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Bills camp observations: Josh Allen loses his cool, Isaiah McKenzie keeps soaring


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When the pads finally go on at an NFL training camp, many things usually bubble to the surface after a handful of competitive practices. Teammates are going up against each other every day, and sometimes, one player can take it a little too far for someone else’s liking.

Bills camp is no exception. Saturday marked the first day that full pads went on, and things boiled over on the final play of the day. On the last team drill rep, quarterback Josh Allen kept the ball and ran it into the end zone from a short distance. When Allen crossed the goal line, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips ran over, lowered his shoulder and gave Allen a light shove.

Allen took exception, immediately whipped the ball down, turned around and walked toward Phillips. Allen then shoved Phillips with two hands before an avalanche of teammates surrounded both players as coaches tried to break things up. Allen and Phillips kept yelling at one another after the shove from the quarterback.

While offensive teammates surrounded Phillips to stick up for Allen, center Mitch Morse kept his head and had a different objective.

“Immediately you want him out of that pile,” Morse said of Allen.

Morse rushed over to Allen, bear-hugged him and escorted him away from the skirmish. Coach Sean McDermott also made sure to help cool things down by getting between Allen and Phillips.

It’s also not often that you hear of a quarterback being the one to initiate some post-play activity.

“If I have, it’s been few and far between,” Morse said.

“Maybe once or twice, but Josh is a little different. We all know that,” running back Devin Singletary said with a smile.

Situations like these almost always blow over once the players leave the practice field for the day. Still, it illustrated how emotional things can get when the physical element is added to training camp.

What else stood out from the first padded session of the summer? Here are seven observations from Day 6.

McKenzie’s big camp continues into padded practices

When you get a full week into camp, you can see which early standouts sustain and which start to fade. Almost nothing has slowed wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie six days into camp. He answered one of the most significant questions of camp to this point on Saturday. Because the first five practices without pads are so much more geared toward the offense, would McKenzie be able to continue his speed, elusiveness and great hands with full pads on? The answer on Saturday was a resounding yes.

It started with one-on-one drills, where the cornerbacks could get a little more physical with the receivers wearing full pads. McKenzie cooked reserve nickel Cam Lewis on a pair of reps. The more impressive of the two came when Lewis lined up to McKenzie’s outside shoulder, McKenzie sold the route going outside before slamming on the brakes and running inside for ample separation and an easy win.

McKenzie also went up against starting nickel Taron Johnson and won on a deeper route downfield. The throw was well behind both players, but McKenzie somehow positioned himself to dive as the ball was about to hit the grass and corralled it at the last second. This all happened with Johnson draped all over McKenzie.

One-on-ones still usually favor the offense, but McKenzie was once a standout during team drills as well. First, he beat rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam to a route over the middle with ample separation and a good opportunity for yards after the catch. Allen targeted McKenzie three times out of five plays on the final series. Two of them went for receptions, including a highlight-reel touchdown catch in the back of the end zone. McKenzie beat Lewis at the line, skied for the pass, brought it in with his hands and landed both feet in bounds. McKenzie is playing perhaps the best football of his career, and before practice, McDermott confirmed that the receiver was one of the three or four players who really stood out in the first group of practices.

Now, what could this mean for the season? Jamison Crowder, McKenzie’s primary competition to be the slot receiver, hasn’t practiced since Day 1 of camp. With everything McKenzie has shown over the first six days, you wonder if Crowder can close the gap on McKenzie, even if Crowder resumes practicing Monday. It might be a little premature to declare McKenzie the winner of the competition because the Bills will want to see sustained success in padded practices and we haven’t even hit August yet. Still, McKenzie really couldn’t do much more this camp than what he has put forward so far. Crowder will have to get back up to speed and show very well to prevent McKenzie from being the primary slot receiver this season. It’s not over, but McKenzie has made a statement so far and is playing as confidently as we’ve seen in Buffalo.

Elam competitive but still dealing with some struggles

The Bills have put a lot on Elam’s plate since making him their top draft choice. With Tre’Davious White unavailable to practice, Elam has been thrust into covering top receivers Stefon DiggsGabriel Davis and McKenzie during team drills. It’s been a bit of trial by fire, and while he has been competitive, the Bills’ top pick has struggled to make impact plays on defense.

Although Allen and the passing attack aren’t throwing at Elam all the time, the rookie has made few plays on the ball so far. He’s been a step late to explode toward the ball, and he’s also been a step behind in solo coverage. McKenzie easily beat Elam for one of his receptions in team drills on Saturday, but it didn’t end there.

The struggles continued into one-on-ones with receivers. Elam’s man-to-man coverage is probably his best attribute coming out of college, but his opponents got pretty seamless victories in his three reps. Elam went up against Davis twice and was beat the first time for a reception without any doubt. On the second chance, Davis ran a deep route down the left sideline and after Davis ran past, Elam resorted to grabbing the receiver’s jersey with both hands and didn’t let go until the throw sailed past both players.

Elam also had a rep against receiver Neil Pau’u, who went into his break and worked back to the ball without Elam close by. Pau’u is near the bottom of the Bills’ depth chart and isn’t nearly as deceptive in route running as the top receivers, which made the rep slightly alarming. On Pau’u’s other two reps, reserve cornerbacks Tim Harris and Jordan Fuller basically ran his route for him and broke on the ball for a pass breakup.

It’s natural for a young player to struggle, especially at a difficult position like cornerback. However, given all the uncertainty at the position, having Elam strike back for some plus practices in the next couple of weeks would be a good sign of what he could be this season.

It’s early and Elam should get some benefit of the doubt for now because you can see the competitive fire, the length and everything the Bills like about him. He just needs to stack some good days and put a somewhat rocky start behind him.

Dodson and Bernard flash in battle for third LB

The underrated battle that has ramped up in a fun way this week has been for the top backup linebacker role. Rookie Terrel Bernard and fourth-year player Tyrel Dodson have both been playing fast and showing well, and the Bills have rewarded both players with some reps against the Allen-led offense. Each player made a pair of standout plays on Saturday. Bernard looked great in a block-shedding drill early in practice, whipping tight end Tommy Sweeney off of him and forcing the blocker to hit the ground. Later in team drills, Bernard burst through the line with full acceleration to force a sack of Allen in the backfield.

Dodson’s day began with him reacting quickly to a tipped Case Keenum pass at the line of scrimmage, sprinting to the ball and diving to secure an interception. Later, he dropped into solo coverage against tight end O.J. Howard and was in Howard’s hip pocket the entire route. Allen was looking for Howard, and because it wasn’t there, it helped lead to a sack by defensive end Greg Rousseau. Dodson was an excellent performer for the second straight day of camp. It was once a foregone conclusion that Bernard would win the competition, but Dodson has turned it into a legitimate battle.

Another day, another sack for Epenesa

Besides the team’s top talents and McKenzie’s No. 6 jersey, the number I’ve written most often in my notebook for good reasons has been No. 57. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa has consistently worked himself into the backfield during team drills at least once every day that the Bills have practiced. He popped for another big play on Saturday. Working against Bobby Hart, Epenesa chopped down an extended arm and worked around the edge. Epenesa then closed down the space to quarterback Case Keenum for a sack and even got his hand in to force a fumble.

Much like McKenzie on offense, Epenesa performing well in team drills with the pads on is another good indicator that he’s heading in the right direction. The next step is to continue these positive practices and do it more often against the Bills’ top offensive linemen. Epenesa, Rousseau and Boogie Basham have all had good camps to this point, but Epenesa has been the one who has done the most to help himself.

Shakir and his smooth setup

The longer Crowder and Jake Kumerow miss time with injuries, the more opportunities it affords rookie Khalil Shakir and second-year receiver Marquez Stevenson. Shakir was a standout Saturday. He doesn’t wow you with long speed or impressive physicality, but the way he sets up his routes without wasted movement is something the Bills can work with.

Shakir was excellent during one-on-ones, easily winning all four of his reps. He hides the intentions of his route until the last second of his breakdown and naturally glides out of it when he sticks his foot in the ground. His best rep came against cornerback Olaijah Griffin, who tried to get physical and jam him at the line of scrimmage. Shakir dipped his shoulder back, evaded the jamming attempt, then had Griffin trying to catch up until the catch.

You can tell Shakir has caught the eye of the roster and coaching staff because on one play when didn’t know where he was supposed to line up, Diggs got on his case immediately from the sideline. Once the play was over, Diggs ran over to Shakir and told him to sprint upfield for 10 yards, almost like a minor punishment for the mental error. Diggs spoke to Shakir for the next minute or so, likely coaching up the rookie. Outside of that moment, Shakir looks like an outright roster lock and a top-five receiver on the team.

Araiza wins the brief #MattVsMattPuntapalooza reps Saturday

With the pads going on Saturday, the Bills focused primarily on team drills and worked in some hitting and tackling fundamentals, which didn’t leave much time for the usual special teams period. Although both punters, rookie Matt Araiza and veteran Matt Haack, booted some down the field while they were going through fundamentals, many were just practice kicks. They didn’t include any oncoming rushers or blockers in front of them. The punting competitors combined for five live reps with the full punting team, all being kicked from their own 30-yard-line.

Although it wasn’t a heavy workload, Araiza clearly won the day in both average distance and hang time. His two punts traveled an average of 51.5 yards and hung in the air for 4.43 seconds. The hang time was a clear improvement from Araiza’s 4.17-second average on the last punting day. Haack had the best two hang-time punts of the day, but he missed completely on one of his three attempts to tank both of his averages. Haack averaged 45.7 yards and 4.39 seconds of hang time. Haack’s inconsistency was part of the problem last year, so even in a brief practice situation, it caused him to lose the day.

Injury update: Hyde is day to day

The Bills updated the status of star safety Micah Hyde and called his hip/glute injury a day-to-day one, removing any concerns it was a serious injury. Crowder and Kumerow, along with right guard Ryan Bates remained out with what McDermott called soreness, alluding to muscle tightness. The coach called all three “day to day.” Left tackle Dion Dawkins was also excused for a second straight day to attend to a personal matter. The status of left guard Rodger Saffold (ribs, non-football injury), cornerback Tre’Davious White (knee, PUP), guard Ike Boettger (Achilles, PUP) and defensive tackle Eli Ankou (calf, PUP) remained unchanged. The team did get one injured player back, as defensive tackle DaQuan Jones returned to practice after missing two days.

Up next: The Bills have Sunday off before returning for four straight practices at St. John Fisher University on Monday.

“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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