Family Reunion: Bills. Panthers. Day One

By Ross Ellis

SPARTANBURG–A familiar, borderline-familial pair of interconference foes met up Tuesday at Wofford College as the Bills and Panthers reunited for an entertaining morning session.

This was an opportunity for former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, now the head coach in Buffalo, to spend some quality competitive time with his former boss Ron Rivera. Not to mention in the dark days of October 2012, McDermott’s current boss and former Panthers personnel executive Brandon Beane replaced then-fired (and now, re-hired) Carolina GM Marty Hurney.

Who’s on first, right? Man alive, makes your head spin right?

Well, the connections don’t end there, friends. Have a look:

Burns Goes Down

It’s worth noting that rookie EDGE sensation Brian Burns left practice with a lower leg injury. Ice was wrapped on it, and Burns was held out for the remainder of practice. He was limping noticeably, which means nothing as I am, apparently, one of the few football writers without extensive medical training.

Hey, scribes: stick to sports and promoting yourselves.

According to multiple sources, Rivera did not provide any new updates on Burns’ status.

Bills. Panthers. Round One.

To paint a bit of a picture for those who couldn’t make it out to camp today, the teams scrimmaged on two fields: Buffalo’s offense vs Carolina’s defense on the far field, and the inverse on the near field. The joint-session was broken down in five parts:

1. One on one drills.

2. Scrimmage, 11 on 11. 

3. Red zone 7 on 7.

4. Scrimmage, 11 on 11. 

5. Special teams work.

In terms of winning the at the line, Carolina handily took control of both scrimmage sessions, much to the chagrin of a fairly decent contingent of Bills fans camped out at the far field. b22c7778-13c9-42fd-b065-ca994a676d3d_750x422After connecting on a pair of impressive passes in the 7-on-7 red zone session, a jubilant Bills quarterback Josh Allen found little joy during 11-on-11’s, as Carolina’s stingy secondary and relentless pass rush flummoxed the second-year signal caller. 

Mario Addison, used in a number of positions thus far in camp (EDGE R, EDGE L, 5 tech DE), had great penetration early on, getting “to the spot” and forcing Allen out of the pocket. Kawaan Short, primarily used as the 5-tech DE in the 34, also took reps at DT in the team’s 4-2 nickel package. Short looked solid, winning his battles with regularity.

On the perimeter, second-year speedster Donte Jackson impressed in tight coverage, coming away with multiple PBUs, while letting the Bills players and fans know it. James Bradberry played mistake-free football, while Javien Elliott–who MUST start week one at nickel (more on Elliott later) allowed limited real estate in coverage with superb technique and supreme confidence.

Javien Elliott

Photo by: John Ellis

This kid has a gift–slot corner is a demanding position to master both mentally and technically. Elliott may prove to be the steal of the offseason.

The Bills With Skills

The matchup between Carolina’s offense and Buffalo’s defense? The Bills did nice work in holding Carolina’s dynamic corps of pass catchers in check. I’m giving credit to Buffalo’s secondary coach John Butler, heading up the league’s top-ranked pass defense from a year ago. 

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Graphic by: John Ellis

 

Levi Wallace, as noted in the graphic, was dominant over the final half of his rookie year. Battling for the starting corner spot opposite TreDavious White, Wallace made a nice play on a tightly-threaded Cam Newton pass intended for Greg Olsen and came away with a memorable interception.

Butler’s secondary is a great test for Carolina’s young, explosive receivers, and it will be fun to watch these units battle on Friday night. 

Honorable mention for coverage: Second-year standout linebacker Tremaine Edmunds–one of the few linebackers I’ve seen cover Christian McCaffrey with relative ease. He ran stride for stride with 22 on a wheel route, one of the toughest routes to defend as an LB. 

Curtis Samuel. Again.

Well, this happened: Curtis Samuel caught another long touchdown–once again, taking the top off the defense with a remarkable second gear. Superb ball placement by Newton, as well, which is quite the contrast from 12 months ago here in Spartanburg. 

One Panther Place touched on this last week, and I will reiterate the point: Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner appears to be trending his calls and personnel in much the same way Carolina utilized the speed of Ted Ginn to challenge the deep middle in 2015. It’s a positive development, seeing Turner find another niche for Samuel while implementing more deep-shot plays.

D.J. Moore continues to impress, though he wasn’t as crisp as usual against Buffalo. Again, it’s a formidable coverage group. Don’t tell Samuel, as nothing seems to dull his shine with the long ball of late. It will be a remarkable passing game to watch, if all these parts remain in concert with good health.

 

Grier Continues to Struggle; Allen In Control

Kyle Allen is simply a better player right now, at this moment for Turner’s offense, than rookie Will Grier.

Frankly, it’s not even close.

As we have documented throughout camp, Allen’s positives continue to shine: he has a strong command of the huddle, breaking the huddle with good tempo and confidence. Processes and reads the field with patience, uses his legs at the proper times and always keeps his eyes downfield.

Poise in the pocket would be the biggest point of difference between Allen and Grier. He made a great downfield throw to Torrey Smith, who got between Buffalo’s corner/safety due in a Cover 2 look, and did so while standing tall in a messy pocket. 

Grier, on the other hand, continues to miss basic short completions, plagued with indecisiveness from within the pocket. GrierHe doesn’t seem have a grasp on how to read NFL coverages. To that point, an impatient Turner chastised Grier for holding the ball too long–a growing theme at camp, My money says you can expect to see the rookie looking for the checkdowns Friday night.

By this point, after a round of OTA’s and a full camp, you’d like to see more development from Grier by now. And no, this isn’t a loving assessment. But it’s professional football, and it’s a performance business no matter how you slice it. The clock is always ticking in the NFL.

Still Concerned About Williams

It may not be on the media’s radar, but Daryl Williams gave up a pair of would-be sacks in scrimmage play, and hasn’t looked great at left tackle this summer. Frankly, he’s an unnatural fit there. Taylor Moton, on the other hand, is force at right tackle. Moton plays the right side about as well as any pro I can recall. The line looks great, most of the time. I just don’t know if Williams at LT is going to be as good a fit as many assume.

Why? Just why?

Why would anybody want to be a Bills fan? What’s the appeal? What’s the point? I get the shipwreck survivors who were fans in the early-mid 90’s. Since then? What jumps out as remotely appealing? And, hey, I don’t hate Buffalo. But, damn, talk about a purgatory of irrelevance.

And, hey. Look..it’s weird seeing a bunch of former Panthers again, wearing Bills attire. It’s creepy.

Just the whole scene was bizarre, to be honest.

On The Slye

Rookie camp leg Joey Slye reminds me of former Carolina great John Kasay. I know he isn’t left footed, but he kicks a beautiful, arching ball. I’ve been impressed with the height on his longer attempts, a vital component in avoiding blocks. There’s no kicker competition, but don’t be shocked if Slye makes an impact in the league–either here, or elsewhere. 

I know, he’s a camp body–not John Kasay! Got it, thx.

Elliott Is The Nickel

Javien Elliott appears to have a big lead here. He’s dominating first team snaps. Eric Reid also made a nice end zone PBU. I’m quietly optimistic about this secondary, though Buffalo is hardly a stern test. Many sites had plugged Cole Luke into the slot corner spot–in April.

This, folks, is precisely why you don’t make assessments like that before, oh I dunno, seeing the players practice in pads. It’s maddening.

Journalism isn’t dead–we’re here, being responsible…and stuff. 

Why? Just Why? (Part 2)

Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson is still mixing in reps with the starters. I’m not sure why, or how. It’s been one of the mysteries of camp from my perspective this year. I get it: he has experience—it doesn’t negate his lack of playmaking at the current moment. It’s a strange deal, seeing him with a healthy dose of first-team reps.  

Welp. That’s it.

The Bills and Panthers meet one last time for practice tomorrow morning in advance of their preseason match up Friday at Bank of America Stadium.

John Ellis takes it from here tomorrow, as he will have a special edition of camp coverage on what we’re all expecting to be the final official training camp practice in Spartanburg—ever.

Wow. Damn.

That’s a tough pill for us to swallow here in the upstate, but it’s been one hell of a run.