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Bills Notebook: Jonathan Williams steps in for LeSean McCoy; linebacker competition heating up

Sean McDermott started his post-game press conference on a sour note.

Running back Jonathan Williams hurt his hamstring Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings, the Buffalo Bills' coach said, and wasn't sure if the injury would cause him to miss any time.

Just a few minutes later, though, Williams had good news – saying his injury was "not bad at all" and that he "could have kept playing if they needed me to." As it turns out, there was no need for Williams to get back in the lineup. This was the first exhibition game of the season, after all, and the end result – a 17-10 win for the Vikings in front of 60,459 at New Era Field – wasn't all that important.

The bigger priority for the Bills was to get a better evaluation of their roster, and that started with Williams. Even though starting running back LeSean McCoy dressed, he did not appear in the game.

"I've been around LeSean, as you guys have heard me say, for a long time. I like where he is at this point in training camp in terms of getting himself ready to play for the season," McDermott said. "I wanted to get a good look at the other backs, and I was impressed with the way some of those running backs performed."

That starts with Williams, who gained 39 yards on four carries and caught one pass for 7 yards. He also had another run called back by penalty.

"I was impressed. He ran hard, secured the ball," McDermott said. "We have to evaluate the whole game, though. What happens in pass protection. We'll get a better chance to do that tomorrow. That said, I thought he did some good things with the ball in his hand."

Williams will be an important part of the Bills' offense in 2017. While McCoy will get the bulk of the carries, it's imperative the team has viable option to spell him when needed.

"Definitely. Running back is a physical position where -- no matter who you are -- you can't take every snap during the season, so whenever I come in, I just want to be able to help out and help this team win," Williams said. "The more reps I get, the more comfortable I get and the more confidence I have in myself. It's definitely growing."

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The Bills played it safe with a pair of starters, while giving their newest receiver more time to get used to his surroundings.

The team held left tackle Cordy Glenn, defensive end Shaq Lawson and new wide receiver Anquan Boldin out of the lineup. Glenn has been dealing with foot soreness, while Lawson has a groin injury. Boldin has practiced just once with the team since signing Monday.

With Lawson out, Eddie Yarbrough got the start. It didn't take long for Yarbrough to make an impact, either, as he recorded a third-down sack of Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford to end Minnesota's first drive.

"This wasn't the first time that he has flashed," McDermott said. "He earns it. He really does. That's going to personify, or typify, our football team. He's one of the first ones in the team meeting every morning. He's got flash cards – he's drilling himself mentally. So his success on the field tonight was not a surprise to those that know him."

Seantrel Henderson started at left tackle in place of Glenn, but did not fare as well, giving up a pair of sacks.

Also not dressing for the Bills were wide receiver Jeremy Butler (concussion), cornerback Kevon Seymour (foot soreness) and defensive end Ryan Davis (concussion).

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As was the case during Tuesday's practice, linebacker Gerald Hodges took second-team reps at middle linebacker in front of Reggie Ragland.

"Gerald's done some good things. He's shown an ability to handle more than one position on the defense in our base package and also our sub packages," McDermott said. "I love his toughness. He communicates well. He's a veteran player.

"Reggie's a young player that's coming off an injury and is only going to continue to get better. He's working extremely hard. I thought he did some good things in the game tonight. You know, played downhill. Played physical. That'll be a fun position to watch moving forward."

Ragland didn't play at all in the first half, but still led the Bills with six tackles, including one for a loss. Hodges had a pair of tackles.

"The game went well, but I'm still mad because every time they scored I was out there," Ragland said.

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