After the Bills’ topsy-turvy Tuesday start to mandatory minicamp, things settled down during the team’s second practice on Wednesday. Star receiver Stefon Diggs took part in the session, signaling the reconnection the team was looking for and promised after the first day of work.
All that’s left is to clear up some of the ambiguity that came from coach Sean McDermott’s Tuesday press conference, where he didn’t give any details about Diggs’ absence from practice. McDermott, who is not scheduled to speak to the media for the remainder of minicamp, held an impromptu news conference after Wednesday’s session.
“I wanted to follow up on my comments on Steph’s situation from yesterday so that by doing so, I can provide everyone with better clarity and a better understanding of the situation,” McDermott said in his opening statement. “There’s a lot of imprecise stuff out there. But let me be clear; Steph did everything he was asked to do. He was here on Monday and got his physical done on time. Steph reported yesterday, Tuesday, and reported to the meetings, and we had a good conversation and great communication during that time. We had
“We got to a point yesterday where we all felt like we needed a break and some space. So, I gave Steph permission to go out and have some space, and I took those conversations after practice. So let me be clear, this is not Steph leaving unforgiven. He was forgiven. By me. So those conversations led us to what I think and believe is a great place. And sometimes you have to have conversations. You have to communicate. I appreciate Steph being willing to communicate.
McDermott went on to say that he believes the situation is now resolved and doesn’t consider it a distraction as they prepare to shut down operations later this week until late July for the start of training camp. There’s still no explanation for what led to the temporary disconnect between the two sides, but the Bills are moving forward with the idea that the situation is in the rearview mirror.
As the team called off its third and final session on Thursday, they were satisfied with how their first two days of minicamp went. What stood out from the team’s practices during the two days of minicamp? Here are several takeaways:
Dix’s first day
As Diggs worked with the 2023 roster for the first time in the practice squad, the team mostly played it safe with their star receiver. Diggs was a limited participant on his first day, wearing a helmet and wearing it for practice. The team saw it as a ramp-up period for Diggs, and in doing so, he did not participate in 11-on-11 team drills in any capacity. He went through stretching and positioning exercises before taking his place on the sidelines when team drills began.
During the stretch, Diggs and star quarterback Josh Allen continued to chat through side-by-side drills. As position drills began, Allen threw him the ball and added some routes against the flight reps. All in all, Dix was practically his usual self. He was sharp in his ways, and he and Allen quickly got on the same page in low-stress training. Diggs kept things loose by engaging with his teammates after his day, even dancing during the session as he occasionally does during the season. If there were any lingering feelings from the day before, it certainly wasn’t on display during the Bills’ minicamp practice.
Alan excels at group exercises
Even without digs during team drills, Allen looked incredibly sharp throughout 11-on-11 work as the offense exploded in multiple game situations. With a solid defense in front of him, Allen stayed solid in the pocket all day and provided some laser throws while dealing with the Bills’ defense. Among his throwing highlights all day, Allen fired a shot between defenders into the outstretched arms of second-year receiver Khalil Shakir, which required a brilliant off-body catch from the wideout. A few plays later, Allen tackled the defense with his eyes off his final target. Then, he connected on a mid-range to deep throw that split two oncoming defenders, the details of which in my notebook were written as “an absolute dart.”
Overall, Allen went 9-for-14 with three touchdown tosses throughout the day. Two of the incompletions were intentional throws, and two required a nice pass breakup from a defender, further illustrating his outstanding performance. While it’s only minicamp and Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, dialing him in throughout offseason practices is an encouraging sign for the team.
Sherfield rejoins Allen
As he has been throughout offseason workouts, without ticks to team drills, newly signed receiver Trent Sherfield stepped up and was Allen’s favorite. There were no clear throws in Allen’s 12 attempts, as he targeted Sherfield four times and completed three. On his first goal, Sherfield went on his break and came out with enough separation from the defender for an easy catch. The two linked up for the second goal on a fired-in pass down the middle of the field that gave Sherfield room to wander after the catch. Sherfield was an open target and the recipient of an “absolute dart” thrown in a sideways direction. The only ball Sherfield didn’t drop was a pass deep down the field that required a pass breakup from a defender.
It’s always a good rule of thumb not to focus too much in May and June workouts, but Scherfield stands out this spring among the players competing to be the third receiver behind starters Diggs and Gabe Davis. That’s no small feat since they’ve made some good plays against Shaqir and Deontay Hardy this spring, but Sherfield continues to stand out during open practice. Along the way, he was impressed by Allen’s work ethic and clear ability to open up a reliable target in his coaching system. Sherfield seems capable of playing multiple positions within the Bills offense, perhaps as an understudy to both Dix and Davis. Sherfield’s next task will be to show that his excellent spring can translate into training camp when the bats continue and defenders are allowed to get more physical with talented players.
No Nox on Wednesday after the Tuesday scare
The Bills have run their practices without fear of multiple injuries during open practices, but Tuesday’s bunch was the biggest. In a passing game during team practice, starting tight end Dawson Knox made a catch on safety Taylor Rapp. Sophomore cornerback Kyre Elam charged at the ball and, trying to break up the pass, made accidental contact with Knox, who went to the ground and stood down to have the athletic training staff check for something on his leg. He eventually rose to his feet and rejoined his teammates along the way, albeit walking slowly along the way. Knox didn’t take a rep for the remainder of Tuesday’s practice, and the team held him out for Wednesday’s session as well. There’s no word on the severity of Knox’s injury at this point, but the fact that the staff left Knox alone immediately after checking on him Tuesday is a relatively good sign that it’s not a serious situation.
Knox did not participate Wednesday, as did edge rusher Von Miller, defensive end Jordan Phillips, wide receiver Justin Shorter, cornerback Cameron Dantzler and tight end Zach Davidson. Miller and Phillips each continued their rehabilitation from long-term injury, both working side-by-side with the strength and conditioning staff. The athletic training staff tested Shorter at one point during Tuesday’s practice, and he did not return, but worked out on the sidelines of Wednesday’s practice. Dantzler participated in Tuesday’s practice, but was held out of Wednesday’s practice for personal reasons. As for Davidson, the team placed him on injured reserve Wednesday, opening up a roster spot. The Bills may already be on their way to filling the position, as they had former Packers tight end Nick Kukemos based on attempts during the first two days of minicamp.
How the guards behaved without the straps
As the battle for the two starting guard spots takes shape and continues into training camp through July and August, some players showed great individual and collective blocks throughout Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s sessions. Last year’s starting right guard Ryan Bates worked well with Spencer Brown on multiple occasions both days, combining and communicating on combo blocks from Daquan Jones and Ed Oliver. Connor McGovern also showed good rapport with Dion Dawkins on some of the reps scattered through minicamp. Rookie guard O’Cyrus Torrance held his own for the most part in a good test against defenders Poona Ford and Tim Settle. You can only take offensive line gigs without pads in the spring, but Allen had enough time during minicamp that it’s a good start. A solid scenario is set for a spectacular match when the Bills take on St. John Fisher University.
Benford looks good in coverage as the CB2 matchup continues
The Bills have left the door open for the cornerback competition for the second year in a row, only this time, it will be one spot instead of two. Dane Jackson has been impressive throughout open practices in OTAs, and on Wednesday, Christian Benford put together a pair of excellent pass breakups in tight coverage. He helped force the only incompletion when he targeted Alan Sherfield, and on the day, Benford broke up a Matt Barkley pass to Desmond Bateman. Jackson, Benford and 2022 first-round pick Kaier Elam could be in contention when they return to training camp in late July. When asked about the cornerback job, the Bills said the jobs will go to starting players regardless of contract or draft status, leaving the competition more open. As with middle linebacker, it’s reasonable to expect the cornerback competition to continue throughout camp and into the season until the Bills find a better running mate for starter Tretavious White.
Doyle takes a big step in minicamp
Miller and Phillips are getting all the attention for recovering from long-term injuries, but reserve offensive tackle Tommy Doyle has been on a similar path throughout spring workouts. A fifth-round pick in 2021, Doyle suffered a torn ACL last September and played through it late last year against the Dolphins on the road as the Bills had no other offensive linemen. A few days later his season was over, they placed him on injured reserve, and throughout OTAs, Doyle went all 11-of-11 work. But the mandatory minicamp marked a big marker for Doyle, as he worked in team drills for the first time since his season-ending injury. That move puts him in a great spot for training camp in late July, not only to be healthy and ready to play, but also to compete for the Bills’ primary reserve role in 2023.
(Photo: Joe Buscaglia / Athletic)