Jump to content

Isaiah McKenzie is Josh Allen’s top target for a day as Bills wrap up minicamp


Recommended Posts

Summer break has officially begun for the Buffalo Bills.

As has become a tradition for Sean McDermott and his team, the coach informed his players that the mandatory minicamp was over after just their second practice. The NFLallows teams to use a three-day practice window for the final offseason event, but McDermott has rewarded his team in past years with a day off for two days of hard work.

The players held up their end of the bargain, so McDermott stuck with the philosophy. The Bills’ next practice isn’t until the start of training camp in late July.

And McDermott had to be pleased with having his entire roster available for the only mandatory practices of the offseason program. The entire roster attended both days, including safety Jordan Poyer.

Poyer has made his intentions known through agents that he would like a contract extension. Poyer will become a free agent after 2022, and after an All-Pro season, he’s likely seeking longer contract security and to be paid like the league’s top safeties. The Bills have remained silent on the matter.

That dispute led to curiosity if he would stay away from the team for the mandatory minicamp. But Poyer returned to Buffalo and took part in both practices. He also erased the idea of a “hold-in” to avoid getting fined for missing minicamp. Poyer was a near full participant, working into positional and 11-on-11 drills during both sessions.

Poyer and his safety running mate, Micah Hyde, were both in attendance for the workouts. In the voluntary OTA sessions that allowed media access, only two Bills players were absent.

With the Bills’ full roster in attendance, what stood out? Here are several minicamp observations as the Bills prepare to rest up before a season rife with expectations.

Did not practice due to injury: OT Spencer Brown, G Ike Boettger, CB Tre’Davious White, CB Tim Harris

McKenzie was Allen’s favorite target Wednesday

The Bills ended minicamp by working in their heaviest amount of team drills this offseason, which meant a lot of work for quarterback Josh Allen and the passing offense Wednesday. Allen finished the day completing nine of 12 passes, and without question, his most heavily targeted receiver was Isaiah McKenzie. Allen targeted McKenzie on four of the 12 attempts, connecting on three. All three completions were short as Allen took what the defense was giving him, but McKenzie looked quick and shifty all day. McKenzie was one of only three receivers Allen targeted during team drills, and the other two — Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis — combined for only three targets. The rest of Allen’s passes went to tight ends and running backs.

McKenzie’s role on the team will be an interesting one to track during camp. The Bills released Cole Beasley this offseason, which left the slot receiver position wide open, and McKenzie is one of the two legitimate options for the role at the moment. In each practice I’ve witnessed, McKenzie has taken advantage of his opportunities and looked quicker than most of his teammates. The disclaimer is that these sessions are designed for receivers to look good without any defensive physicality or pads. Though in McKenzie’s case, it was hard not to notice his dynamism. He’s a real contender to become the primary slot receiver this season, but unfortunately for him, his main competition also had an excellent minicamp and offseason.

Consistent Crowder

There’s not much pizzazz to receiver Jamison Crowder’s game, but it’s almost as if that helps him lull a defense to sleep as he slips in the back door to a wide-open area. Crowder is just a technically savvy route runner who minimizes his steps to get into his designated route, and before you know it, the ball is in his hands.

While he didn’t have as many opportunities as McKenzie, Crowder maximized them with significant gains. One was an intermediate pass from backup quarterback Case Keenumover the middle, where he found a soft spot in the defense. His other reception was more impressive. Keenum held on to the ball to buy himself time, which allowed Crowder the time to slip between two defenders in the end zone as he was working toward the sideline. Keenum put the perfect touch on the ball as Crowder tapped both feet inbounds for the score. If Crowder and McKenzie keep these positive days going in training camp, the Bills will have a difficult decision to make regarding playing time.

Hyde the eraser

McKenzie had an excellent afternoon, but his only target that didn’t result in a catch occurred because of Hyde. Allen thought he had McKenzie beyond a pair of defenders on a deep throw, only for Hyde to sprint over and help erase the attempt. Without Hyde at the voluntary OTAs the last few weeks, Allen and the offense had a much better time taking advantage of the deep areas of the field, but Hyde has made an impact there since the day he arrived.

Hyde’s role in the deep middle is often so understated because of how well he anticipates and takes throws away before the quarterback even makes them. That throw to McKenzie was nearly intercepted because of Hyde’s move toward the ball. It was a glaring example of what the Bills have when he’s on the field and what they’re missing when they have to rely on a backup. Hyde, without question, is one of the most important defenders on the team in such a pass-friendly league.

Oliver enjoying the Miller effect

Right after Wednesday’s practice, defensive tackle Ed Oliver joked that he wanted to line up on the opposite side from pass rusher Von Miller to take advantage of all the blocking attention Miller gets. But Oliver was excellent working right next to Miller on a few reps. Miller was working against left tackle Dion Dawkins on one snap with left guard Rodger Saffold keeping a close eye on Miller as well. Oliver was next to Miller, and when Miller faked a move inside, Oliver took advantage of that split-second reaction Saffold made toward Miller. Oliver planted one foot and accelerated past Saffold toward Allen for an instant pressure.

Earlier in the session with Miller beside him, Oliver worked through his one-on-one to force Allen off his spot toward the other side of the line. There, defensive tackle DaQuan Jones was waiting, and the play was blown dead for a sack. Oliver has elite potential this season with all the attention Miller will attract, and Wednesday was an excellent reminder of how talented Oliver is.

Shakir struggles to connect with Keenum

Crowder and Isaiah Hodgins connected with Keenum on their two targets, but rookie receiver Khalil Shakir couldn’t make quite the same splash. Shakir was the only other receiver Keenum targeted Wednesday, and on both attempts, they went off Shakir’s hand for incompletions. The first attempt was a shorter throw that easily should have been a catch, but the rookie failed to complete the catch. The second opportunity was a deeper throw down the sideline and Shakir got one hand on the ball. The throw was a tad high, but manageable, though Shakir did not corral the catch.

Shakir did look a lot more confident and consistent on the ball in positional drills, which made the incompletions slightly surprising. Shakir remains a solid route runner who still needs seasoning, but there are some tools for the Bills to work with. It remains to be seen how they’ll use him down the line. But with how well the Bills’ top four receivers (Diggs, Davis, McKenzie and Crowder) have played this spring, and the team’s reluctance to play late-round rookies in their first season, at the moment it’s tough to see a path to consistent playing time for Shakir in 2022.

Two defensive flash plays

Offseason practices are usually a recipe for offensive success, but some defensive backs made standout plays during team drills. First-round pick and rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam made the highlight play of the day with a toe-tapping interception of Allen along the sideline. It’s worth noting that it was a busted play without a single offensive player near the ball when Elam went up for the catch, but he showed excellent body control and footwork to land inbounds despite momentum taking him over the sideline. The entire defense had a big reaction to Elam’s play.

Cornerback Cam Lewis nearly had the play of the day because of how well he read Allen’s eyes and tight end Dawson Knox’s route. Knox moved toward the sideline, and Lewis timed up the tight end’s break with his launch toward the ball perfectly. It was such an instinctive play that the defenders on the sideline instantly reacted to the potential huge play. Lewis dived at the ball, but somehow he missed the catch, and Knox was able to concentrate and bring it in. Regardless, it was a flash play for Lewis that shows coaches he’s still steadily improving. It’s a big reason he has hung around in Buffalo for as long as he has on the practice squad.

Howard’s movement skills

While there was a lot of good throughout the offseason practices, new backup tight end O.J. Howard has not looked like the dynamic pass catcher he was when he was a first-round pick out of Alabama in 2017. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, he’s enormous and you can’t miss him on the field, and he’s been consistent in his catch opportunities this offseason. He also looks like he can be an excellent blocker for 12 personnel while still offering a pass-catching threat. But his movement skills are well below what Knox brings to the table.

Howard has not been quick in and out of his breaks, which could hamper his ability to deceive the defender and separate while running routes. Part of those difficulties must be from the multiple lower-body injuries Howard has suffered since entering the league. There’s just a difference between what his draft reputation was and what he is as a player now. It’s also fair to wonder whether his separation ability will increase when defenders put pads on because it’s a bit of an equalizer. Regardless, Howard will still be a solid contributor to the team in 2022 and looks perfectly suited to the backup tight end role.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

Seek help. soflabillsfan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...