Clear skies, hot and humid. Pancho weather for all 8 practices I’ve attended. We are grateful.
Bob Boras is the first coach out of the gate. There’s a spring in his step, as the TE Room is pretty deep. No Kroft? No problem, with Sweeney catching everything in sight and Nate Becker looking like a player. Dawson Knox seems back, Lee Smith caught a few today and spent time blockiing Boras vigorously. Yep, TE’s a deep room for Daboll to dabble with.
I have a deep spotters group today. From left in the picture is Joe and Linda Reagan, celebrating their 25th Aniiversary today. Larry Domino, a retired assistant principal from Spring, TX, the rival high school of Ed Oliver’s, who now is checking Bills Camp off his bucket list. He’s a cancer survivor from the same kind as Jim Kelly, who’s here today. Brian Rossignol, also a survivor, has been a big help all camp. I’m the bucket hat guy, and Brian Phillips to my left has been my right-hand man. Mike McDonough and his boys are down by the Entitled Fence today, as a VIP of Brandon Beane. I got his Bills lunch pail, which will occupy an honored spot to the right of my 1991 team-signed football. Many thanks to all for your help this season.
Dabes, with extra-sunburned dome, has a washed (hopefully) Bills Equipment shirt he wore last time. Mike and his boys zero in for the signature and chat a bit. Dabes heads out to walk the track with his teenage son.
DJ Milk arrives with his customary two strawberry smoothies. Tyree Jackson makes it a perfect Eight-For-Eight on being the first player out for practice. He works with a stretchy band around his ankles a bit (adductor, abductor), then does some work with dropping straight back, going halfway across the width of the field. I suspect it was a steering issue (not dropping straight back) or foot quickness issue. Both are more of a problem the taller you are.
Bodine’s the second out, and he, too, has a spring in his step, almost assured of the Center position for the preseason games. RayRay is next, and you have to think that he’s sewn up the #6 WR position over D’haquille and McKenzie, with a 3-way race for 1-2 WR positions on the practice squad between (my order here) Cam Phillips, Easley, and Sills.
We yell “Go Tribe!” to Sean McDermott, the team name of William and Mary. He smiles and waves. He signs for several of The Entitled. Thad Porter is carrying the camera equipment while another reporter pulls a blue canvas wagonful. John Murphy sports the Craig Stadler look, with dark blue striped shirt, a visor, and a backpack like you wore to school back in fourth grade. Marcel “Not Rodak” looks like Doug Whaley, with the pilot Ray Bans and dark shirt.
Cam Lewis and Siran Neal are doing backpedaling on the field with an assistant DB coach, then they add a guy they have to keep with in tight coverage. Later, Sean McDermott personally coaches them up. This is such a hands-on coach.
Sills is back in his “Larry Bird short shorts”. Nobody’s wearing pads today. Again Darryl Johnson walks alone, balancing his helmet on the top of his head like a middle schooler, going over to the Entitled Fence to sign autographs for Mike’s kids. Will it be his final time at Fisher?
Finally, Josh Allen comes out with Kyle Peko, giving an autograph and a selfie to Mike and his boys. Josh high-fives Brittany on the way past the Community Relations tent. Now, I must be delicate here, but Brittany is wearing grey stretch yoga pants, and it must be a new process where elastic can actually be sprayed onto legs, similar to spray-tanning. I’d supply a picture, but the lens to my camera was fogged up somehow.
Gore is again setting the tone for the club. He’s vigorously lifting alternate legs from a (keeping with the yoga theme) a Downward-Facing Dog position. I calll it the Fire-Hydrant Salute.
Nate Becker, your PS Tight End, ladies and gentlemen, signs some autographs. Bobby Johnson, in his red-standing-buffalo hoodie, is next, looking like he just signed another couple of OTs, including Aquinas grad Jarron Jones (a guy I recommended as a fit for the Bills a few years ago). He’s come home to roost.
McKenzie has his jersey on backwards. I’d say he’s lost a bet. People are helpfully teling him it’s backwards, but he’s not changing it.
Your starters are out there now for the pre-calisthenics 11 on 11. Ed Oliver is with the ones, Murphy and Hughes on the outside, Lorenzo inside. On the other side of the ball, it’s Dawkins, Spain, Bodine, Ford, and Nsehke. They’re using down-and-distance markers, headphones, and signs. Andre Roberts, Beasley, and Dawson Knox make the catches from Allen, although John Brown and Sweeney are out there in pass patterns.
Brandon Beane, Terry Pegula, and Jim Kelly are all along the sideline. Jim Kelly hugs Horrible Harry and Pegula. Mike McDonough has now strategically placed himself along the Entitled Fence within five feet of Brittany.
Astro-Stars for extra effort in calisthenics go to : Jerry Hughes, the kickers, Josh, Victor Bolden, RayRay, Matt Milano, Barkley, Andre Roberts, and Frank Gore (did you expect any less?), and the Double Astro-Stars go to (the envelope, please): Jerry Hughes and RayRay, for being picked up by two or more spotters.
During the positionals that follow, the OL is firing off the ball and doing some two-blocker work. The guys that caught our eyes today were McGhin, Bodine, Nsehke, and De’Ondre Wesley. The TE is also doing two-blocker work, and later they do angled blocks both left and right, steering the defender in a power scheme. Lee Smith is blocking Boras on the sideline. QB and RBs are doing handoffs, with Boettger splitting time with Bodine doing the hiking. WRs are receiving balls straight overhead, with Victor Bolden making the one-handed catch that drew applause from the spectators in the shaded bleachers (these are the smarter fans, as it’s getting hot where we are).
There is a good battle of punters today, and they’ve reeling off some boomers. Cory Carter kicks it from his 10 to the far 10 in a perfect spiral, 80 yards for those of you in New Math. Bojo counters with one from his 16 to the far end zone for 84 yards (he was likely trying to drop it on the 1-yard line). Carter cranks off a 60-yarder, but Bojo shanks one for about 40 yards. His next one, a 60-yarder, makes up for it. Carter counters with a 68-yarder, which falls into the end zone. Bojo’s next punt is a high floater from the 32, downed by a teammate on the 1-yard line. That’s 67 yards from where Bojo kicked it. I’ll call the contest a stalemate, and we’ll wait to see what Beane and Terry Pegula are talking about right now. Hopefully not punters. I wish I read lips better than I do.
We had some dropped passes by WRs and RBs today. Beasley had a drop on a crossing pattern, rare for him. He turned upfield quickly, but hadn’t secured the ball. Singletary had a drop, same thing: Secure it, then go North. Victor Bolden slipped on a route, although he made a valiiant try to catch the pass from his seated posiiton. D’haquille, Andre Roberts, Easley, and Bolden again all had their meathooks on balls that got away. The best catch of the drill was one of D’haquille’s, and the best “toe-drag-swag” catch was RayRay’s on the near side. Allen’s connection with Easley on a pass was as smooth as melty butter (easy to melt today). Smoky Brown had a similar smooth catch. Josh overthrew Cam Phillips on one that got away.
Eleven on eleven time. Lee Smith is out there taking reps. DiMarco’s out there for a lot of “21” personnel work. It’s your starting 5 OL, (R->L: Nsehke, Ford, Bodine, Spain, Dawkins) and they’re practicing off-tackle plays. The only significant thing was a Tre White forced fumble on Devin Singletary.
John Murphy friskily bounds up the bleachers and into the press box. He’s finishing camp really strong. No audible wheezing. I didn’t even offer my correct roster today. I must Respect The Process.
Boettger fumbles a snap to the QB. Taron Johnson is on the ground for a minute, with two trainers working and talking with him. Micah Hyde’s still in a red “No Contact” jersey.
Just when you haven’t seen Shady at all, he takes a handoff from Josh and bursts with that 2016 acceleration, when he ran for 1267 yards at 5.4 per pop.
Sweeney catches yet another slant pass from Josh after a fake to Shady. Yeldon’s not going to cede anything, showing heads-up running with vision on two run plays that follow. He’s patient, taking what’s being given to him, yet being constantly aware of the nearby opportunities. The soon-to-be #1 defense bottles up a few plays in a row to end the series.
The offense works a little 6 on 6 next, and Andre Roberts shows why he’s WR#5, connecting with Josh on an out pass. Cole Beasley catches one and immediately becomes a human pinball for some YAC. Josh throws to Singletary over the middle, and he protects it this time. Shady is less involved during this series. Are they mothballing him for the season?
Barkley looks good with the twos, throwing to a wide-open Isaiah McKenzie 20 yards down, then to RayRay on a well-timed sideline pattern. Tyree gets two snaps with the threes, and he overthrows D’haquille, but connects with Nick Easley over the middle on his second shot.
It’s 7 on 7 now, with Allen back in. Bodine’s hiking. Allen connects with Smoky Brown, then with Shady. While the pass was behind McCoy, he reached back and caught it impressively. They go into a spread formation with Shady split out wide, which leaves Beasley wide open underneath . The spread seems to be extremely effective with our offensive personnel, as they’ll be much too quick for most defenses. Barkley will be an excellent backup QB who can take the team on his back for a short time, if need be. He uses the eye manipulation of a 7-year veteran to look off the defense, faking a throw in to Senorice Perry, then throwing a perfect ball out to Nate Becker, his TE (who’s running with the twos today). Barkley’s next throw connects with D’haquille, who brushes the defender off him as if he’s swatting a fly. D’haquille hasn’t had the best of opportunities on the ball in this camp, and the frustration shows at times. Bark’s final throw, intended for Christian Wade, is out of bounds. Tyree’s two snaps both connect this time, a completion to Wade and to McKenzie, who’s now with the threes. Tyree throws a bit 3/4-arm, sort of like Philip Rivers does, negating his 6-7 height by doing so. He also drops his right shoulder on the pass sometimes, which also negates his height advantage. Tyree’s a project that 32 teams passed on 7 times, but at least he’ll acquit himself well on Thursday in the second half against future fry cooks, and wind up on the Bills’ PS.
The starters return, with Tommy Sweeney your first-string TE. He’s in an unusual formation with Gore, Smoky, Beasley, and Andre Roberts. The defense fakes one of their safety blitzes, and Josh changes the call at the line with a code word (which I have vowed not to write in this blog). Josh fires it to Zay over the vacated space for a positive gain. Barkley comes back in, and his throws connect to McKenzie, Sweeney, and then Marcus “Don’t Forget Me” Murphy on a RB screen. Tyree’s rollout pass is well-defended by Denzel Rice, who gets the PBU.
When the ones return to action, Lee Smith joins the starters, but he’s lined up inline. Josh’s throw goes to Sweeney again. Some more “off-tackle misuse of Shady for no gain” follows, then Josh’s pass to Shady is dropped. The defense is using 3-technique Ed Oliver and 1-technique Jordan Phillips on the inside, and the pressure is working.
When Barkley returns, it’s Julian Stanford as the Mike linebacker. Senorice Perry impresses on a screen, which worked because the OL effectively picked up a blitz. E.J. Gaines is walking through the tunnel onto the field with a trainer.
Against, Tyree, it’s Tyrel Dodson as the Mike. They’ve used him at MLB and OLB all camp, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he stuck with the practice squad for his versatility. Some off-field baggage stands in his way, and that stuff matters to the Bills’ decisionmakers.
After another punting battle, with Cory Carter winning it, IMHO, the team does 3rd-down drills. Levi Wallace has a pretty PBU added to his belt, then a drop by Smoky Brown brings up …oh, yeah, third down again, like every play this series. Kurt Coleman is back there with Hyde. Josh waits, clicks through his progressions, and receives the TIME to stay in the pocket. Zay Jones on the crosser results in a huge gain, due to the protection Josh received. Josh’s passes to Beasley and Robert Foster continue his 3-for-3 string of pearls. More Josh then connects with Andre Roberts as he races out of bounds on the near side. Finally, Josh makes it 5 for 5 as he connects with DiMarco, who’s doing an on-point impression of a runaway truck.
I’ve enjoyed camp this year the most of any season.
Partly, it’s what’s on the field that makes it so. We have a franchise quarterback and a savvy vet backup. We have continuity of offensive scheme, with a returning offensive coordinator who’s imaginative. We have a stifling defense. The position coaches are the finest yet because they know how to teach, and it’s obvious.
Partly, it’s what’s going on behind the scenes, with Brandon Beane, his henchmen, the generous support of the Pegulas, The Process philosophy that prevades and permeates. The generosity of BillsMafia. The editing prowess and photograph-adding of Robyn Mundy.
Mostly, though, it’s all the friends I’ve made, up in the far corner of the bleachers, their eyes spotting what Bills fans want to know. It’s the hundreds of Bills fans from Iowa, Australia, England, France, California, Canada, and [insert your state]. It the interaction on Twitter, the Original Buffalo Bills Fan Page, and in the Comments below. I’ve even talked a few players’ parents off the ledge! Thanks most of all to Mike, and Brian, and Brian, and Mary, and Connor, and Patrick, and Alley, and Emily, and Wyatt, and Joe, and Linda, and Vito, and Larry, and Hawk, and Andrea. You are the eyes that made #AstroNotes come alive on paper this summer, and I’m humbled and grateful for your perspectives. Go Bills!
Editor’s babble: The only thing better than Astro-Notes is to actually BE at training camp. Many thanks to Dean Kindig and all the wonderful spotters and folks who contributed to our blogging about the adventures at St. John Fisher College. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.