The Athletic: Bills minicamp: Khalil Shakir joins growing injury list, but Matt Milano ramping up


Staff member

Josh Allen is going through mandatory minicamp for the seventh time since the Buffalo Bills drafted him in 2018. Much of this is old hat after racking up 220 total touchdowns and leading Buffalo to the playoffs five straight years.

And yet Allen is trying to find another edge this offseason. He again worked with Chris Hess, a sports scientist who assists Allen’s private quarterbacks coach, Jordan Palmer. Hess can use biometrics to digitally map a quarterback’s throws and find ways to create a more efficient throwing motion.

“I wouldn’t call it a complete overhaul of my throwing motion,” Allen said after mandatory minicamp opened Tuesday, “but definitely some things to work on and clean up, getting a little long with my arm and my stride. I’m just trying to clean that up, and anytime you go through something like that, sometimes it’s going to feel really good, and sometimes it’s going to feel not so good.

“It’s like changing a swing in golf. As long as you’re trusting it and working on it each and every day, results will come.”

Allen has done this before. Entering the NFL, Allen’s accuracy and throwing mechanics were two major points of focus. He laughed when thinking back to his days at Wyoming. Sometimes when Allen is on YouTube, a highlight from college will pop up and he wonders, “Who is that?”

“It’s kind of gross to look at it sometimes,” Allen said. “I don’t think it’s as gross anymore.”

He called the transformation he has made since then, “night and day.” So that makes it more plausible Allen can continue to refine and tweak his throwing motion as he ages in the NFL. His body won’t always respond the way it did when he was in his early 20s, so staying on top of his mechanics will only get more important as the years go by.

Allen explained his injuries last season impacted his mechanics slightly, and he could feel the difference even with a few small adjustments this spring.

“There’s inefficiencies that every quarterback can find,” Allen said. “You show me the perfect thrower and I can find something wrong with him probably.”

Allen also pointed out that he’s always working on ways to deal with the pressure that comes with his status as the face of the franchise and one of the stars of the NFL. That seems as critical as ever given the Bills have reset their salary cap to the point where Allen will have to do more with less. He’s working with an inexperienced group of receivers, many of whom he’s never thrown to before. And the pressure to win a Super Bowl is ever present in Buffalo.

“Just making sure I have teammates and coaching staff to rely on when things get a little heavy,” Allen said. “(Team sports psychologist Dr. Desaree Festa) talked about some mindset stuff today in our team meeting. It was a good reminder. It doesn’t matter who you are; you have to make sure your mentals are right and work on that as much as the physical stuff.”

Maybe these seem like minor details in the grand scheme of things for the Bills. But down in Florham Park, N.J., the Jets were going through minicamp without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, skipping with an unexcused absence after missing all of last season with an Achilles injury.

As much turnover as the Bills are dealing with heading into next season, they have stability in the player and person at their most important position. That’s not something to take for granted.

Matt Milano making strides

Good news finally was delivered about linebacker Matt Milano’s status.

Fans have been worried about the former All-Pro’s broken right leg since he sustained it in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London eight months ago. Milano participated in Tuesday’s practice, albeit on a limited basis.

“Just his presence is felt,” linebacker Terrel Bernard said. “Me and him have been working all offseason with our communication, building our bond, really trying to see things the exact same way. To be able to go out there and have some 11-on-11 time, individual-drill time to where we’re working together, it felt great, honestly.”

Over Milano’s past 22 games, including playoffs, he recorded 149 tackles, 17 for losses, 4.5 sacks, 12 QB hits, five interceptions, a pick-six, 14 pass breakups, one forced fumble and two recoveries.

“I feel like he’s even more focused — if that’s even possible – now in wanting to get out there for himself, but also for his teammates,” McDermott said.

McDermott stressed the Bills will be cautious in minicamp and didn’t sound totally convinced Milano will have the brightest of green lights when training camp opens at St. John Fisher University.

“One day at a time,” McDermott said, “and hopefully tomorrow, if overnight things stay managed, then we’ll continue to build through the break that we’re going to go on. Then, hopefully in training camp, he’s at a spot where, when we open up, he’s available. It’s just a matter of … trying to put practices back to back”

Bills already banged up

Right tackle Spencer Brown and safety Mike Edwards also were limited Tuesday.

Unable to practice because of injuries the club doesn’t need to disclose this time of year: tailbacks Ty Johnson and Ray Davis, fullback Reggie Gilliam and linebackers Baylon Spector, Dorian Williams, Edefuan Ulofoshio and Nicholas Morrow.

To give the squad enough bodies to maximize minicamp, Buffalo brought in running back Hassan Hall and linebackers Stephen Hillis and Shaquille Quarterman to participate on a tryout basis. Quarterman is the only one among them with NFL experience. He played all 17 games last year for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but took only eight defensive snaps.

“Unfortunately, we got hit with the injury bug here,” McDermott said before Tuesday’s practice. “That affects availability, which affects some of the development, building trust, especially if you’re a new player.

“We’re just dealing with it. We’ve had to cut back on some of the third-group reps over the last week or so and we might have to do the same today.”

McDermott said cornerback Christian Benford was excused “to handle a family matter.”

Benford was the lone absence. That means the only Bill to miss every voluntary workout, cornerback Rasul Douglas, reported for his mandatory duty.

Khalil Shakir is the only Bills receiver to have caught a pass from Josh Allen in a game. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

Wide receiver update

After McDermott stressed that getting through minicamp healthy would be part of what would make the next few days successful, top returning receiver Khalil Shakir left practice early with an apparent injury and didn’t return.

Shakir is Buffalo’s only receiver to have caught a pass from Allen in a game. Shakir’s absence left more reps to go around for a long list of newcomers trying to stick on the 53-man roster.

Andy Isabella, a training camp darling last summer, made a few impressive grabs from Allen during team drills, while Mitchell Trubisky leaned heavily on Chase Claypool during the team portion of practice.

“He’s a big body who can run very fast,” Allen said of Claypool. “He’s been making plays downfield for us and seems like he’s very bought-in to the system right now and vibing with the guys.

“Being in his position and what he’s done throughout his career, there’s been some pretty high highs and some pretty low lows. He’s got the right mindset right now. He’s coming out and he’s working extremely hard. Guys understand that and see that. He’s doing the little things right right now.”

Buffalo’s receiver depth chart seems like it will be a guessing game until training camp and preseason games sort it out. Curtis Samuel was the big-ticket offseason addition, and the team made receiver Keon Coleman their top draft choice. Beyond those two and Shakir, roles are up for grabs.

Sean McDermott says these Bills more unselfish

For the second year in a row, receiver Stefon Diggs was absent on the first day of Bills mandatory minicamp.

Last year, the Bills became the NFL’s main story in the middle of June when Diggs wasn’t on the practice field, and McDermott proceeded to say he was “concerned” about the absence. That set off a few days of avoidable drama in the marriage between Diggs and the Bills.

The relationship ended with an April trade to the Houston Texans, and the Bills are starting the next chapter of McDermott’s tenure with a lot of new players and coaches. McDermott was asked what he’s liked about the “synergy” from so many new faces.

“I’ve loved it,” McDermott replied.” Everyone’s focused, it seems. Although it is spring and sometimes guys have things going on outside of football this time of year, you respect that. But when they’ve been here they’ve been focused and working well together and really more of an unselfish approach I would say.”

Unselfish felt like an intentional word choice and one that could be a theme this version of the Bills harps on. The roster lost some star power when the Bills traded Diggs, but maybe that unselfish approach will help the Bills get more out of the offense as a whole. They at least have to be glad the focus is elsewhere during this minicamp.

Damar Hamlin surging

McDermott agreed with a reporter’s assessment that safety Damar Hamlin was a bright spot in OTAs.

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

Hamlin was a healthy scratch for all but five games last season and didn’t start any. Prior to his cardiac arrest in January 2023, Hamlin played in every game and started 13 while captains Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer dealt with injuries.