Bills Training Camp Storylines: Who’s on the hot seat?

07/07/2021
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Despite finishing the 2020 NFL season with a 13-3 record, the Buffalo Bills have several major question marks that they hope to answer during training camp. Here at Cover 1, we’ll be taking a look at the top storylines to follow throughout the summer at Bills’ training camp as the team looks to dethrone the Kansas City Chiefs and earn a Super Bowl nod in 2021.

In this series, we’ll dive into the biggest position battles, under-the-radar players, and narratives surrounding key players, while taking a look at the numbers game that general manager Brandon Beane will need to play as he trims the roster down to a final 53-man depth chart.

After examining the team’s running back competition, wide receiver depth and second-year impact players we’ll now look at some players that are on the hot seat and need to stand out in a big way this year.

CB Levi Wallace

In each of the last three seasons, Levi Wallace has clawed his way into the starting cornerback job opposite Tre’Davious White, fending off veterans like E.J. Gaines, Kevin Johnson and Josh Norman. However, despite his solid play at the position, Buffalo has only retained him on one-year deals, showing a lack of confidence in the former undrafted free agent out of Alabama. So once again, Wallace is on the hot seat and will be fighting to reclaim his starting job at Bills training camp.

Dane Jackson, the team’s 2020 seventh-round draft pick, is Wallace’s competition this offseason. The former Pitt standout played in four games last season, making two starts and fared admirably in his limited action. He made 15 tackles while recording one interception and five pass breakups. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was targeted 17 times, allowing 12 catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Although Jackson’s coverage statistics were rather unimpressive, he was graded as a top-50 cornerback even though he played just 193 defensive snaps.

Buffalo’s coaching staff and front office are high on Jackson. General manager Brandon Beane said that he expects him to compete for a starting job, while defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier praised Jackson’s newfound confidence at OTAs.

Jordan Poyer, a veteran leader in the Bills’ secondary, mentioned Jackson as a player to watch in training camp, telling reporters that he’s been impressed with the second-year cornerback and simply stating, “That dude can play.”

‘Sky is the limit’ for a more confident Dane Jackson

Wallace hasn’t been bad by any stretch during his time in Buffalo. But it’s clear why the team wants to see what other options are out there. You know what you’ll get with Wallace. He’s a good-but-not-great corner that has a high floor. However, he doesn’t have great ball skills and can get bullied by bigger receivers. According to PFF, Wallace surrendered 38 receptions on 68 targets last season, allowing 462 yards and three touchdowns. He intercepted two passes and broke up eight.

Buffalo will certainly give Wallace every opportunity to earn the starting job again, but this year, Jackson is a player that could truly give him a run for his money.

OL Cody Ford

When the Bills traded up to select Cody Ford with the No. 38 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, many believed that the massive Oklahoma product would be a quality plug-and-play player at right tackle, ultimately solidifying the team’s offensive line. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out as planned. Ford did play in all 16 games as a rookie making 15 starts. However, the team rotated him in and out of the lineup with Ty Nsekhe as Ford proved that he couldn’t handle a full workload. According to Pro Football Focus, Ford had a rough go of it in pass protection, surrendering eight sacks, one hit and 26 hurries in 420 pass-blocking snaps as a rookie.

In 2020, Buffalo kicked him inside to guard – a position that most draft analysts believed was the 6-foot-3, 329-pounder’s ideal position from the start. However, he struggled as an interior player as well. Ford started the season at right guard but flipped to the left side in Week 3, where he made five starts before suffering a season-ending torn meniscus during a November practice. In Ford’s 233 pass-blocking snaps, he allowed 15 pressures. In the run game, he didn’t make much of an impact either.

Cody Ford: The Pressure is On

Right now, the decision to trade up for Ford is one of the few negative marks on Brandon Beane’s record. Thankfully, Ike Boettger played surprisingly well when Ford went down, and he seems to be a favorite of offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. Ford will once again have the opportunity to compete for a starting job, but it’s a position that Buffalo absolutely has to get better at if they want to run the football effectively this year. Beane brought in former San Diego Chargers guard Forrest Lamp and drafted Jack Anderson, who will compete with Boettger and Ford. Jon Feliciano was retained as a free agent, and while the fan-favorite is reliable, he’s far from perfect and he isn’t a sure-thing at right guard, leaving a lot of room for competition at both guard spots.

Ford was not just a high draft pick, but one that the team traded up for, which puts even more pressure on him to not only earn a starting job, but to play at a high level. After two rather underwhelming seasons, it’s a make-or-break training camp for the 24-year old.

RB Devin Singletary

Entering his third season since being selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft, Devin Singletary is no longer locked into the No. 1 running back job. After an impressive rookie season in which the former Florida Atlantic star rushed for 775 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry, adding 29 catches for 194 yards and two receiving touchdowns, Singletary regressed in 2020. He averaged just 4.4 yards-per-carry, rushing for 484 yards and two touchdowns.

Singletary was pushed by rookie running back Zack Moss, who significantly ate into his touches and snaps as the season went on. Moss’ powerful downhill running style and prowess for getting much-needed yards in critical situations earned the trust of the Bills’ coaching staff.

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The biggest knock on Singletary during the course of his first two seasons was that he lacks the explosiveness and speed expected out of a running back with a smaller stature like his. At 5-foot-7, 208-pounds, Singletary isn’t going to run over defenders or break many tackles, and while his elusiveness is certainly a special trait, his lack of explosion prevents him from making those huge plays that premier running backs are capable of after making a guy miss in space.

Singletary put in a lot of work during the offseason to get bigger and he believes that his speed work with PER4ORM has made him faster and more explosive than he’s ever been. While these comments certainly turned some heads during the downtime of the offseason, I’d personally pump the breaks on the expectations of seeing a completely different player. A little more burst and power may come from his physical transformation, but at the end of the day, speed is a natural gift and it’s tough to imagine him suddenly becoming that home run threat that Brandon Beane said the team’s running back room lacked.

A promising player that certainly has a spot on the roster, Singletary will have to prove that his offseason work was special in order to separate himself from Moss, who started to run away with the lead duties last year, once the pads come on in training camp. Singletary’s prowess as a receiver out of the backfield ensures that he’ll have a pretty significant role within the offense in 2021, but his status as a 12-18 touch player is definitely in jeopardy.

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