PITTSFORD, NY (WKBW) – As far as training camp is concerned for the 2017 Buffalo Bills, it’s now just a fading memory. The Bills wrapped up camp for the first time with new head coach Sean McDermott, as the entire operation now picks up and heads to Orchard Park for the remainder of the year.
As is the tradition here on WKBW.com, at the conclusion of training camp we hand out the annual ‘Training Camp Awards’ to the players that stood out for the right, and the wrong reasons this summer. To the awards we go!
Flying Up the Depth Chart: DE Eddie Yarbrough
– Seriously, could this have gone to anyone else? #FreeEddieYarbrough has been a revelation for the Bills in training camp this summer. He went from being a third-team afterthought to a tough out for the third-team offensive line that made plays every day, then to a second-team defender that continued to make plays, and now he’s to the point that he is nearing lock status for the 53-man roster, and could even have carved out a nice rotational role once the regular season actually gets here. Eddie Yarbrough is the very definition of the ‘Flying Up the Depth Chart’ award. And with his story of being cut by both the Denver Broncos and not even cutting it in the CFL last year, it is impossible for fans not to root for someone like him.
Failed to Impress: G Vladimir Ducasse
– One of the Bills’ free agent signings this past offseason, they had hoped Ducasse would challenge John Miller for the starting right guard job — and even present the option to be versatile enough to kick outside if they’re in a pinch. What we’ve seen, for much of training camp, is Ducasse struggling at the right guard spot — now to the point where it’s John Miller getting all the time with the first-team offense. Ducasse needs to have a strong end to his preseason, especially with how strongly he figures into the formula to yield a high compensatory selection if he wants to make the 53-man roster outright.
Best Fight: All of Day 14
– As training camp fights go, we didn’t see any action until the second-to-last day — Monday — of the summer workouts at St. John Fisher College. But when the dam broke, Day 14 was flooded with high intensity and post-whistle activity between offensive players and defenders. A lot of the big names were involved, including Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Eric Wood, Richie Incognito, Jordan Mills, Jerel Worthy, and heck, even Tyrod Taylor was taking issue with Hughes after one play. While not a single player actually threw punches throughout the practice, there was a whole lot of pushing and shoving to be shared on that day. It was, by and large, the most intense day of camp.
Most Memorable Moment: Sean McDermott’s fiery mid-practice speech
– The two are probably linked together, but all the skirmishes from Day 14 of training camp possibly wouldn’t have even happened if it weren’t for the head coach taking issue with how the practice began. The Bills players just seemed to be going through the motions as the session began, making silly, entry-level mistakes and not going at full capacity. McDermott was not pleased, so he stopped the practice, called every player into a knee, and gave his team an earful about their lack of attention to detail and effort in the first portion of practice. It was a watershed moment for the head coach because then we saw the respect that his team has developed for him by how they answered the bell through the rest of practice. Day 14 was an important day, especially with some adversity staring them right in the face. It seems the players have taken to the new head coach, which is as important an element in a locker room as you’ll find.
Rookie Stud: WR Zay Jones
– It was a close matchup between Tre’Davious White and Zay Jones, but I had to give the edge to Jones because of how much I saw him improve from one day to the next. He went from barely working with the first-team offense to becoming an every down first-team player (with help from the Sammy Watkins trade and the Jordan Matthews injury, of course). Even still, the progress Jones has made through camp has been noticeable, as they’ll now depend on him to be mostly an outside the numbers receiver in 2017. His route running is the best of any of the remaining receivers on the roster, which will help him infinitely in his battle to gain separation from defenders. Jones has taken to his first summer in the NFL nicely, now we just need to see it in games.
Rookie Dud: LB Matt Milano
– Just to clarify, this is for draft picks only so only one of the six members of the 2017 class could qualify for it. Milano, the Bills fifth-round draft pick, and linebacker get the honors only because of a fellow rookie linebacker, and the sixth-round pick, Tanner Vallejo getting first-team opportunities in camp ahead of him. Milano has settled into working mostly with the second-team defense, but early on he was mostly with the third unit. I don’t think any of the draft picks have been an actual definition of the word ‘dud,’ because I’ve seen something to like from all six. Milano just lost on the numbers game here.
Camp LVP Runners-Up: G Vladimir Ducasse & LB Reggie Ragland
– In the ‘Failed to Impress’ category, we’ve talked at length about Ducasse and his summer of struggles in Pittsford. The closest runner-up to the LVP award was Reggie Ragland, more so having to do with his status on the depth chart than his actual on-the-field performance. Through the first 10 days, Ragland was with the second-team defense at middle linebacker with the expectation that he would eventually see some time with the first-team defense and be in a competition with Preston Brown. The opposite of that happened, with Ragland falling to the third-team defense on Day 11, which has been where he has stayed since then. Gerald Hodges was elevated to the second-team defense due to his versatility, which is not a good sign for Ragland in Buffalo. When asked if they would cross-train Ragland at middle linebacker and at outside linebacker, Sean McDermott replied that it’s an option, but they felt it was in their best interest to keep Ragland on the inside. Expect to see a lot of Ragland in the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles, and if he plays well enough, the Bills could even consider trading the former second-round pick if they get some solid value for him.
Camp MVP Runners-Up: DE Jerry Hughes, DE Eddie Yarbrough
– We’ve seen Jerry Hughes in the MVP race at training camp for years on end, and that’s because he’s an outright monster in practice. He gives headaches to every offensive tackle he lines up again, and going into a season where he’s in his more natural 4-3 defense, Hughes has potential to get back to being that double-digit sack player that we saw in 2013 and 2014. As for Yarbrough, what more can you say about the second-year player? He will be fascinating to track through the remainder of the preseason to see just how high he can climb with the Bills.
Camp LVP: QB T.J. Yates
– With how far behind rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman was at the start of training camp, it seemed like T.J. Yates would have to have a dreadful summer to lose his hold on the backup job. Well, while it wasn’t entirely dreadful, Yates left a ton to be desired with his on-the-field results, despite having the type of knowledge he does of the playbook. Instead, we’ve seen Nathan Peterman rise ahead of Yates on the depth chart, and now if the rookie plays well enough in the remainder of the preseason, doubt exists if Yates will even make the team come early September. The Bills may need to look elsewhere for their veteran quarterback to fill out the roster — if they want one at all.
Camp MVP: RB LeSean McCoy
– Forget the fact that he took a lot fewer reps than most the other starting players on the team — that’s just because the Bills know how important he is to the entire operation in 2017. However, when McCoy was on the field, it just seemed like he was running at regular speed and everyone else was running in slow motion. Whether it was the inside runs, stretch runs, or catches out of the backfield, McCoy was clearly the most talented player in training camp throughout the summer. Now, as long as he can stay healthy, McCoy has the potential to have a huge season as the lead offensive player for the Bills in 2017.