Orchard Park, NY – Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde flew back into town on Sunday and couldn’t wait to get back to the facility.
Hyde has missed all of the voluntary portion of the offseason program and made his debut in the Bills ’new-look defense on Tuesday for the first day of the team’s mandatory minicamp. He walked into see a Buffalo defensive line that received a makeover with the addition of new pieces like Von Miller, DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle.
On the back end, it’s back to business with safety tag team team partner Jordan Poyer, who reported for minicamp and was a full participant in practice. Hyde said people were hitting him up last week asking if Poyer was going to show up. By Monday night, when Hyde knew he’d see his good friend again at the facility, he reached out to Poyer just to tell him how excited he was to be back out on the field with him.
The two participated in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 team drills. It’s important to remember that minicamp practices are held without pads and without any contact. But both Poyer and Hyde were flying around the field, and they were talking a bit, too.
Isaiah McKenzie was usually somewhere close to chirping a bit as well. He told Hyde that he was going to appear on “America’s Got Talent” tonight where he set to sing as part of a choir performance. Hyde thought he was lying until he was asked about it after the press conference.
“He just said watch it tonight because I’m singing. I’m like, ‘Get away.’ He can’t even sing – I don’t know. Is he really on it? ” Hyde asked in bewilderment.
Here are all of my observations from today’s practice.
1. James Cook looks the part, but time will tell
It was mostly quiet Organized Team Activities (OTAs) for Cook, but he got a few chances with the ball in his hands on Tuesday and looked explosive. The first came during 7-on-7 when he got separation against Matt Milano and hauled in a pass from Josh Allen. Then during 11-on-11, Cook made one of the most noteworthy plays of the day. He caught a short pass from Allen and got behind offensive linemen Greg Mantz out in space and turned it up a few gears. The play made you envision what it’s going to look like when he’s in that situation against opposing defenses. His speed looks different out of the backfield.
2. Do I write about Josh Allen in these?
I haven’t said much about Allen in practice this spring. He’s been what he’s been – electric. At this point that’s the expectation, isn’t it? I’d probably write about it prominently if he wasn’t on point at this stage. Today he was hitting his targets all over the field. He had a few good throws to Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, and Dawson Knox, who returned to practice after missing a few weeks. The only incompletion I had for Allen on the day was a deep throw to new Bills receiver Tavon Austin. Allen was looking his way the entire play and launched it deep down the right sideline. Austin has made his presence felt in the few days he’s been a member of the Bills. Allen said young receivers remember watching his unreal highlights on YouTube when they were coming up. Austin is going to be an interesting player to watch during camp.
3. Case Keenum update & how he leaned on Isaiah Hodgins late in practice
Keenum started slow on Tuesday. He had a few bad throws and then one complete miscommunication with tight end Quintin Morris. But then in the final 11-on-11 drill of the day – when the offense had to try and drive down for a field goal – he was locked in. He showed a particularly strong connection with third-year receiver Isaiah Hodgins, who made three straight catches on the drive to help get the offense into the field goal range. Keenum kept feeding Hodgins on the right side and no defender could stop him from getting the ball. He used his large frame and made a diving catch on one of the plays to keep the drive going. After he came off, Hodgins was greeted by his teammates to celebrate the positive impact he made on the last few plays.
4. OJ Howard looks slow
It’s very early and Howard is likely still learning the offense. The routes he’s running are likely similar to what an actor goes through as they rehearse their lines off a brand new script. The true test will be when he gets pads on and has the next month to prepare for his chances. But there’s just a general robotic element to his routes and a stark contrast to what it looks like when Knox is in the lineup. He had one play in practice where he could not get separation from a linebacker, stopped on the route, and Allen threw it 5 yards past him. Dane Jackson almost turned up the motor and intercepted it, but he had to settle for a pass breakup instead.
5. Christian Benford bounce back
After struggling last week in practice, Benford picked up the intensity. He was tested early and was up for the challenge. His best play came in a 1-on-1 rep against Hodgins during 7-on-7. Keenum was in the quarterback and tried to fire one in to Hodgins, but Benford stayed on his hip the entire route and forced himself into the passing lane at the final moment to knock it down. Later on he had perfect coverage against Hodgins on a long ball from Keenum that fell incomplete. Keenum had a bad throw to Marquez Stevenson during 11-on-11 and Benford was there again for the PBU. This was a strong practice for the rookie out of Villanova.
6. Nick McCloud gets a ton of work
McCloud was all over the field today and working against multiple receivers. Last week Leslie Frazier revealed that the second-year cornerback had been working in a bit at safety. There wasn’t a particular play that stood out from McCloud but he was competing hard, and that was noticeable. When he was in press man situations he looked crisp in his transitions and showed off some quick feet. He gave up some plays but he is someone I’m excited to watch in camp.
7. Tavon Austin 7v7 touchdown
Austin said he had three touchdowns in practice last week and this week he added another one. Keenum was in at quarterback and fired a beautiful ball down the right sideline to Austin, who got past the defense and made it into the end zone. When he got there he threw down the ball and raised his arms in celebration. As he trotted back down to the offense he hit the “griddy” dance to continue the celebration. Austin looks to be in great spirits and having a lot of fun on his new team.
8. Red Zone standouts
Allen threw a touchdown to Morris to start things off down in the red zone. He fired it quick to the tight end, who got past Hyde and Poyer to score the touchdown. Keenum came in next and threw a dime to rookie Khalil Shakir on a nice intermediate route for the touchdown. The next play was Keenum to close end Tommy Sweeney, who made a great catch after losing his defender. Keenum ended his run with a quick connection to Hodgins, who quickly got the ball over the goal line for a score. Matt Barkley came in and put a laser on the back pylon to Marquez Stevenson, who made the catch of the day. He got two feet in for the score and received the loudest reaction of practice. Barkley hit rookie tight end Jalen Wydermeyer for a score to end that drill.
9. Tyler Bass erratic – Matt Araiza still hasn’t held
Bass missed two kicks after Keenum drove the Bills down the field. The first was from 53 and the second was from 48. Then on the final drive, Bass hit a 45-yarder to finish Barkley’s drive. Matt Haack continues to be the only holder for Bass in practices open to the media.
10. Spencer Brown only prominent player missing
Brown watched practice as he continues to recover from a minor procedure done earlier this offseason. Tim Harris and Jake Kumerow were in their jersey but watched practice, too.