Here are my superlatives from the Buffalo Bills’ training camp, which broke Tuesday at St. John Fisher College:
It was only 13 practices, most of which were low intensity, so I hesitate to draw much in the way of hard conclusions. But my eyes told me these were the best performers at their respective positions during that stretch:
*Quarterback: Nathan Peterman. First, it should be noted that none of the three players here was exceptional by any stretch. Each had his highly impressive moments, but each also had his share of ugly plays. Not once did I find myself saying, “Wow! This guy is special.” I’m going with the rookie, though, because he was more consistent in delivering good and sometimes even great throws. Granted, Peterman spent most of camp doing taking third-team reps against bottom-of-the-roster defenders, but he looked more mechanically sound than Tyrod Taylor or T.J. Yates. His promotion to the No. 2 spot was a no-brainer, especially with Yates’ mostly mediocre to poor showings. Let’s see what Peterman does from here.
*Running back: LeSean McCoy. He showed from the very first time he touched the ball that he’s playing a different game than everyone else on the team. He looks faster and more explosive than every offensive or defensive player on the field. The bottom line is that McCoy pretty much is all the Bills have in terms of difference-makers. I would suggest Sean McDermott keeps this guy on ice through the final three preseason games and remaining practices before the regular season. Because without McCoy, there is no season for the Bills.
*Wide receiver: Sammy Watkins. Yes, I know he’s no longer on the team, but he participated in most of the camp practices before the Bills traded him to the Los Angeles Rams last Friday. And he was easily better than any receiver on the roster through most of those workouts (newcomers Anquan Boldin and Jordan Matthews either didn’t practice with him much or at all, so they aren’t being factored into this assessment). Having finally recovered from the foot surgery he underwent in January, Watkins ran well and used his athleticism to the fullest to gain separation and make plays. He repeatedly out-jumped defenders for difficult catches of throws that were over his head. The Bills are going to miss the guy who showed up for camp.
*Offensive line: Richie Incognito and Eric Wood. The two old pros pretty much won the bulk of their one-on-one battles. Perhaps the most telling indication of the strength of their respective performances was the line’s severe struggles with interior pass protection when each was given a “veteran’s day off.”
*Tight end: Logan Thomas. He utilized every bit of his 6-foot-6 frame to routinely gain an edge on defenders when going up for jump balls. His blocking wasn’t great, but he showed the most athleticism and the best hands of anyone at the position. Thomas’ background as a college quarterback served him well when it came to running routes with precision.
*Defensive line: Eddie Yarbrough and Marcell Dareus. Yarbrough spent the majority of the practices in the offensive backfield. He was ultra-quick off the ball and showed excellent moves and superb use of his hands. Yarbrough took full advantage of the opportunity he had to work with the ones while starting end Shaq Lawson was injured. There seems little doubt he has secured a spot on the roster, as well as a regular spot in pass-rush packages. Dareus deserves to be commended for showing up to camp in top condition and seemingly responding well to the harder coaching from McDermott and his staff. How long it will last is a fair question, but for now he seems on board and his dominance through most practices reflected as much.
*Linebacker: Ramon Humber. At first, I was skeptical. How could a career special-teams player have a legitimate chance to win a starting spot at weak-side linebacker? But Humber appears to have followed in the cleat steps of strong-side starter Lorenzo Alexander, who showed up last year as a special-teams guy and wound up being a Pro Bowl outside linebacker. Humber is a solid pro who rarely finds himself out of position. He shows good intelligence and exceptional instincts.
*Secondary: Tre’Davious White. The first-round draft pick quietly put together a sensational camp. The operative word is “quietly.” There was never much discussion about him, because he usually wasn’t getting beaten on throws. In fact, White performed better than Ronald Darby, who had been the other starting cornerback before last Friday’s trade that sent him to the Philadelphia Eagles. McDermott wasn’t kidding during the offseason when he said White looked like a player in his second or third NFL season rather than a rookie.
*Special teams: Stephen Hauschka. He wasted no time showing why the Bills made a fairly substantial investment in him. He pops through 50-plus-yard field goals as if they’re chip shots. On the second-to-last day of camp, Hauschka was drilling through long-range attempts from outside the sideline marker as practice was going on. It seemed like something he was doing just for fun, although it was impressive nonetheless.
*MVP: McCoy. See above.