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Bills vs Titans: Rookie review

A couple of rookies were thrust into monster roles on Monday

It was another week of punishment for the Buffalo Bills as they stymied the Tennessee Titans and running back Derrick Henry. Just a ten-point lead at half for the Bills quickly bloomed to 34 in the third quarter. Thus, many of the starters took a seat for the entirety of the fourth frame. Plenty of rookies have had their fingerprints on the Bills’ rise to the class of the NFL. That was no different in this game, and well before garbage time even began.

CB Kaiir Elam

Once again, Elam didn’t start the game at corner. An scary injury to starting veteran cornerback Dane Jackson in the second quarter that involved him leaving in an ambulance quickly thrust Elam into the down-to-down lineup. Elam stepped up big-time in his opportunity with a key pass breakup and multiple run stops where he was put on an island against Derrick Henry and Tennessee’s pass catchers. He did appear to give up one catch in man-to-man coverage for a medium gain. Elam’s likely to start against the Miami Dolphins and the their explosive passing game this Sunday, barring a miraculous one-week recovery from Jackson.

RB James Cook

Cook barely played before garbage time for the Bills in Week 2. But his ball handling was much better and every touch he receives without putting the ball on the ground is going to earn Cook more trust with the coaching staff. Cook got a bunch of late-game carries, including a 33-yard pop on an I-Form toss sweep play to the boundary. The flashes exist for the second rounder, but he has yet to establish himself as even a third-down back in the offense. Perhaps his late-game performance on Monday night will earn him a few more touches when it matters.

LB Terrel Bernard

Bernard got some snaps as early as the first defensive drive when the Bills committed to slowing down the Derrick Henry show with three linebacker sets. It went as the depth chart shows with Bernard getting the run over veteran Tyrel Dodson when the defense wanted bigger bodies occupying the box. Bernard quietly had three tackles on the night, but his role diminished once the Buffalo’s defense realized they could slow down the Titans while playing in nickel. Bernard is much more likely to be involved in games where stopping the run is a priority challenge.

WR Khalil Shakir

Shakir was active with the surprise late ankle injury for wide receiver Gabe Davis. Despite being active, Jamison Crowder got the nod at punt returner and Shakir was consistently outsnapped by wide receiver Jake Kumerow—who made a couple of plays in the passing game. Shakir got a couple of uncatchable “targets” late in the game, but he was ineffective with his opportunity. Shakir may receive more time later in the season, but a healthy Bills receiving corps does not include him being a part of the rotation at this point.

CB Christian Benford

The sixth-rounder led the entire defense in snaps on Monday. Benford’s already looking extremely comfortable in coverage and as a tackler. One of the highlights of the night came on an outside run to Derrick Henry where Benford held the edge and obtained a solo tackle on Henry—chopping him down in the backfield for a loss. Benford continues to be a net positive for what is likely the best defense in the NFL as it stands today. A big test awaits against wide receivers Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and the rest of the Dolphins.

LB Baylon Spector

Spector was inactive for this game after being active in Week 1. He’s yet to receive a defensive rep and appears to be more of an insurance option on the defense in his rookie year rather than a contributor.