Orchard Park, NY — The Buffalo Bills wrapped up this year’s minicamp on Wednesday with their final practice of the offseason program after coach Sean McDermott canceled the final day Thursday.
It’s been a common practice for McDermott to reward his players with a get-out-of-town early card for their hard work throughout the spring. The Bills had great turn out during voluntary workouts the past few weeks, highlighted by quarterback Josh Allen. He flew back to Buffalo right after “The Match” in Las Vegas to be at a Friday practice the following day.
Sure, Allen didn’t play great against Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. He admitted he wanted to get out of Vegas and forget about the golf matchup and how he performed playing alongside Patrick Mahomes. But more than anything, Allen said he wanted to be back in the building.
“Some people have to leave the facility to ease their mind,” he said. “I have to come to the facility sometimes to ease mine.”
Allen had another strong day of practice, spreading the ball around to some of his old friends. The play of the day came when Allen let one rip down the right sideline to Stefon Diggs, who found himself one-on-one against cornerback Cam Lewis. Diggs got instant separation, blazed a trail into open space, and Allen delivered a perfect pass to the All Pro pass catcher.
One of Allen’s other favorite targets, Isaiah McKenzie, made a few plays on the day. He was beaming after practice just one day removed from his performance that aired on “America’s Got Talent.” The team got together at the facility and watched the show together as McKenzie sang and danced in front of a national audience. I walked up to McKenzie after he finished his press conference to say how impressed I was with his performance. He said once he got up there, it was a bit overwhelming. He just didn’t want to make a mistake and let down the other members of the choir.
Asked about where he got the courage to sing in front of such a big audience, he joked: “I guess the shower and the car. But with a group, I got a little help. That was the biggest part, singing as one. It was cool,” he said.
Here are all of my observations from Wednesday’s practice.
1. Kaiir Elam comes down with first interception
Elam went up against Diggs a few times during practice but on this play he found himself locked up with Jamison Crowder. Allen went back to pass and thought Crowder was going to run down the left sideline, but the slot receiver stopped. Elam immediately recognized the miscommunication and sprinted toward the ball and came down with the interception and got both feet inbounds as he tumbled to the ground. Elam looks more comfortable on the field every day we’ve seen him during the spring. On the play, the rookie cornerback was getting pre-snap instructions from Micah Hyde. Hyde didn’t meet Elam until he got to the facility for mandatory minicamp this week. His first impressions of the rookie?
“You can already tell, he just listens. He pays attention,” Hyde said. “I don’t necessarily know who he was coached (by), his upbringing, all that type of stuff, but they definitely taught him well, coached him well, because he’s all ears. You can tell as I’m saying stuff, he’s taking mental notes. That’s how Tre’Davious (White) was when he first got here. He was battling on the football field, which ‘K’ is doing, but also just learning from his mistakes and learning from the older guys.”
2. Jamison Crowder looking the part
When Cole Beasley’s role shrunk last season and the Bills cut him this offseason, he was looking like McKenzie was in line for a promotion. But when the Bills signed Crowder, the idea of the Bills once again deploying a slot specialist that makes his money with deceptive quickness and route-running ability picked up some steam. After a slow start in OTAs, Crowder has settled in and is making big plays. The first one of note came when he just found an opening in the defense, sat down in his route, and let Case Keenum just rifle one into the space for a solid gain. Later in the practice, the offense was in the red zone and Crowder patiently worked against the secondary. Keenum waited for the right moment and threw a nice ball that split right in between cornerback Christian Benford and safety Damar Hamlin for the score. Coming off the field after the play, Hamlin looked frustrated.
3. Micah Hyde in midseason form
The Bills defensive line was a bit more active in today’s practice. With the pressure ratcheted up a bit, the secondary seemed to feed off the energy. On one play in particular, Allen keyed in on a streaking McKenzie down the middle of the field. Hyde quickly plastered over to McKenzie and just absolutely draped himself on the slot receiver. Hyde ran stride for stride with McKenzie down the field and made it impossible for him to make a play on the ball. Coaches and players started hollering after the play to hype up Hyde for his efforts. Hyde didn’t report for any of the voluntary program, but he’s already looking like he’s ready to go.
4. Devin Singletary catches a touchdown pass
Rookie running back James Cook got most of the passing reps on Tuesday, but Singletary got a ball today and made the most of it. Allen recognized that Singletary popped open quickly near the goal line, got the ball to the fourth-year back, and he did the rest. Zack Moss also had a nice catch in the passing game during 11-on-11. Singletary has looked crisp and fast when he’s had the ball in his hands all spring. Moss has looked good as well.
5. AJ Epenesa sacks Allen
Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones combined for a sack earlier in practice on a play that was blown dead. The two new line-mates seem to be working well together early. Then Epenesa made his mark. Allen faked a hand off to Moss and before he could even run out the other side, Epenesa was in his face. Most of the time, ends will just let up and run off at the end of their rush, but Epenesa won his rep so convincingly that Allen just peeled off and the play ended. Epenesa said after practice that he’s seen progress already since attending Von Miller’s pass rush summit recently in Las Vegas.
6. Brandin Bryant is going to be in the mix
Bryant made two nice plays on the day and made some noise as a call up last season. The Bills added three new interior defensive linemen, but Bryant is a guy the Bills like and who could stay in the race for a roster spot. He made life tough on Allen during practice on Wednesday. On the catch by Moss, Allen barely got it over the outstretched arms of Bryant. He may have actually tipped that one but Moss was able to haul it in. Then a few plays later, Keenum was in and Bryant got his hand up and tipped a ball down to the grass. He was tough to deal with all afternoon.
7. Cam Lewis bounces back
After Lewis lost his rep against Diggs, the former undrafted free agent – who’s hung around with the Bills for three seasons – got right back into the fight. He came within a finger nail of an interception of Allen as he locked in on tight end Dawson Knox. Lewis left his feet and said he got a hand on it before he ultimately got through and Knox made the catch. Lewis was battling throughout practice and was able to receiver after giving up the big play.
8.Gabriel Davis vs. Dane Jackson
Davis had a few grabs and continues to shine whenever he’s targeted. But one play that stood out went incomplete. Davis and Jackson were battling all the way down the field and Jackson started grabbing Davis’s jersey toward the end of the play. The ball fell incomplete but it was a stride for stride battle. Those are the kinds of exchanges that fans are going to get excited about being back at St. John Fisher next month to be able to see. The referees originally threw a flag on the play but they may have picked it up.