PITTSFORD – Another summer has come and gone for the Buffalo Bills at St. John Fisher College.
The team wrapped up its 17th training camp in suburban Rochester with a Tuesday morning practice. One final walk-through is all that’s left Wednesday before the team heads back to its Orchard Park facilities.
The most prominent storylines of the summer were made off the field, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus’ four-game suspension and subsequent announcement that he’s headed for rehab, along with quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s contract extension.
Injuries also were a major topic, including to first-round draft pick Shaq Lawson.
Coach Rex Ryan acknowledged that Tuesday when he said “it wasn’t, obviously, a perfect training camp, but I think we accomplished a lot of things in this camp.”
On the field, the defense was a major focus throughout camp, as it looks to rebound from a down year in 2015.
“From a defensive standpoint, I really love where we’re at with the communication,” Ryan said Tuesday. “You’re going to have to beat us physically, and not mentally, and I think that bodes well for us. And it’s not just with the first team. It’s the first, second, third team, anybody that’s out there. I think the coaches have done a tremendous job teaching.”
Offensively, Ryan said the Bills are “way ahead of where we were last year at this time,” with Taylor back as the starter for the second year in coordinator Greg Roman’s system.
After 17 practices, here’s how The Buffalo News would hand out camp awards:
• Offensive MVP: Taylor.
It’s hard to think of anything the Bills’ new franchise quarterback has done wrong the entire offseason. He handled his contract negotiations perfectly, has looked determined throughout the spring and summer to refine areas of his game he thought needed work and has grown as one of the team’s leaders. Perhaps his only misstep was foolishly subjecting himself to unnecessary contact trying to get into the end zone during one camp practice, leading Ryan to say “You like literally hold your breath, because we think that we got a really good one there. We’ve got a fine, outstanding quarterback … so he’s got to take care of himself, too.”
• Defensive MVP: Outside linebacker Jerry Hughes.
Simply put, the Bills need Hughes to be a star in 2016. The pass rush looks like it will depend on it. The good news is, he looks up for the task. Hughes has been a nightmare for whoever he’s lined up against, and seems to have fully embraced his move to outside linebacker.
• Most Improved Player: Offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.
An ankle injury suffered by Cordy Glenn during the team’s scrimmage opened a spot in the starting lineup, and Kouandjio has seized the opportunity, drawing praise from both Ryan and General Manager Doug Whaley for his play. He might not start when the season begins, but Kouandjio could still play an important role as the Bills’ swing tackle.
• Lifetime Achievement Award: Tight end Chris Gragg.
Although he has just 24 catches in his first three seasons, Gragg has managed to keep a job thanks to his strong practice performances. This summer has been no different, as he blocked a punt and caught a touchdown pass in the first preseason game, and has generally looked like the top reserve option behind starter Charles Clay.
• Breakout Rookie: Cornerback Kevon Seymour.
Pretty much every recap of a camp practice has made mention of a strong play from the sixth-round draft pick out of Southern California. He’s quickly become the team’s top reserve at cornerback.
• Most pleasant surprise: S Duke Williams.
After getting buried in Ryan’s doghouse last year, Williams was an afterthought, particularly after the team signed two safeties in free agency. But he’s worked his way up all the way into a starting role while Aaron Williams is out injured, and should be the No. 3 safety when the season starts.
• Best comeback: Kicker Dan Carpenter.
After missing six extra points in 2015, Carpenter was thought to be on the hot seat this summer. Instead, he’s made a mockery of whatever kicking competition there was, showing he’s far and away the best option on the roster. The Bills may still keep two kickers, but if they do Jordan Gay will handle kickoffs only.
• Biggest disappointment: RB Karlos Williams.
From nine total touchdowns as a rookie to cut before the second preseason game, Williams’ fall from grace was swift. After showing up in the spring out of shape, he made things worse by getting hit with a four-game NFL suspension. Upon arriving at camp, Williams still wasn’t ready physically. By the time the team activated him, they needed just a few practices to determine he wasn’t worth keeping around.
• Biggest injury: Linebacker Reggie Ragland.
The second-round pick from Alabama tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a noncontact injury suffered while defending a run play. The ensuing surgery is expected to keep him out his entire rookie year.
• Best Fight: IK Enemkpali vs. Kouandjio.
Normally, it wouldn’t even garner a mention, but the fact Enemkpali threw a punch on the one-year anniversary of breaking Jets quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw was just amazing.
Sometimes the stories write themselves.