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The ABCs of Buffalo Bills training camp

Everything you need to know, from Josh Allen to Zay Jones and everything in between

For a football team like the Buffalo Bills, training camp and the preseason offer a foundation for a season. So, what better way to break down that foundation than through the ABCs?

They are something taught in elementary school, but they form the basis for a lot of what people do for the rest of their lives. Texting, e-mailing, tweeting, etc., are possible due to the foundation the ABCs provide.

Sing along with me ...

Josh Allen

Was there any question this would be the A? One of the biggest stories of training camp and the season as a whole will be what the Bills do with their No. 1 pick.

As of this writing, the biggest story is that Allen hasn’t signed his contract yet (Editor’s Note: Allen signed his contract on 7/25). If the Wyoming product misses time because of the contract issue, that instantly becomes the story of camp. Assuming he does sign in time for camp, how does he look? Bills fans should expect some ups and downs seeing as he will be learning in his first season. Worth watching: does he learn from mistakes, or does he continually make the same blunders?

Brandon Beane

As we all recall, last preseason Beane made several splashes, trading away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby. That showed Bills fans that regardless of time and place, Beane is always looking for opportunities to improve the team.

So what does the second-year GM have in mind this preseason? There are glaring holes at wide receiver and with depth along the offensive line. Will Beane make another big trade to bolster those positions, or will he add bodies via the waiver wire?

Regardless of how these things are addressed, Beane will make this a intriguing camp for sure.


The Bills suffered an unexpected loss when Eric Wood was forced to retire because of a neck injury. Wood was an unquestioned leader of the team and provided solid play on the interior.

Buffalo brought in former Cincinnati Bengals starter Russell Bodine, who inspires little confidence. More intriguing is Ryan Groy, who admirably filled in for Wood a few years ago.

Sean McDermott will allow the two to battle it out, which makes the center position one to keep an eye on throughout camp and the preseason.

Dion Dawkins

Entering just his second season, Dawkins is the unquestioned best player on the offensive line, and by all accounts, he has taken the leadership mantle following the departures of Wood and Richie Incognito.

Dawkins’s ability to handle the left tackle position gave Beane the confidence to trade Cordy Glenn to the Bengals, which ultimately was what allowed the Bills to move up to select Allen.

The thing to keep an eye on for Dawkins early on is his level of play. Will it remain at a high level, or will a year of professional tape allow opponents to figure him out in his second year? Last year, he had veterans around him to help him through his rookie season. He is now who newer players will look to, and he will be expected to lead by example.

Tremaine Edmunds

Edmunds is the player the Bills didn’t think they had a chance to draft, but were excited to select with their second pick in the first round.

A lot will be asked of the Virginia Tech product in his first season. He is expected to start at middle linebacker and rarely leave the field. There is no question that Edmunds has all the physical tools to be an impact player, but will it take time for him to adjust to the speed of the NFL?

Even when Edmunds makes the mistakes all young players make, his speed and athleticism will make him fun to watch.


Let’s be honest, to the casual football fan, the Bills are known for their crazy fans.

Whether it be jumping through a burning table, having condiments sprayed onto them, or doing unspeakable things in the stands, Buffalo fans are infamous for their unruly behavior.

Given that, be on the lookout for viral videos during the Bills’ preseason slate, particularly during their matchup against the Bengals, which is a nationally televised one.

Good fortune

This may seem odd, but when you boil down goals of training camp and the preseason, at the top of the list (or second) is health. Beginning the regular season with few, if any, injuries is ideal, and much of that will boil down to good fortune.

You see it all the time during camp: video of a player falling to the ground with no contact. It happened to Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill last year. It happened to former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater the previous year. It happens to big name players every year. Good fortune may be the most important aspect of the preseason.

Harrison Phillips

It is hard to look at Phillips and not think of the beloved Kyle Williams. While they do look similar, what they do on the field is different.

The Stanford alum is more of a run-stuffing defensive tackle (one-technique), while Williams is more of a penetrator (three-technique). Expecting the big splash plays from Phillips because that is what Kyle has been known for is a mistake.

Even without the splash plays, watching Phillips will be worthwhile because anchoring against college offensive lineman is different than doing so against an NFL unit. With the Bills heavily rotating defensive lineman, Phillips should be more than ready to hold his ground in year one.

Chris Ivory

Many fans are happy to see Mike Tolbert gone (myself included), but I wasn’t thrilled with signing the 30-year-old former Jacksonville Jaguars running back. While youth would have been great to acquire at the position, Ivory in theory should be a better No. 2 option than Tolbert was.

Depending on what happens with McCoy and his legal issues, Ivory could end up seeing a lot of touches, which could be a mistake. Ideally, Ivory sees 7-10 touches a game and can just hammer defenses when Shady needs a break. Requiring 17-20 touches from Ivory would mean the offense is in real trouble.

Jim Kelly

Admit it: you cried like the rest of us when watching Jim Kelly’s speech at the ESPYs. What is worth monitoring is his follow-up appointment with doctors. Kelly said that he will have to make an unexpected trip to his doctor after something came up. Our thoughts and prayers will be with him and his family.

Jeremy Kerley

It is almost universally accepted that the Bills’ wide receivers are one of the bottom three units, if not the worst, in the NFL. While an influx of talent is definitely needed, Kerley could open some eyes in camp.

The former New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers pass-catcher has 268 career receptions for 3,109 yards and 13 touchdowns. Two years ago, Kerley had his best season, hauling in 64 passes for 667 yards and 3 scores. Kerley won’t be expected to be the No. 1 wideout, but he could excel in a supporting role as the team’s primary slot receiver.

What needs to be observed in training camp is what kind of connection he can establish with the quarterbacks. If he stays healthy, Kerley could approach his 2016 numbers, which would be a big boost to a lackluster Bills offense.

Shaq Lawson

Entering year three of his young career, Lawson has a lot to prove. The former first round pick has been a bust, and given Beane’s history of wheeling and dealing, anything other than a strong camp could result in Lawson’s moving on.

In his favor, it seems as if Lawson is in the best shape of his career. He also knows that he has to earn his keep this year. Regardless of whether he plays well or is invisible, Lawson’s is a story to watch this training camp.

LeSean McCoy

The storylines are abundant when it comes to Shady McCoy. The biggest question is easy to identify: What happens with the robbery and assault accusations? As of this writing, there is no punishment in line for McCoy, but as NFL fans know, Roger Goodell can essentially punish how he sees fit.

If Shady is able to avoid any legal problems, the next question is whether he finally starts to show signs of age and wear. McCoy just turned 30 this summer, and that seems to the magic number for running backs falling off a cliff statistically.

Given his age and importance, the Bills would be wise to limit Shady’s reps during the preseason and camp.

National Anthem

I didn’t want to include this, but it is impossible to avoid this topic in today’s NFL. Players will be asked about the topic and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, Bills leadership has to say.

Following the backlash against Miami’s leaked anthem policy, the NFL and NFLPA have put a freeze on any rules and procedures, but in the coming weeks, expect some news to come out. When it does, it will dominate headlines and discussion.

Offensive Coordinator

Aside from his family and friends, there were few tears shed when head coach Sean McDermott axed offensive coordinator Rick Dennison. Throughout 2017, Dennison showed a stubbornness with players (Tolbert) and little to no feel for actually calling a game (Jacksonville playoff game).

Enter Brian Daboll. Daboll was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Alabama last year, and he worked with the Patriots from 2013-2016. He has been an NFL offensive coordinator three times before, making stops with the Cleveland Browns (2009-2010), the Miami Dolphins (2011), and the Kansas City Chiefs (2012).

Daboll has expressed a willingness to be flexible with his offense. If he puts that into practice, it will make the Bills offense harder to game plan against. It will also put the emphasis on the players, where it belongs, rather than on a scheme.

Ultimately, he will be judged on what he coaxes out of the quarterback position, especially as it relates to Josh Allen’s development.

Nathan Peterman

Most of the attention will be given to A.J. McCarron and Allen by both fans and the talking heads.

Thanks to his dreadful performance against the Los Angeles Chargers last year, Peterman enters this season with little to no expectations, which may be the best thing for the second-year signal caller.

In spring work, Peterman reportedly played at a high level. With no pressure, it will hopefully allow him to let loose.

Don’t be surprised if Peterman ends up under center in Week 1.


I am going to cheat a little here because quickness covers a couple of different things that will be key in training camp.

First, quickness refers to how fast the offensive line gels. Perhaps more than any other position group in football, the offensive line has to be a cohesive unit to be successful. With the losses of Glenn, Incognito and Wood, the line will need to gel quickly.

Secondly, quickness is talking about the linebackers. Edmunds and Matt Milano will presumably be in the starting lineup from the start and offer athleticism and, you guessed it, quickness that wasn’t evident in Week 1 last year.

Lastly, quick is hopefully what describes the resolution of the quarterback competition. Ideally, one of the three quarterbacks will quickly rise above the other two, which would allow the first string offense to start working as a whole towards Week 1.

Run defense

The Bills’ secondary in 2017 was top notch. Poyer, Hyde and White all performed at a Pro Bowl level.

The run defense, however, was anything but stellar. The Bills allowed nearly 125 yards rushing a game, and they were the fourth-worst unit overall against the run, allowing 1,994 rushing yards in total.

Beane and McDermott realized those shortcomings and spent a lot of offseason resources on fixing it. Drafting Phillips and Edumunds, coupled with the free agent signings of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and defensive end Trent Murphy were big steps, on paper, to make the run defense less like swiss cheese.

Paper isn’t reliable though, and while game-planning is essentially nonexistent in preseason, an ability to stop the run is something that can be seen easily. Aside from the quarterback competition, this is what intrigues me the most about the preseason and training camp.

St. John Fisher College

As they have for the entire 21st century, the Bills will once again host training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y.

The Bills’ first camp practice is July 26th (tickets are required), and the final practice open to the public without a ticket is August 15.

Tre’Davious White

As all Bills fans know, White was the true defensive rookie of the year. He had a better season than Marshon Lattimore did for the Saints.

Seriously though, White was about as good as anyone could have imagined last year, and he can only improver heading into his sophomore campaign.

A couple of times this offseason, White was visibly upset with being left out of “best of” categories (thank you social media) and it will be intriguing to see if that provides a proverbial chip on his shoulder for 2018. Anything that keeps the LSU product motivated is OK with me.


Coming off a shocking playoff berth, not much has changed when it comes to how national outlets view the Bills.

Most national brands have the Bills finishing third or fourth in the AFC East Division with 5 wins or less, a clear step back from last season’s 9-7 campaign.

Will the preseason and training camp support the “under performing” predictions of the talking heads, or will Buffalo remain in [lime]light?

Vladimir Ducasse

Thank goodness the Bills have some key players who have less-common letters in their names!

Ducasse was not a fan favorite in 2017, and he was often mentioned when discussing Buffalo and the formula for compensatory draft picks (i.e., should he be cut).

Regardless of what the fans thought, McDermott and his staff thought enough of him to have him start 12 games in 2017.

With a new offensive coordinator and system, however, can Ducasse hold on to his starting position, or will John Miller return to his rookie form and stake his claim to the right guard position? Ducasse also has experience at left guard, so his placement along the line will be worth watching throughout camp and the preseason.

Kyle Williams

In what could be his final training camp, Kyle Williams is a player to watch simply because he is the heart and soul of the team.

The 35-year-old, 13-year veteran came back presumably to build off of last season’s unexpected playoff surge, but more may be less for the LSU product.

Kyle isn’t the player he used to be (an unpopular declaration in these parts, I know), but he can be highly effective with limited reps. It is what the Carolina Panthers do with Julius Peppers to great effect.

With the aforementioned additions to the defensive line, it will be interesting to see how reps are distributed.


Every year there are players who step up and deliver performances beyond what anyone expected (Jordan Poyer in 2017, for example). So, figuring out who that player (or players) will be is always an exciting part of the preseason and training camp.

I already mentioned Kerley and Peterman as a possible X-factors, but some other players who may make a name for themselves in 2018 include John Miller, Brandon Reilly, and Ryan Groy.

Eddie Yarbrough

Last year’s feel good story in the preseason and training camp was defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. After earning a roster spot, Yarbrough played all 16 games for the Bills in 2017, recording 34 total tackles, two passes defended, and a sack.

While other members of the defensive line steal the headlines, I think Yarbrough is a strong candidate to continue his upward trend. With one full season already in the defense, he could put up even better numbers than he did last year.

Will Yarbrough demonstrate the same tenacity and drive he did while trying to prove himself last year? That is the question, and I think it’s a strong likelihood he never loses that chip on his shoulder.

Zay Jones

Zay makes this letter easy to choose. The second-year wideout struggled in his first year, but after the season it was revealed he played through a torn labrum in his shoulder and then he also needed knee surgery.

When will Jones be healthy? He showed great grit by playing through the labrum injury, but having two surgeries on two separate body parts in one offseason is always a cause for concern. He will begin training camp on the non-football injury list.

The second thing to watch is if Jones has made strides, particularly when it comes to holding on to the ball. What will make that difficult is the surgeries listed above. It is difficult to build a rapport with anyone when you are recovering from surgeries.

Bills fans just have to hope that the flashes Zay provided last year become more of the norm.