The Athletic: Bills OTAs: Cole Bishop’s bright future, Rasul Douglas’ absence, the Gable Steveson project


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If rookie safety Cole Bishop is in the starting lineup on opening day, then he will have earned it through new defensive coordinator Bobby Babich.

Although head coach Sean McDermott has expressed the need to lean on rookies sooner given Buffalo’s overturned roster, Babich this week explained nothing is given in their world.

“I’m probably not the easiest coach to be around when they’re rookies,” Babich said, “and the reason for that is if you can push them that hard when they first get here, then once they really get the idea of what we’re doing, then it really calms down for them.”

Babich, speaking Tuesday for the first time since being named defensive coordinator, actually was answering a question about linebacker Terrel Bernard, but the words certainly apply to Bishop, the second-round pick from Utah who is trying to fill the void left by former captains Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.

Bernard, a 2022 third-round draft choice from Baylor, replaced starting inside linebacker Tremaine Edmunds last year and led Buffalo with 143 tackles while recording 6.5 sacks, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

“There’s a sense of trust that has to be earned, right?” Babich said. “The coach has to show a player that you can help them grow and help them succeed, and, in turn, the player has to show that they can be trustworthy and we can give him the keys to the car and he’s going to drive it, and it’s going to be a smooth, smooth ride.”

Rookies don’t easily win McDermott’s trust right away. Only 16 of the 64 rookies who’ve played for him have started at least seven games, and 11 of those were before 2020. Two of the recent five were last year: right guard O’Cyrus Torrence started every game, while tight end Dalton Kincaid started 11.

Asked specifically about Bishop, Babich’s response was measured.

“I’ve seen a player that has a bright future, but he’s a rookie,” Babich said. “So there’s learning. There’s growth, and (safeties coach) Joe Danna is doing everything he can to get him as up to speed as possible.”


Rasul Douglas is entering the final year of a three-year contract. (Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

Source: Rasul Douglas’ absence not contract-related

Top cornerback Rasul Douglas, a gargantuan trade-deadline acquisition who helped the defense traverse a slew of defensive injuries down the homestretch, was the lone Bill to skip all offseason workouts.

That has led many to wonder if he’s upset about something or seeking a new contract.

A source who has been briefed about Douglas’ absence told The Athletic that it’s not connected to any contract concerns. The Bills are tight against the salary cap, but Douglas appears in line for a nice raise based on his game-breaking production. He is entering the final season of a three-year, $21 million contract that featured a $5.3 million signing bonus with the Green Bay Packers. His base salary will be $1.25 million.

That’s quite a turnaround for someone who from September 2020 to September 2021 was released by four teams and signed to the practice squad of a fifth before finding a home in Green Bay.

Buffalo traded a third-round draft choice to Green Bay for Douglas and a fifth-round pick that was used to select linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio.

In 10 Bills games, Douglas recorded four interceptions, including a pick-six, eight pass breakups, a forced fumble (at the Bills’ 11-yard line against the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs), two recoveries and a sack.

OTAs A-OK with Curtis Samuel

Don’t count receiver Curtis Samuel among those who’d like the NFL and NFLPA to do away with voluntary spring workouts.

For one, Samuel doesn’t mind them. For another, he detests the notion of adding days to training camp.

“Training camp longer? Ain’t it already a month and a half?” said Samuel, laughing. “We’ve got to go into the details about that because I don’t know. Training camp for two months sounds crazy. That might be a little excessive.

“OTAs aren’t bad. You get to come in and get to be around the guys. You put in work on the field, but you get to build that bond, that chemistry. That’s what you need to go far in the playoffs.”

Samuel is new to the Bills, although the eighth-year pro played for offensive coordinator Joe Brady with the Carolina Panthers. Samuel conceded veterans with established roles can get away with exercising their union rights by skipping OTAs, but suggested he’d never be one of those guys.

“If you’re an older guy, especially if you got new guys coming in, you still want to build that relationship with them,” Samuel said. “They may look to you for help and guidance. Being able to guide them is a good thing.”

Gable Steveson has teammates talking

Olympic wrestler and defensive tackle project Gable Steveson wouldn’t meet with reporters Tuesday, but he has been a topic of conversation at One Bills Drive all week.

Steveson, 24, hasn’t played a down of football in his life and had to be taught how to suit up in football gear.

“You talk about being the best at what you do,” defensive tackle Ed Oliver said. “He is literally the best at what he do. He done won a gold medal.

“We’re the National Football League, and when we win a Super Bowl it’s like we’re the best in the world, when, really, if somebody else had a football team we might not be the best in the world. But he literally competed against the world and won gold.”

McDermott, twice a high school national wrestling champ, spent time after Tuesday’s practice teaching Steveson how to fire out of a three-point stance and then how to perform basic pass-rushing maneuvers such as a rip move and the swim technique.

“He came in here (Monday), and I just had to try him a little bit, just try to grapple him a little bit,” edge rusher Von Miller said. “He was quick, and he grabbed me. I’m, like, ‘Ha ha! I see it! I feel it!’

“He’s definitely got all the athletic ability in the world. We got great coaches here, but it’s going to be on the coaches to really bring that out of him. I’m excited to see it.”

Oliver sounded at least a little skeptical Steveson could make the transition, but won’t count him out. National Wrestling Hall of Famers Carlton Haselrig and Stephen Neal didn’t play college football before becoming prominent offensive linemen for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots, respectively, but they at least played in high school.

Regardless of whether Steveson makes the roster or is willing to stick out this football experiment on the practice squad after so many years as a superstar — he already has given WWE a whirl and abandoned pro wrestling after the top promoter dropped him a month ago — Oliver sees value in simply being around such a dominant competitor.

“To have a guy of his caliber, just to around him from the mental aspect of what it takes to get in that arena when it’s just you?” Oliver said. “We go to war with 11 guys. He goes to war by himself. It’s just him and his opponent.”

Bobby Babich admits he doesn’t know if he’s ready

Babich was philosophical about the possibility he could call defensive plays for the first time in his career.

“Someone walked by me the other day in the building, like, ‘Hey, you’re ready for this,’” said Babich, “and this is my perspective: You’re never ready until you do it.”

McDermott still hasn’t decided whether he’ll continue calling plays or abdicate. Babich, 41 next month, has been McDermott’s assistant all seven seasons with the Bills and worked with him for two seasons on the Carolina Panthers’ defensive staff.

“You’re constantly trying to prepare yourself for when you get into this position,” said Babich, son of retired assistant coach Bob Babich, “but until you actually do something, you are never ready.

“So I don’t have the ego to sit up here and say ‘I’m ready this, that and the other.’ I’m vulnerable enough to say that I’m as prepared as I can possibly be, and I’m going to continue to learn every day, every part of this process. I’m going to continue to learn. I’m going to make mistakes at whatever that is that this job entails. It’s going to happen just like players make mistakes and like anybody new at a position makes mistakes.

“I’ve got a great mentor upstairs who I’ve been with for a multitude of years, who I can lean on, and I’m really, really, really excited for this opportunity, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win a Super Bowl. And that’s it, end of story.”