completion. He doesn’t stay on the ground, though, as he isn’t touched, and (like before) turns upfield quick for more YAC. I’m sure Sean McDermott was clapping, at least doing mental reps of clapping.

Tyree, still looking for a completion, gets one completion, and then throws a 35-yard bomb to Sills, but it’s too deep. He’s now 25% accuracy.

In the next 11 on 11, the starting OL is Dawk, Spain, Feliciano for Morse, Long, and Ford. Sweeney is playing with the ones! Beasley and Brown are out there. In other changes, Andre Roberts gets work with the twos.

Trent Murphy gets a would-be sack, as he is so fast in on the QB. Shady, who’s had an easy day, carries the sweep in our direction, and Tre does all he can to get him down and out of bounds. There’s more power in Shady’s running. Beasley, Brown, and McKenzie get a shot as a WR trio, then McKenzie, Beasley, Cam Phillips get a look. The twos with Barkley are DiMarco, Yeldon, Sills, RayRay, and Robert “Can You Please Trade Smoky” Foster.

Today’s entrants in the “You You Think You Can Be a Football Player?” are the bustin’ moves of Lafayette Pitts, Robert Thomas, L.T. Walton, and Darryl Johnson.

Bodine and Feliciano are splitting the Center duties, and Bodine doesn’t look out of place –especially with Morse on an exercise bike on the sidelienes. Is he a 9th or 10th OL in the 53? I’m still skeptical, as Long, Feliciano, and Your Mamma can hike a ball. Barkley throws a laser to Foster, but Foster tries to run before catching it. That never ends well. Senorice Perry is a good outlet pass for Barkley on this side, making anice run after he catches it. Tyree hesitates and throws long to Sills. Daboll rips into him like a buzz saw. It’s possible he was supposed to be throwing earlier, or manipulating defenders with his eyes. He did neither, and incurred Daboll’s wrath. Perry ends the session with a nice run up the sideline. He’s not as athletic as Marcus Murphy, but might be better as a receiver.

Josh Allen returns with his line of Dawkins, Spain, Bodine, Long, and Ford. The line blocks so well that Frank Gore sailed right up through the middle of the NFL’s best run defense. That’s what I’m talking about. Allen changes the next play at the line, and the toss sweep to Shady worked well to the far side. The D had bunched up in the middle, leaving the edge open. Smashmouth Formation on the next play fools the D when it’s a play-action pass, but Josh throws his worst ball of the day, behind Smoky Brown, right into the open arms of Tre White. Feliciano comes in at Center, Long at RG, Spain in his usual LG posiiton.

Here are combinations used by Daboll on the ensuing plays with Josh. It shows the imagination and attention to detail, variety, and diagnostic work put in by the coaches.

->Brown, Beasley, Cam Phillips
->Foster, Zay, Beasley
->Brown, Zay, Beasley with Singletary
->Foster, Zay, Brown
->Foster, Beasley, McKenzie with Singletary
->Foster, Gore, DiMarco, Zay
->Foster, Zay, McKenzie

Beasley had Bolden, D’haquille, Yeldon, Nick Easley, and Towbridge.

Beane and Pegula are talking along the sidelines as this is going on. I wish I could read lips better.

The final segment I’m reporting was “Five Yards To Go” drills, on various downs. The line is Dawk, Spain, Feliciano, Long, and Ford, and the WRs are Robert “Thank You!” Foster, Beasley, McKenzie, and Roberts. Cole Beasley makes a great catch on first down, Gore ran on second down, and with Beasley behind Brown on this side, there’s an all-out blitz. Allen’s cool as a cucumber in your vegetable drawer. He hits Beasley on a slant for a major gain. Trmeaine and Shady are getting into it near the sideline, jawing and pushing each other. It’s first down, though. Cam Phillips is in with the ones, but Smoky Brown makes the catch.

Barkley has LT Nsehke, LG Ike Boettger, C Bodine, RG Long, and RT Waddle for a OL, and they acquit themselves pretty well against the twos of our defense. McCloud again shows his quick turn upfield for a big gain, but then Singletary is swarmed by the defense, which includes a triple-teamed Ed Oliver and Horrible Harry on the iDL, with EDGEs Mike Love, and Shaq Lawson.

I’m tending to my KindigGardens for a couple days while the Bills work out privately. See you back here on Wednesday!

2 Replies to “AstroNotes: Bills Practice 4”

  1. Dean,

    Thank you for dedicating a section of your article in regards to my question of comparing this years training camp to previous ones as well as another great report. Your answer was very encouraging. The more things I see from McBeane, the more impressed I am with how they’ve built the team and how they are conducting business. IMO, this is the best Bills GM/Coach combo since Bill Polian and Marv Levy. Bill Polian built the Bills during the late 80’s-90’s to win the division, which led the team to four Super Bowls. Since Polian left, it seemed the GM’s were just going with best player available in the draft and make a big name signing here and there, but no real structure as to how to build the team (just all over the place), which is why we would see a good player or two in a position group, but the rest were below average.

    So far, McBeane has built the team very smartly, first by getting rid of the terrible, over-priced contracts from previous regimes and clearing out the salary cap situation. Next was building the defense and addressing the QB position early in the draft. This year was rebuilding the O-line and giving Allen more weapons on offense. Also, with all the free agent signings McBeane has made, none of them are beyond four years from now, which is when Josh Allen’s rookie contract is up, which leads me to believe McBeane is looking ahead to the future as to how to build the next phase of the Bills (if Allen is given a massive second contract).

    Back to the original question, it’s great to hear the coaches putting the players in game situations having a sense of purpose during and between drills. This will help the team during the regular season. With all the terrible Coaches and GM’s that have passed through One Bills Drive over the years, it just seems like such a long time since we’ve had competent management/coaches operating this team like a professional organization.