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Bills training camp observations: Dawson Knox right at home, Stefon Diggs sizzles


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Just days into training camp, the Bills already have a lot of important decisions to consider.

The conversation around Jordan Poyer’s future in Buffalo past 2022 has been a critical topic, with his agent attending the first practice at St. John Fisher University. Still, his isn’t the only expiring deal the Bills have to consider heading into the season.

Tight end Dawson Knox delivered a breakout season as a third-year pro in 2021, more than doubling his receptions and receiving yards from 2020 and tripling his touchdown receptions. Knox is in the final year of his rookie contract, teeing up another big decision for the team. Rising costs on the Bills roster past 2022 and at tight end across the NFL complicate the situation.

Knox has made his intentions abundantly clear. Most players with expiring contracts give the polite answer that they want to be back, but Knox is backing up his words with actions and financial commitments.

“First and foremost, I want to be here. I mean, I bought a house here a few months ago, not because I want to be gone in a year,” Knox said Monday. “So I want to be here as long as I can.”

Knox is also a well-respected member of the locker room and has an extremely close connection with star quarterback Josh Allen. Given the scarcity of quality production at tight end, the interest likely goes both ways, for multiple reasons.

Tight end David Njoku signed a massive extension with the Browns despite limited production, including only 60 receptions in the last three years combined. His new deal has an average value of $13.7 million, putting Njoku among the top five annual earners at the position.

The cost of having a good tight end is rising, so it will likely come down to structure and finding the right number both sides are comfortable with in striking a long-term deal.

“I know a lot of that stuff is out of my hands with salary cap,” Knox said. “I try not to read into all that too much, but I’ve definitely communicated that I want to be here for an extended amount of time, so whether that’s getting the extension now or later, I definitely hope it happens.”

Knox returned to practice Monday with a pair of strong catches in team drills. What else happened on the second day of camp?

Here are seven observations from Monday’s session.

1. A high-volume day for Diggs

On the first day of training camp, Allen and star receiver Stefon Diggs had a tough time connecting in the red zone offense. The duo struck back with a big day during team drills to show their chemistry has carried over. Diggs was targeted on seven of the 16 passes Allen attempted in team drills. The duo connected on four with ample room to run on each, and Allen narrowly missed a wide-open Diggs on two other passes over the middle. On those plays, Diggs ran back to his teammates and coaches on the sideline and motioned that they were so close to popping a big play after easily winning his route.

Diggs is the best route runner on the team and one of the best in the league, but there was something a little more explosive Monday than his usual practice performance. He was getting close to instant separation from the cornerbacks on his routes, including an excellent comeback to the sideline and a couple of passes over the middle. Even when cornerback Cam Lewis hung with him through the rep on one play, Diggs finished with a contested catch along the sideline.

Diggs tapped both feet inbounds, ran toward the stands, softly tossed the ball to a fan and followed with a five-second dance on the track that surrounds the field. Diggs was certainly feeling it Monday. It might not have gone to plan Sunday, but the passing offense got right back on track after some of the Day 1 rust.

2. Elam struggles against top WRs

As Diggs thrived on Day 2, it came at the expense of rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam on some reps as the Allen-led passing offense picked on Elam a bit early on. First, it was the Diggs comeback route, then Isaiah McKenzie beat Elam on a route to the sideline. Diggs got the better of Elam on a slant only a few plays later, then Elam lost track of Gabriel Davis in his area for another reception. The good news for the Bills is they are allowing Elam to grow with a lot of time on the field while working against the top receivers in Diggs, Davis and McKenzie.

One weakness that stood out early with Elam’s game is he was a bit hesitant to read the receiver on his route and get a jump on it with closer coverage, perhaps not wanting to guess wrong for an even worse beat. Elam has never consistently gone up against anyone as polished and explosive as Diggs, so it’s natural for him to proceed with caution in his first few days of camp. Anything he can learn from Diggs is an excellent lesson every day.

3. Bills move some OL pieces around on Day 2

With a pair of presumed starters absent from team drills for a second straight day, the Bills went with another offensive line group Monday. Starting left guard Rodger Saffold missed another practice with injured ribs. Right tackle Spencer Brown once again was a practice participant only in individual and positional drills, which created more reps for backup players. The standout takeaway was veteran lineman David Quessenberry’s versatility as he flipped to left guard in place of Saffold on Monday after serving as the right tackle for Brown on Sunday. Especially after the Bills said how important versatility would be in their roster decisions for the offensive line, that’s a huge factor working in Quessenberry’s favor to hang around in 2022.

Similarly, second-year player Tommy Doyle was the primary right tackle blocking for Allen on Day 2. Doyle had been working on quarterback Case Keenum’s unit and playing at left guard the previous practice, but the Bills gave Doyle some extended time. Doyle’s developing versatility would be a big thing for his career because there isn’t a long-term spot for him at tackle with Brown and Dion Dawkins on extended contracts. Doyle may need to become a complete utility player to eventually get in the lineup for injured Bills starters, regardless of the position. It’s a good sign for him that they are putting more on his plate in only his second camp.

The extended opportunities for Doyle came at the expense of guard Cody Ford, who worked with Keenum’s unit Monday. The Bills have worked several offensive linemen into other roles in past camps, but that was under former offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. We’ll see if that trend persists under new offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, or if we start to see more defined roles.

Although Saffold was sidelined, there was a slight upgrade on his status. He was seen working off to the side with a strength and conditioning coach for some relatively strenuous drills. The Bills said they’re confident he’ll be back, and that was a good early sign.

4. No Crowder paved way for Shakir opportunity

The Bills were without slot receiver Jamison Crowder on Monday because of an undisclosed injury, and his absence allowed rookie Khalil Shakir to get more time with Allen. Shakir mostly had been catching passes from Keenum and Matt Barkley through the spring and on Day 1. Allen didn’t target Shakir on 11-on-11, but it’s a positive sign that they view the rookie as the “next guy in” after Diggs, Davis, McKenzie, Crowder and Jake Kumerow.

Shakir shined in his work with other quarterbacks, making several catches. Above all else, it’s a way to get himself noticed before practice intensity increases. We’re still in the “fool’s gold” portion of camp with receivers because the team has yet to have a fully padded, physical practice. These first few sessions are more like the offseason workouts of the spring, in which players can position themselves for more work when the pads finally go on. The Bills have said the first padded practice will be Saturday — Day 6 of camp.

5. Lewis shows well in work against top WRs

It seems almost every year is the same story with cornerback Cam Lewis. Each year he arrives at camp with a long list of players ahead of him on the depth chart, only to eventually pass most of them and force the Bills into a difficult decision on cutdown day. They’ve used Lewis both on the boundary and at nickel corner, and that trend has continued in 2022. With a clear opportunity to earn a roster spot, Lewis has played extremely well over his first two practices in Pittsford.

He made two excellent pass breakups early in the session, including one on which he fully extended and dove to force the incompletion. Later, he stayed stride for stride with Diggs on his tough catch along the sideline. Despite Diggs coming out on top, that type of competitiveness goes a long way with a coaching staff, especially when these non-padded practices favor offensive success. For the third year in a row, keep an eye on Lewis. Before you know it, he might just steal a roster spot.

6. Don’t count out Moss from having a role in 2022

The general expectation surrounding the Bills’ backfield is that it will be the Devin Singletary and James Cook show, with Zack Moss being a game-day inactive. In practices like these, actions speak loudest, and Moss receiving ample time working with Allen through the first two practices shows he isn’t as far behind as some might think. Singletary and Cook have had ample time with Allen, too, but Moss seems like the forgotten man, even if it might not be the reality.

The Bills likely won’t reinvent themselves on offense, but they might make some alterations with their active game-day roster, which could benefit Moss. There is a pretty easy path to the team making all three of Singletary, Cook and Moss active on game days for more of a three-headed approach. One way is if they decide to keep only five linebackers. That would be one fewer than the six they have rostered and dressed almost every game in previous seasons.

The Bills are giving Moss a clear opportunity to earn a role in 2022. It’s often overlooked that after being a healthy scratch in late November, he returned and put together some good reps before the Bills opted for a one-back approach in the playoffs. He is also not far removed from being the Bills’ best running back down the stretch of the 2020 season, but Moss took a noticeable step back at the beginning of last season. They likely believe there is still some talent there and that he could bring a different element to the backfield than Singletary or Cook. Given Singletary’s expiring contract and Cook’s rookie status, Moss has a clear chance to make this a three-person backfield.

7. Epenesa and Basham flash as pass rushers

It’s early, but the Bills must have liked the first two days from their two young pass rushers battling to be the primary backup. A.J. Epenesa worked around his assignment for a would-be sack in the backfield for a second straight day, using a rush out wide to force a negative play for the offense. It was an instant win, and despite it not coming against the top of the offensive line depth chart, Epenesa is making an impact.

Boogie Basham also stood out on a pair of reps, showing off the extra burst he added by getting into better shape this offseason. His explosiveness off the line immediately put the offensive tackle on the back foot, allowing Basham to turn the corner and work his way to the quarterback. The pass rusher had a “sack” on one of the chances. The positive play is all they could hope for from Epenesa and Basham this early as they and Shaq Lawson battle for playing time in 2022.

Up next: The Bills will return to the practice field at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday, but the session is closed to the public.

“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

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