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Isaiah McKenzie the biggest standout of first half of Bills’ training camp

The “Face of the Franchise” is stepping up in a big way

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Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills re-signed Isaiah McKenzie this offseason and released Cole Beasley, opening the door for an increased role for the slot receiver. They also signed veteran Jamison Crowder to compete for the role, and with Crowder’s long track record, most folks thought he had the edge. Since minicamp, McKenzie has seized the role and not looked back.

In June at mandatory minicamp, reporters kept trickling out that McKenzie and his great relationship with QB Josh Allen were winning reps in practice against the defense. During training camp, McKenzie has been a highlight reel waiting to happen from day to day, turning defenders inside-out and scoring touchdowns during virtually every practice. Even the usually guarded head coach, Sean McDermott, said it’s going to be a challenge when teams begin to game plan for McKenzie as he is “potentially stepping into a full-time role.”

Aiding in his ascension has been an injury to Crowder. The veteran was there for the opening practice of camp but missed a week after that with “general soreness.” He was limited on Monday and worked with the second-team on Tuesday.

For his part, McKenzie knows the camp battle isn’t over.

“Job’s up for grabs,” McKenzie said Tuesday regarding the slot receiver role. “Jamison Crowder came in, and he’s had a great career. He came in to compete with me, and I came back to compete with him. I know it wasn’t going to be easy, and I know it’s not easy now.”

There have only been a few padded practices to this point, and that could be what allows Crowder to get back into the competition. We’ve seen plenty of receivers stand out during the helmet practices to only get swallowed up when the pads come on.

On Tuesday, Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic and Matt Parrino of both wrote that Crowder was beating cornerbacks during one-on-one drills using his quickness. He has a significant history in the NFL, and even with subpar QB play has put up some good numbers consistently. It’s best not to write him off just yet.

Rookie Khalil Shakir has also been impressive working both in the slot and outside, but it would be a major upset if he got into the competition before the start of the regular season.