The Buffalo Bills will hold their mandatory minicamp Tuesday, June 11 through Thursday June 13. After several weeks of OTAs, Buffalo will use this week to get acclimated with each other as they prepare for training camp later this Summer. All three days of practice will be open to the media, so fans will be given increased access to information that will help them follow notable storylines that have already begun to emerge.
With that said, here are some of the top storylines and position battles we’ll be keeping track of this week.
How will the offensive line look?
The Bills completely revamped their offensive line during offseason, and throughout OTAs, the team heavily rotated players in and out of the starting lineup. Dion Dawkins, who is entering his third year with the team, seems to be the only constant along the offensive line, as he has primarily lined up with the first team at left tackle. Marquee free agent addition, center Mitch Morse is expected to be a full participant after undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle injury that caused him to be listed as limited during OTAs.
“It helps getting the feel of how he is on the field,” said Josh Allen of his new pivot man. “Even if it is just walk through knowing where he snaps it, where he prefers my hands. Just him being out there and communicating with the guys on every play. It’s good for the whole team, the offense especially when he’s out there and getting used to things and you can see things from that perspective.”
Rookie second-round draft pick Cody Ford has seen snaps with the first-team offense and he’ll likely be given every opportunity to earn the starting right tackle position, but he’ll have to fend off veterans Ty Nsekhe and LaAdrian Waddle throughout the summer. Both guard spots are up for grabs, also, as Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain, Spencer Long and Wyatt Teller will be fighting for first-team reps.
The offensive line battle will certainly be an exciting one to follow all through the preseason.
Will Kevin Johnson continue gaining ground for No. 2 CB gig?
Tre’Davious White is cemented into his role as the No. 1 cornerback on Buffalo’s defense but there appears to be a battle brewing for the starting gig opposite him. Last season, undrafted rookie free agent Levi Wallace fared extremely well in his seven starts. But the Bills don’t appear to be completely sold on the Alabama product, as they opted to sign former first-round draft pick Kevin Johnson, formerly of the Houston Texans, in addition to bringing back E.J. Gaines, who had a fantastic 2017 campaign with the team before spending 2018 with the Cleveland Browns.
Gaines was sidelined throughout OTAs, which allowed Johnson to see extended first-team reps and he made the most out of his opportunity, earning high praise from head coach Sean McDermott.
“What I love about Kevin is that he’s gotten his hands on some footballs and taken the ball away a few times (in OTAs practice). His mindset has been impressive with his toughness and focus,” coach McDermott said about Johnson last week.
Johnson’s career has been derailed by injuries the last few years but now, with a fresh start, he’s looking to bounce back and prove himself worthy of his high draft status back in 2015.
Does Dawson Knox take hold of starting TE job?
The Buffalo Bills traded up to select Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox, a raw, athletic and inexperienced prospect that caught just 39 passes for 609 receiving yards and zero touchdowns in his collegiate career, with the No. 96 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. At the time, Tyler Kroft, who was signed at the start of free agency was the presumed starter, but a foot injury suffered on the first day of OTAs threw a wrench into the Bills’ plans.
Knox has the athleticism and size (6-foot-4, 254-pounds) that is coveted in a modern tight end, but his inexperience and lack of usage with the Rebels is concerning. However, Knox has seen extensive first-team reps through OTAs and has already impressed quarterback Josh Allen.
With Kroft out for the foreseeable future, the rookie tight end will have every opportunity to continue building chemistry with Allen and earn a starting job.
Will Jordan Poyer earn first Pro Bowl nod in 2019?
It comes as no secret that the Bills have one of the most underrated collections of talent in the NFL throughout their secondary, but safety Jordan Poyer might be the most overlooked of them all. In his two years with Buffalo, the 6-foot, 191-pound defensive back has tallied 195 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, nine interceptions, 19 pass breakups and one forced fumble.
By all accounts, he was stellar during OTAs, intercepting a handful of passes. Last year, the Buffalo Bills had the NFL’s best pass defense largely thanks to Poyer’s playmaking ability. If the team can perform at a similar level to last year, there’s a good chance that Poyer will finally get some of the recognition that he deserves.
Will Shaq Lawson or Trent Murphy start at DE?
In addition to the No. 2 cornerback job, the Buffalo Bills have another exciting position battle brewing on defense, between defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Trent Murphy – who are fighting for the starting edge defender role across from veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes.
Lawson is entering his fourth season and has failed to live up to his first-round draft pick billing. He had arguably his best year as a pro in 2018, notching 30 tackles, four sacks, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles but the Clemson product knows that he is entering a make-or-break season.
“This year right now, it’s do or die. I have to go crazy. You try to approach every year like a contract year, but for real, for real, this year is a contract year. Shoot, I’m trying to get paid. I need a season, a great season to get there,” Lawson told Matthew Fairburn of The Athletic.
Trent Murphy is also trying prove doubters wrong in 2019. Many believed Murphy rushed back after suffering an ACL tear, but the former Washington Redskins defensive end played 13 games, recording 24 tackles, five tackles for loss, four sacks, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles last season. He says he’s fully healthy now and looking to get back to the level of play he showed in 2017 when he notched nine sacks and 10 tackles for loss, before signing a three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Bills last offseason.
With both players fighting to prove something, this could be one of the better position battles to follow ahead of the regular season.