There was no trip down the I-90 to St. John Fisher and no hoard of screaming, raucous fans, but the Bills officially kicked off training camp at their home facilities on July 28.
Naturally, the continuing presence of COVID-19 and the ensuing protocols were a focus on Day One. General manager Brandon Beane provided an update regarding the team’s vaccination numbers, and touched on several other topics before the team took to the field.
“We’re just over 80 percent that have at least one shot,” Beane said. “We’ve had a lot of guys over the summer that have continued to research, and that’s all we were trying to do is educate them. Some guys in the middle of summer, some guys even yesterday showed up and said, ‘You know what, I think I do want to start that process.’
“We’re still dealing with this, we’re still learning it. It’s been a tough situation for our country and it’s no different here. We’ve been trying to educate our guys, all through back in May and June. Our guys have done a really good job of listening and trying to educate themselves. Are we 100 percent? No, but a lot of guys have made that decision. We’ve had an uptick of guys that have at least got one shot. So we’ll continue to educate. At the end of the day, we’re not going to force it on any of our players or any of our staff. That’s a personal decision. And that’s how the organization will handle it going forward.”
After the Bills finished practice, Cole Beasley — who has been outspoken in his thoughts against the vaccine — read from a prepared statement for two minutes and 30 seconds. Beasley stressed that he wasn’t anti- or pro-vaccination, and that he was “pro choice,” while criticizing the league and NFLPA’s transparency on the issue. Then he released a rap song in which he says there “ain’t a vaccination” for him, calling into question the sincerity of his previous statement.
Josh Allen said afterwards that he doesn’t believe the issue will affect the team or divide the players in the locker room.
“Guys have different opinions, they have different thoughts, ideas,” Allen said. “Again, everyone’s entitled to that. If guys want to get it, great. If guys don’t want to get it, great. Nobody looks at the guys who aren’t getting it as a distraction or not wanting to help this team win. Everybody’s in the same boat here. We’re all going with one heartbeat and that’s helping the Buffalo Bills win football games and ultimately try to win a championship.”
“At the end of the day we’re professionals. We’re going to do what our job entails and follow the rules and guidelines on both sides.”
Buffalo had two players — left tackle Dion Dawkins and guard Ike Boettger — miss the start of camp after testing positive. Jerry Hughes opened camp on the non-football injury list after suffering a calf strain in training.
On the field, the Bills picked up right where they left off at the end of last season. Josh Allen was terrific, firing the ball all over the field with ease. His best throw of the day came on an improvisational effort; Allen escaped the pass rush and connected with Stefon Diggs in the middle of the end zone after Diggs shook free from Tre’Davious White on an improvisational move of his own.
Even with the strong initial showing, Allen isn’t taking the offense’s success for granted.
“Everybody understands it’s a brand new season,” Allen said. “Whatever we did doesn’t translate to what we’re going to do this year. It’s a new team. We’ve got completely new pieces. Honestly we’re bringing back a lot of people, but when you substitute and add a couple pieces here and there it changes the whole dynamic of the thing. That’s why we’re coming out here we’re going to bust our tails and try to be the best team we can be. Our defense is going to be fun to go against in training camp because they’re moving around, they’re flying. You saw that today. They’re bringing some things. It’s good to get that on Day One. Hopefully it’s an eye-opener for some guys here, just seeing how we work and how we compete as a team. It’s really an iron sharpens iron mentality and it’s fun to be part of.”
Both Allen and the Bills said there was no update regarding a possible contract extension, but Allen said that status wouldn’t affect him at all.
“I’m just trying to be the best quarterback I can be for this team,” Allen said. “It happens or it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to change my approach to be the best teammate, the best leader I can be for this team and this organization. My focus is on football. I know it’s mundane and you get that answer over and over again, but it’s honestly the least of my worries whether it gets done or not. We’re here to win a Super Bowl. I can’t focus on those things and feel like I can come out here and feel like I can be the best possible teammate, quarterback I can be. My focus is completely on the field.”
Said Beane: “Josh is in a great headspace and he’s ready to roll and if for some reason we’re able to get something done, I’ll definitely make sure you guys know. We’re also fine if it doesn’t get done this year, and I said that all along. Josh is in a great headspace, he and I have a great relationship, and he’s ready to roll this season. He’’s letting his representatives do their job and like I said if something happens, that’s great, if it doesn’t, we’ll focus on the season, and we’ll pick it up next year. ... There’s no momentum or anything like that. He and I’ve had great conversations since we’ve been back here, and he’s focused out here. And if something were to get done, we’d be excited but if not, we both know that we’ll work hard next year to get it done.”
On defense, both Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson got off to a hot start to their competition for the No. 2 cornerback job with a pair of pass breakups. And the new-look defensive line absolutely looked bigger and stronger following the additions of rookies Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham, as well as the returning Star Lotulelei.
“Brandon Beane knows what to do with it,” defensive tackle Ed Oliver said of the retooled defensive line. “He got two guys this year and A.J. (Epenesa) last year. I can’t say enough about Boogie and Greg. Those guys came in and from day one they were hard at work. And A.J. from this offseason looks like a totally different player this year. I can’t say enough about those guys, they came in ready to work.”
It didn’t take very long for Emmanuel Sanders to be wowed by his new quarterback.
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