Third-year receiver Gabriel Davis continued to be a consistent target for quarterback Josh Allen as the Buffalo Bills began their mandatory minicamp Tuesday in Orchard Park.
Davis is stepping back into a starter role this season after spending most of last season backing up veteran Emmanuel Sanders at the outside receiver spot opposite Stefon Diggs.
It’s a spot where there’s not expected to be a big challenger to Davis in training camp. He has caught 35 passes each of the past two seasons, and he blew up in the playoff loss at Kansas City in January. He had 201 receiving yards and became the first player in NFL history to catch four TD passes in a playoff game.
Here are observations from the Bills’ minicamp practice on the grass field next to the ADPRO Sports Training Center:
1. Davis is the man at No. 2 WR. Allen found Davis for three sideline completions during the practice. It has been obvious all spring Allen has faith in Davis, the fourth-round pick in 2020.
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“The dude just works,” Allen said last week. “He just works hard. He’s a great dude. Selfless. He’ll run the for the love of the game, routes where he knows he’s not getting the ball but he’s attracting a safety and allowing someone else to get open. When the play’s there to be made, he usually makes them and that’s in turn for his hard work and his resiliency of kind of his first two years in the league. And the dude just continues to make some plays and love the guy to death.”
“He has been working hard,” said Bills General Manager Brandon Beane. “He’s been here, I think every day. If he missed a day, I wasn’t here that day, either. But nothing seems too big for Gabe every time you give him more. And so we’re excited about where he’s at.”
2. Full attendance with No. 21.
Coach Sean McDermott said the team had full attendance for the mandatory practice. The Bills are scheduled to practice again Wednesday and Thursday. However, McDermott and many NFL coaches often call off the final day of minicamp, and the Bills’ coach referred to practicing “a couple days” this week.
Safety Jordan Poyer was on the field participating in his normal safety position in 7 on 7 and full team drills during the practice.
Remaining off the field while they recover from offseason surgeries were Tre’Davious White, Ike Boettger and Spencer Brown. Cornerback Tim Harris wasn’t seen on the field. Receiver Jake Kumerow was working on the side.
McDermott on the importance of minicamp: “Yeah, it’s huge. You know, you want to be able to kind of throw all the paint on the palette over the course of the spring and then really start to chisel it down so that when you come back for training camp, you’ve got a good, defined and clear plan as to what you want to do, how you want to approach it, how you want to attack things, and how you see, at least on the surface, at the beginning of it all, the training camp unfolding.”
3. The punters battled wind. Media got to see incumbent punter Matt Haack go head to head with rookie draft pick Matt Araiza during a full special teams segment.
It was an up-and-down showing for both. They were punting into a breeze, which was a factor, and neither was clearly superior. From this perspective, Araiza was a tad better. He had three big punts in a row, with unofficial hang times of 4.60, 4.81 and 5.0 seconds. Anything 4.5 or better is excellent. He had a couple poorer punts.
Haack had a poor punt into the wide early but rebounded with big punts of 4.90 and 4.96 seconds, unofficially.
The punter competition will be one of the fun matchups to watch in training camp.
4. Bass report. Tyler Bass is a remarkably consistent practice kicker, which carries over into games. He was perfect on four field-goal attempts.
Then he missed two straight with the wind at the end of a two-minute drill. The first was from 53 yards and went wide left. But he got another chance because a penalty was called on the defense, likely an offsides foul. Then he missed on the second try from 48 yards.
At the end of the next two-minute drill, he made a 45-yarder.
5. Practice highlights. The nifty catch of the day came from tight end Quintin Morris, a one-hander over the middle from Case Keenum. On the next possession, Morris caught a 5-yard TD pass from Allen, who did a good job throwing an accurate pass while backpedaling.
The backup quarterbacks were good in short-yardage work. Keenum hit rookie Khalil Shakir for a 12-yard TD in the back of the end zone, then hit tight end Tommy Sweeney, who made himself a big target, for a 12-yard TD. Then Keenum threw a 7-yard TD to Isaiah Hodgins at the goal line. Matt Barkley made a perfect throw to the back corner of the end zone for Marquez Stevenson, who showed up more than in other practices media has seen this spring. On the next play, however, Barkley would have been hit hard by Shaq Lawson, who got around Derek Kerstetter. Tavon Austin made his presence known. He got wide open deep down the sideline for a touchdown from Keenum in 7-on-7 work. It was a coverage bust. Allen’s best deep ball was a deep sideline laser to Tanner Gentry in 7 on 7.
Dane Jackson had a near interception (but dropped it) on an overthrow by Allen for O.J. Howard in 7-on-7 work. Christian Benford, the rookie cornerback from Villanova, was around the ball. He had a breakup covering Hodgins on a comebacker but a flag was thrown (it might have been defensive holding). In 11-on-11 work he had tight coverage on Stevenson on an intermediate route to cause an incompletion from Keenum.
The crew of NFL referee Brad Allen was on the field officiating. Allen has been a referee since 2014.
6. Newly signed guard Greg Van Roten was on the field wearing No. 63. Van Roten has started 50 NFL games over the past seven years – 27 with Carolina and 23 over the past two years with the New York Jets.
He gives the Bills more veteran experience at guard. Boettger is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury. If Boettger isn’t full go to start training camp, Van Roten shapes up as a second-teamer at guard, along with Cody Ford. McDermott said there were no new injuries that precipitated the signing of Van Roten.
McDermott on Van Roten: “So Greg has tremendous experience. Obviously, he’s played in the division for a window of his career. Was in Carolina. I did not overlap with Greg there but saw his body of work from afar. We have a lot of respect for Greg and what he’s been able to do through his career. And I think it’s a good addition for us in terms of the competition, the experience. He has position flexibility as well.”