Minicamp observations: Top takeaways as Bills wrap up spring practices


Staff member

The Buffalo Bills’ players are on vacation for the next 39 days until they must report to training camp July 23.

Here are some observations from the team’s spring practices, which closed Thursday with the final minicamp session in Orchard Park.
T-shirts and shorts

Any attempt to review spring football must start with an annual public service announcement.

“It is shorts and T-shirts and helmets,” coach Sean McDermott said. “So it’s not really football, yet.”

Bills quarterback Josh Allen stretches out on Thursday, the final day of mandatory minicamp. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

The Bills had 12 spring practices. The media was allowed to watch six. So drawing definitive conclusions is speculative, if not irresponsible.

Spring practices essentially serve as a passing camp, because there is no contact and it is hard to simulate the running game, along with blocking and pass rushing, without pads and full contact.

This is not to suggest it is not important. The offense and defense “download” a lot of the playbook to players on the field in walkthroughs and practices. That way, they can hit the ground at full speed when training camp ramps up.

It was noteworthy that McDermott did not cancel the third and final minicamp practice Thursday.
With so many new players on the roster, the Bills used the last minicamp session to give all the 11-on-11 snaps to the second- and third-team units. Quarterback Josh Allen donned a headset and was calling the offensive plays. First-teamers took part in all individual drills and walkthroughs.

“Obviously, a high percentage (of the roster) are new players and new faces, so the more reps we can get, the better,” McDermott said after practice. “I appreciate the players’ attitude when they went out there.”

Coleman force-fed
Last year, it was obvious during spring practices and the early part of training camp that the coaches were hell-bent on force-feeding practice repetitions to rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid and giving him every chance to be a factor in the offense starting in Week 1. Kincaid exceeded expectations, making the fourth most catches by a rookie tight end (73) in NFL history.

It looks like the same approach is being taken with top draft pick Keon Coleman, the second-round selection from Florida State. The Bills want him to work on his connection with Allen.

Coleman had a good spring. He made catches from Allen in team work every day the media watched practice. He was a smooth catcher. Even in passes to the end zone against no defenders, Coleman made leaping grabs look easy. After a good one Thursday, Coleman celebrated by punting the ball downfield.

Josh deep balls
It was good to hear Allen talk about committing to sharpen his mechanics this offseason. And it is understandable that his throwing motion was impacted some by the injuries he suffered during the season the past two years (elbow in 2022 and the shoulder blow he took against the Giants in 2023). Allen said the pain from those injuries changed how he was releasing and delivering the ball.

Allen was great overall in 2023, and his completion percentage improved to 66.5 (up from 63.3 in 2022). But Allen had some notable misses on open receivers on deep balls last year – along with some drops by receivers on deep balls.

The Hollins Effect
Asked to name a new veteran who has brought a big positive presence to the team, tight end Dawson Knox singled out Mack Hollins, the free-agent receiver signed from the Falcons, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the free-agent wideout from the Chiefs.

“Mack Hollins has been working his tail off. I think he’s No. 1 on the Iron Bills games leaderboard right now,” said Knox, referring to the team’s offseason weight-room competition. “Mack has been unbelievable. Works so hard. MVS has been great, been running hard. Even guys on the O-line. Travis (Clayton) from the U.K. He’s not a veteran, but he’s been so cool to get to know. I don’t think he’s ever put a football helmet on. I think there’s guys all over the place. We’re still kind of getting to know the guys on defense because we’re separate so much. ... It’s been so fun getting to know guys from different teams.”

Claypool grabs attention
Chase Claypool, the 2020 second-round pick trying to rebuild his career after managing a total of just eight catches with Chicago and Miami last season, was a consistent catcher of passes when the backups were on the field in 11-on-11 work. A leaping grab on a deep post from Mitch Trubisky over safety Cole Bishop two weeks ago was his spring highlight. Claypool had 62 catches in 2020 and 59 in 2021 for Pittsburgh. Claypool isn’t as twitchy as Coleman. But Claypool did more in the spring than the other big wideouts (Tyrell Shavers and Justin Shorter) battling for the sixth receiver spot. (This presumes Hollins has the inside track on No. 5.) A good training camp could push Claypool into a key role as Coleman’s backup.

“He’s working hard, he comes in really focused every day,” said Trubisky, who played with Claypool for eight games in Pittsburgh in 2022. “He looks like a man on a mission right now. We’ve got a good connection. We had that good connection before, we just didn’t get to play that long together. But it’s good to have him. He’s competing out there. He’s playing with confidence. He believes in himself, and he’s just gotta keep working and keep making plays.

Hamlin shows confidence
Mike Edwards, the free-agent signed from the Chiefs, figures to be part of the starting safety tandem with incumbent Taylor Rapp to open training camp. But the fact Edwards was recovering from a shoulder injury and limited to individual work allowed the rookie Bishop and Damar Hamlin to get quality snaps in 11-on-11 work.

Hamlin, who played only 30 defensive snaps last season, had a pretty interception two weeks ago, and created another last week with a good play to deflect a pass over the middle. Hamlin enters camp as No. 4 on the safety depth chart, but he was a presence this spring.

“I think, the last couple of weeks, he’s been playing more consistent, playing at a high level,” McDermott said. “Very focused in getting himself into a really good spot, I think, with not only knowing the defense, but just getting back to playing detail-oriented and fast.”

LB depth is better
The injury bug hit the Bills hard at linebacker last season, and the team had to call up A.J. Klein off the couch to start in the playoffs against Kansas City. The team depth looks better now, with free agents Deion Jones and Nick Morrow in the fold.

Jones, who has 91 career starts (mostly with Atlanta), got a ton of prime repetitions as Matt Milano was held out of 11-on-11 work. Morrow, who has 58 career starts, including 12 with the Eagles last year, was a spectator this week due to a minor injury. The Bills have 2023 third-round pick Dorian Williams and fifth-round rookie Eddie Ulofoshio in reserve, too.

Pittsford next
The Bills will report to training camp on July 23, and the first practice is July 24. NFL teams can report to camp 48 days before their opener. The Bills’ regular season starts on Sept. 8 at home against Arizona.

McDermott’s message as the players went on break:
“Make good decisions in this period of time until they come back to St. John Fisher, and be ready to go and be in shape because it’s going to be a challenging camp.”
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Love the photo caption “Josh Allen stretches…” no one in that pic is stretching. FAKE NEWS!