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Bills camp observations: Ed Oliver and defensive line ‘monsters’ keep dominating


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Bills camp observations: Ed Oliver and defensive line ‘monsters’ keep dominating

Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Ed Oliver (91) looks on during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Sunday July 24, 2022. (AP Photo/ Jeffrey T. Barnes)
By Joe Buscaglia
3h ago

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Seven practices into Bills training camp, the one storyline that hasn’t seemed to let up has been the dominance of the defensive line. Seemingly every session, someone different breaks through for a standout day.

A straightforward justification for the early camp trend could be that the Bills’ starting offensive line has been playing short-handed because of injuries. But that only takes it so far. The defenders have been winning so much up front that they’ve made it difficult on all the quarterbacks.

“They’re monsters,” rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam said Monday. “They’re freaks. Our first string, our second string, our third string. They just come rolling in, and they’re just monsters. That’s the only (way) I can explain. They just get after it.”

The Bills massively revamped their defensive line in the offseason with the additions of ends Von Miller and Shaq Lawson and tackles DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips. Combined with returning players Ed Oliver, Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa and Boogie Basham, the group gives the Bills a high ceiling in 2022.

“Everybody’s good,” Oliver said before naming almost every player along the defensive line. “Everybody’s making plays. That makes the day go by faster and keeps the energy high. This D-line now is special.”

And Oliver was a big piece of the puzzle Monday as the Bills resumed practice after an off day Sunday. Here are seven observations from the team’s seventh practice of camp.

Oliver makes a home in the backfield

During camp, teams will pick a situation to practice, usually varying by the day. One of the defense’s favorite days has to be when it’s time to work on third-and-long situations as the Bills did Monday. Those defenders can rush the passer, knowing they can focus on their moves with little concern for the run game. Even with that in the defense’s favor, it was something to see how easily Oliver worked into the backfield.

The Bills’ premier pass-rushing defensive tackle, Oliver was unblockable at times. It began with one-on-one drills and an easy victory over guard Cody Ford that featured swiping the blocker’s hands down and sprinting past in one succinct move. Then on his next rep, Oliver performed a dip under the extended arms of guard Jordan Simmons and quickly won the rep.

A man of many talents. 😂@EdOliver_11 | #BillsCamp pic.twitter.com/JuwXbj8BxC

— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) July 27, 2022


Oliver transitioned those easy wins to team drills, where he was a nuisance to quarterback Josh Allen the rest of the day. By my count, Oliver ended the session with two sacks, three other pressures and one tackle for loss. The Allen-led offense ran a total of 26 plays in team drills. Because of natural substitutions, Oliver sat out some of those snaps, which only reinforced how outstanding he performed as a pass rusher all day.

Oliver has put together a great camp so far, with seven sacks in team drills through seven days by my unofficial count. He has mostly been a plus performer as a run defender and has increased his pressure and productivity as the years have progressed. If Oliver can transition these impact plays into the season and provide the Bills with a breakout statistical year, he would help make the Bills defense an entirely different unit to game plan for in 2022. Early days like this one, especially with the increased talent around him on the defensive line, show what he is and what he has been capable of in the NFL.

Deep-roster DT shines in place of Settle

Defensive tackle Tim Settle is dealing with a groin injury, according to coach Sean McDermott, and didn’t practice Monday. With Settle out and with the emphasis on third-and-long situations, defensive tackle Brandin Bryant had his best day of training camp by far. Bryant mostly attacked the Case Keenum-led offense and dominated one series.

Through the first three plays, Bryant had two definite would-be sacks and was breathing down Keenum’s neck on the other play, which might have been a sack in a normal circumstance. On that potential sack, Keenum dumped a pass off to running back James Cook a little after Bryant arrived. The next time Bryant was on the field against Keenum, he worked into the backfield for another sack. He could not be stopped in a six-play stretch. And his camp has been more than just a great day Monday.

Bryant is an interesting name for the Bills because he has a lot of experience both in the NFL and in the team’s defensive scheme. The 28-year-old has been with the Bills, mostly as a practice squad player, since September 2020. He’s been called up for a one-game stint a handful of times, mostly to play the three-technique role. He has had his flashy moments throughout camp so far, but without question, Monday marked his best day this summer.

He’ll need to stack more days like this and show consistency to have a legitimate shot to make the 53-man roster. Preseason will also mean a lot to Bryant, considering how much talent and dedicated roster spots the Bills already have on the defensive line. At worst, Bryant has an excellent opportunity to carve out a Justin Zimmer-like role as a dependable practice squad player whom the Bills could view as one of their first call-ups.

The first rough day for Shakir

Through the first six days of camp, the results had been mostly positive for rookie receiver Khalil Shakir, a fifth-round draft pick. He’s been working with Allen sporadically and getting acclimated to the offense, all while making plays seemingly every day. Shakir’s Monday morning got off to a rocky start during a half-speed session, where he let a pass go right through his hands and deflected to a defender. McDermott likely didn’t want to end the drill with a mental lapse, so he had them take two more snaps before the practice got underway. Shakir’s shakiness with the ball continued throughout the day.

Bills rookie wide receiver Khalil Shakir struggled to catch the ball Monday, but he’s a roster lock. (Rich Barnes / USA Today)

Shakir worked in as a punt returner while punters Matt Haack and Matt Araiza were going through their reps, and Shakir muffed one punt and bobbled a couple of others. From there, in team drills, one Keenum pass went through Shakir’s hands and was picked off by the defense. Shakir added another drop to the day, but this one deflected into the air and left tackle Dion Dawkins ran under it for a comical catch. Shakir’s final opportunity in team drills came on a quick throw from Allen that cornerback Dane Jackson helped break up, but Shakir got both hands on the pass. While that one wasn’t a classic drop, it’s one you’d like to see the receiver come down with in a contested situation.

After six good days, the Bills could look at it as one of those days for Shakir. The big thing is to isolate that one poor performance and come back with more of what he’s been the rest of camp. No matter what, he seems like a roster lock.

Benford having an underrated, solid camp

On one of Shakir’s drops, the cornerback making the interception was fellow rookie Christian Benford. It was an outstanding play by Benford, who dove and got both hands under the ball to secure the turnover. The individual play was an excellent sign from a sixth-round draft pick. But more importantly, we’ve seen Benford getting an increased opportunity as camp continues. When the Bills drafted Benford, they said they weren’t sure what position he would stick at but wanted to try him at cornerback first.

It has gone well so far as he started to take some reps against receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis in team drills. With so much uncertainty on the cornerback depth chart, it is quite meaningful that the team has given Benford the chance to work against the top two receivers. He’ll need to prove there’s more to him than some early camp success, but he has an excellent chance not only to win a roster spot but to become a dependable depth and special teams player in his first year.

Araiza takes a step forward in the #MattVsMattPuntapalooza

The Bills merely dipped their toes in the Puntapalooza waters Saturday with a combined five punt team reps, but Monday featured a full dive into the punting competition, with the heaviest day yet. Rookie Matt Araiza and veteran Matt Haack received eight opportunities each, and for the second straight practice, Araiza looked like the clear winner.

Bills punting battle, Day 7

While Haack still had the better average hang time, Araiza closed the gap considerably from what it was earlier in camp and in the spring. The 0.07-second margin is minor, especially when Araiza was averaging more than 5 more yards per punt than Haack. Araiza was also more consistent, with six of his eight punts going at least 45 yards, including four going at least 50. He also had the best punt of the day, pinning a punt at the 1-yard line with a 4.95-second hang time. Haack had the worst punt of all the reps, a low-lining 32-yarder that hung in the air for less than four seconds. Haack did have some nice moments, though, and had a pair of 50-yard punts. Araiza also did the holding for kicker Tyler Bass and was perfect throughout the session. Araiza has pulled ahead in the punting competition.

Hyde, Crowder return to the field

Two veteran players were back on the practice field Monday. After a scary moment last week, free safety Micah Hyde was back in full pads after missing only one practice with a hip/glute injury. Hyde didn’t do much in team drills during the second hour, but just being out there after only one missed day is a great sign that he’ll be back in short order. Even during the slower defensive install period, Hyde took mental reps 10 to 15 yards behind the safeties in on the play to get additional work in.

Slot receiver Jamison Crowder also returned to the individual portion of practice. It was Crowder’s first practice since July 24 as he was sidelined with unspecified muscle soreness. He’ll likely slowly ramp up to the point of team drills, but a return of any kind is key for him, considering how well Isaiah McKenzie has played this summer.

Hart gets a look at left guard

A trend at Bills camp this summer has been that many of their reserve offensive tackles have worked inside at guard to help block for Allen, and veteran Bobby Hart is the latest to do so. Hart worked in at left guard for Rodger Saffold, who has yet to practice this camp because of injured ribs. Hart’s day was a bit up and down. He put together a couple of great reps against Oliver during one-on-ones but struggled a bit more in pass blocking in team drills.

The Bills also worked in veteran Greg Van Roten at left guard as they continue to assess their offensive line depth. They might need to do some more tinkering because second-year player Tommy Doyle suffered a late-practice injury. Doyle was at right guard for injured presumed starter Ryan Bates. Bates has missed the last four practices with unspecified muscle soreness.

The offensive line has struggled to block for Allen, which may also speak to a depth problem. As the summer continues and veterans get released around the league, it may be something to monitor.

Up next: The Bills are back on the field for Day 8 at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

(Top photo of Ed Oliver: Jeffrey T. Barnes / Associated Press)

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7 minutes ago, The Chosen said:

That's what worries me. 

I say it every year and Beane does nothing significant to improve OL.

Just NOT sexy enough.

To me, our OL is THE only way we don't win it all this year.

Do Your Part to Improve The Range -- Please put the TRIO OF TRUMP FLUFFERSTM  on IGNORE

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8 hours ago, SpikedLemonade said:

I say it every year and Beane does nothing significant to improve OL.

Just NOT sexy enough.

To me, our OL is THE only way we don't win it all this year.

On the plus side he did address the DL and not just with Von. Last year's #1 ranked D was a joke. Everyone knew the Bills were a paper tiger who padded their stats against bad teams/QB's. This season I think the Bills will do a better job against the run and generate more of a pass rush. Even if the Bills D doesn't finish #1 I think they will be better than last year's D. They won't get pushed around at the LOS (see last year's Colts game as an example) so I expect them to do a much better overall this year. 

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I mean you would expect the Dline to look good. The amount of assets assigned there is considerable. Then again this is practice vs a suspect OL. 


Call me again when the real games begin. Specially late in the year. 

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Bills fan for life!! ................

I love beer, rum, scotch and women !! :rockon:

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Every year since McDermott showed up we hear this same shit. Last year at this time we heard how amazing Rousseau and Basham looked….


But here’s my main concern…and I’ve preached this for 5 years now….

does it matter? 

Unlike last year the Bills will be facing a lot more elite qb play…guys like Mahomes , Watson, Tannehill, and Lamar will simply escape from the pass rush….guys like Burrow, Rodgers, even Cousins, will simply side step the rush and get rid of the ball…now against the likes of Tua, and Mac Jones cool…we might get some sacks..but don’t hold your breath. Don’t be surprised that opposing qbs will simply 

a) get rid of the ball FAST 


b) run away


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