Sean McDermott praises A.J. Epenesa, provides injury updates to kick-off Phase 3 of OTAs


Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott re-familiarized himself with local media Tuesday morning, giving a press conference to formally kick-off phase three of the team’s offseason workouts. Though the majority of the conversation centered around vaccinations and updated Covid-19 protocols, he did provide a few updates regarding the state of his team.

He devoted a fair bit of time to talking about Buffalo’s defensive line, particularly the team’s younger pass-rushers. McDermott was especially complimentary of A.J. Epenesa, a now second-year player who, per the coach, looks primed to break out in his sophomore campaign.

“When you look at his rookie season . . . he got off to a little bit of a slow start,” McDermott told local reporters. “Honestly, as we’re talking about the protocols and everything that happened last offseason, think about the rookies last year who, A.J. being one of them, [weren’t] able to be in the building, for the most part, until training camp. I think that factored into his slow start a little bit.

“He’s in great shape right now, he looks as good as I’ve seen him look. Credit to him for being here, he’s been here most of the offseason . . . He’s in a great spot now. He’s in shape, and he’s on track to have himself ready to go for training camp. What I’ve seen to this point is very encouraging.”

Though not a player that ever stuck out in the box score, Epenesa was impactful, at times, throughout the 2020 season. Playing on roughly 27% of the Bills’ defensive snaps, he was able to notch seven quarterback hurries, three knockdowns, and one pass deflection, according to Sports Info Solutions, this in addition to twelve total tackles and one sack.

Buffalo added two players complementary to Epenesa in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, selecting defensive ends Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham on nights one and two, respectively. While his expectations for the two rookies are not necessarily as high as his immediate aspirations for Epenesa, McDermott does hope to see growth out of Rousseau and Basham throughout spring workouts.

“Expectations for [Rousseau] are for him to come in and work on getting better every day. We know it’s going to take some time. He hasn’t played football in over a year with the opt-out, so we’re respectful of that and mindful of that. At the same time, there’s an urgent approach by Greg and by our staff. We wanted to improve along our defensive line and felt like we’ve been intentional about that with Greg and with Carlos [Basham] as well, but they have to develop. There’s a lot of work that you have to put in, and I think they’re both off to a great start.”

McDermott stayed on the defensive line to talk about Harrison Phillips, a fourth-year defensive tackle who returned to action last season after missing the majority of the 2019 campaign with a torn ACL. Phillips’ role in his comeback season was limited, appearing on just 31% of the team’s defensive snaps while recording 17 tackles.

Now roughly two years removed from the initial injury, McDermott expects Phillips’ on-field impact to grow.

“He did a heck of a job last year coming off the knee, the first year off the knee,” McDermott said.” I think people take that for granted, when people come off knee operations, in particular, how hard that is. Usually, the second year is better, and Harrison has been here, again, most of the offseason, training, helping lead our football team. I’m anxious to see and excited to see him play this spring.”

McDermott also provided a few updates about the team’s receiving corps. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs recently revealed on Twitter that both he and Cole Beasley closed out the 2020 season with oblique and leg injuries, respectively. Though Diggs was not present for this portion of voluntary workouts, McDermott is confident that both and Beasley will be ready to go sooner rather than later.

“Stef isn’t here. As far as we know, he’s all good to go,” McDermott said. “He’s a tough guy and a heck of a competitor. And [with] Cole, you get banged up going through a season, and those guys . . . in particular play extremely hard. The great part about it, being here for Cole, is he comes in and he gets the treatment and he’s working on getting himself right to where he can go back out there and perform at a high level again for us.”

If you’d like to watch McDermott’s entire press conference, you can do so here:

Make sure to stay tuned to Cover 1, as we’ll have further analysis as OTAs progress.