Tuesday marked the beginning of Phase II of the National Football League’s offseason program which allows veterans to report to the team’s facility for on-field workouts.
The Bills completed Phase I last Friday, conducting their rookie mini-camp at the ADPRO Training Center adjacent to Highmark Stadium.
Naturally, attendance is never a problem.
Buffalo had 24 players at rookie camp, this year’s eight draftees, six undrafted signees, five first-year players who had previously been in NFL camps and five getting tryouts. Each of them was bidding to be part of the 53-man regular-season roster or the practice squad, which could number 16 players if Covid-19 concerns continue, but will, at very least contain 12. For many of them, it was a chance to make an impression before the arrival and distraction of the veterans.
Currently, Buffalo has 84 players on its roster, six under the NFL offseason maximum.
OF COURSE, Phase II, as it involves those vets, is different.
Mini-camp is a requirement for them, but Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are involuntary.
As of now, nearly half the league – 15 teams – has indicated it will not participate, though individual players from those franchises can opt to attend on their own.
Among those declaring their non-participation are the Steelers, Browns, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets and Giants.
Not among them is the Bills, which speaks to coach Sean McDermott’s skills in promoting a team-first mindset in Buffalo. His veterans clearly feel they’re part of a squad that has high expectations and are unwilling to appear as anything less than all-in.
However, among the teams choosing not to participate in OTAs is Denver and two of its players will pay dearly.
Right offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James tore an Achilles tendon while working out away from the Broncos’ training facilities. And, according to an agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association, the team has no contractual obligation if a member of the roster is hurt working out away from the club’s facility.
With James about to miss the coming season due to surgery, the Broncos don’t owe him a cent of his $10 million salary for 2021.
Then, last Friday, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, the former Penn State star, suffered a serious knee injury while working out on his own. That torn ACL and subsequent surgery pretty much wipes out his season. If it does, his $2.2 million salary will be forfeited.
THAT’S A RISK the Bills likely won’t face.
And, if you’re wondering, here’s the breakdown, by position, of Buffalo’s current roster:
Tight ends: 5
Running backs: 7
Wide receivers: 12
Offensive linemen: 16
Defensive linemen: 14
The real question is, how many starting jobs are actually open?
On offense, quarterback, running back and the offensive line are set, whether Cody Ford, coming off injury, retakes his spot at left guard or his replacement, Ike Boettger, keeps the job.
It’s likely that veteran free agent signee Emmanuel Sanders takes the wide receiver spot that opened up when John Brown was waived. And, Dawson Knox’s spot at tight end remains tenuous as the Bills have brought in former Seahawk Jacob Hollister to challenge.
On defense, given the constant rotation of the line, with the return of tackle Star Lotulelei, who opted out last season due to coronavirus concerns, plus draftees Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham, all will see playing time. Aging ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison and tackles Ed Oliver and Lotulelei figure to pretty much find themselves starters in name only.
The linebackers and secondary are set, even as cornerback Levi Wallace has fought off every challenge for his starting job, though four new ones have been brought in to test him again this summer.
Long snapper Reid Ferguson, placekicker Tyler Bass and punter Matt Haack have no opposition.
However, for the newbies, just making the squad – 53-man or practice – will be an accomplishment for a team that went to the AFC Championship Game last season and returns with few holes.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)