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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Buffalo Bills Training Camp Week 1: Arrow Up/Arrow Down

Written by John Sparaco

Training Camp is officially in full swing, meaning that all the drama surrounding the 2021 Buffalo Bills becomes nothing more than outside noise now for those inside the team facilities. Despite the circumstances, the Bills reportedly put together some strong showings this week, as expected for a team of their caliber. Among the highlights has been the offense, led by Josh Allen, who was excellent for all but one day of practice this week. Too much stake should not be put into practice results, especially this early into camp, but here are the early trends based on performances this past week:

Arrow Up:

WR Jake Kumerow

Alluding to the drama mentioned before, Jake Kumerow has managed to find his name caught up in one of the NFL’s biggest storylines this offseason. Interestingly enough, the drama has little to do with Kumerow specifically, but instead, his former QB, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. 

Rodgers had been feuding with Packers management all offseason long, casting doubt over his future with the organization until recently, when both sides came to a resolution right before camp. Among Rodgers’ biggest complaints was the lack of input he was given regarding roster decisions, including the decision to release Kumerow last season.

“If you’re going to cut a guy who was our second-best wide receiver in training camp last year, maybe run it by me,” said Rodgers, in reference to that very decision as he spoke candidly to the media at training camp.

All things considered, this is very high praise coming from arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. By no means was Kumerow a superstar for the Packers, but his performance was enough to impress Rodgers and make him somewhat of a folk hero to fans in Green Bay. Kumerow was nicknamed ‘Touchdown Jesus’ by the cheeseheads, referencing his long brown hair and knack for finding the end zone. 

That nickname has since followed him to Buffalo, and early reports out of Bills camp seem to be justifying the high praise from both fans and Rodgers. Kumerow has been one of the biggest rising stars in Week 1 of camp, positioning him out in front for that sixth receiver spot. 

Many joked that the Bills should attempt to bait Green Bay, who is understandably desperate to keep Rodgers happy, into sending high draft compensation in exchange for Kumerow. However, if Kumerow keeps up this level of performance, Buffalo may be better off holding onto him no matter what. That is assuming, of course, Green Bay does not actually make a “Godfather offer” to pry him away.

Both Rookie DE’s

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo’s front office invested a ton in their pass rush during this year’s draft, spending both their first and second round picks on defensive ends. Based on the early reports out of One Bills Drive, the team is already seeing an early payout from those decisions.

First-round selection Greg Rousseau has been able to take a bulk of the reps with the first-team defense since Jerry Hughes was placed on the non-football injury list with a strained calf. Rousseau flashed his high-upside on several occasions, including one play where he blew past his blocker for what would have been a blindside sack on Mitchell Trubisky, had he not been wearing his red non-contact jersey.

As for Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham, the Bills’ second-round pick made arguably the highlight of camp so far when he batted Josh Allen’s pass into the air at the line-of-scrimmage, catching it and returning it to the house for a pick-six. Bills Safety Micah Hyde joked that he wanted to send Brandon Beane flowers for bringing these two in to help out the defense, and it is easy to see why.

DE Efe Obada

Prior to the draft, Efe Obada was the most notable addition to Buffalo’s defensive line this offseason. Since Rousseau and Basham were brought in however, the attention given to the international journeyman seemed to wear off as camp neared.

Despite the lack of fanfare, the intrigue over Obada’s fit has made a resurgence this past week, as he has strung together multiple impressive practices to this point. Obada has the versatility to play both inside and outside, presenting the opportunity for Buffalo to utilize his size, strength, and speed to create mismatches for opposing offenses. Should his strong performance continue, his versatility should help give him an edge towards earning a roster spot.

WR Emmanuel Sanders

The former Super Bowl Champion and two-time Pro Bowler has been as good as advertised early on in camp. Emmanuel Sanders signed a one-year, $6 million deal with Buffalo this offseason with the idea of winning another Super Bowl in mind. At 34 years old, it appears that the star wideout is not planning on slowing down anytime soon.

During OTA’s, Sanders was still working on getting on the same page with his new quarterback, Josh Allen, but their chemistry seems to have progressed significantly since. Allen has had no trouble connecting with Sanders, whose route running and hands appear to be as smooth as ever. Adding a receiver with Sanders’ winning pedigree and reliability is already looking to be a very valuable decision in the early stages.

RB Zack Moss

The running back competition between Zack Moss and Devin Singletary is off to a hot start, according to reports out of One Bills Drive. Both entering training camp with chips on their shoulders after a disappointing 2020 season statistically for the rushing offense, it looks like the duo is determined to restore respect for Buffalo’s run game. 

Moss and Singletary have both looked sharp while splitting reps to this point, but it has been Moss that has especially impressed following his season-ending ankle injury last season. Moss has flashed over and over again during practice, which is a great sign for his health and progression.

Since pads are off, it is difficult to truly evaluate who is ahead of whom at this point. At this rate, it may not matter who is named the starter, but Moss’ stock is definitely rising.

Arrow Down:

CB Dane Jackson

(AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

Once again, it is important to reiterate that there is no reason to overreact to practice performances, especially this early in camp. However, given that most eyes are watching the CB2 competition closely this summer, any dips in performance will be noted.

Dane Jackson has not been bad at all, based on the limited reports given from practices closed to the public. In fact, he was terrific on day one. Since then, his performance has been up and down, while fourth-year corner Levi Wallace has shown more consistency to this point. Still, there is plenty of time for Jackson to bounce back, both during practice and preseason action.

This will likely change on a week-to-week basis, but as things stand today, Wallace holds the early edge for the starting job opposite Tre’Davious White.

OT Bobby Hart

Despite being a relatively minor depth signing when it was announced, the decision to bring in Bobby Hart was immediately met with resistance by Bills fans online. Hart has plenty of starting experience in the NFL, which is typically considered a positive thing to have with depth players. However, Bills fans are concerned by the warnings from fans of Hart’s previous teams, the Giants and Bengals.

Hart has the tools to be a solid o-lineman, but his work ethic was put in question after seemingly taking off plays in the past, leaving his quarterbacks exposed to massive hits. 

Hart was reportedly moving well and engaged in quite a few strong battles against second-year DE A.J. Epenesa, but once he was asked to fill in at first-team left tackle for Dion Dawkins, who is out due to COVID protocols, things took a turn for the worse. He reportedly got beaten very badly on quite a few plays, showcasing the lapses in performance that has made fans worried.

Everyone Competing Against Isaiah McKenzie for KR Duties

This one is less about what the competition is not doing, but more so what Isaiah McKenzie has been doing. Buffalo brought in Marquez Stevenson, Brandon Powell, and Lance Lenoir to compete with McKenzie for full-time returning duties this offseason, but all signs so far point towards McKenzie holding firmly onto that job.

McKenzie has worn many hats with the Bills offense, thriving as a traditional slot receiver, gadget player, return man, and more. His consistency has continued to shine in all phases of the game during practice this summer, all but solidifying the expectation that he will reclaim the fifth wide receiver spot as well as full-time kick/punt return duties. It is still early, but McKenzie has already built up a two-year plus head start.

Considering that only three practices will be open to the public this summer, it will be more difficult than usual to keep up with the latest on every camp battle. Until preseason games get underway, these updates will primarily depend on the reports provided by those who are granted access to every practice.

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