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McDermott, players 'adjust' and 'move on' after Boldin's retirement

Zay Jones is going to miss all of that knowledge Anquan Boldin began dropping on him the moment the 36-year-old wide receiver arrived at the Buffalo Bills' training camp a couple of weeks ago.

It was Boldin, for instance, who introduced Jones to a concept the rookie had never heard before they met: Defensive backs aren't the only ones allowed to be physical.

"He was kind of a coach in the meeting room," Jones said Tuesday. "And Anquan would say things like, 'Hey, you can be physical with defensive backs, too. Just because you're the route-runner, you're the receiver, don't think a lot of times you have to avoid the confrontation. When you play, you've got to play with aggression, you've got to be physical, you've got to be willing to put your hands on them, too.' That was something different.

"(Receivers) coach Phil (McGeoghan) does an unbelievable job for us as receivers, but Anquan provided a different side of things that not a lot of people in the world can do, period."

Although Boldin came and left in a virtual blink, his impact on the Bills continues to be felt. And his sudden retirement Sunday remains a primary topic of discussion.

"It's cliché to say, but you really just move on," guard Richie Incognito said. "We were counting on him and he decides to move on and retire. And we respect that decision, but it's good practice for us because guys in crucial positions this year are going to go down and stuff's going to happen and we're going to missing guys for games, so it's next man up. That's the cliché part of it, but it truly is and it gives those guys in the wide-receiver room an opportunity to earn a spot."

Addressing the media for the first time since Boldin's stunning announcement, coach Sean McDermott reiterated the organizational stance that the Bills "respect his decision" to leave football in order to devote full attention to social issues and charitable endeavors that earned him the NFL's prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

"That said, we adjust, that's what we do," McDermott said. "That's what this league is about -- adjusting on the field and adjusting off the field with our game plans. I've been in this league and around this league for around 20 years, I've learned not to be surprised by anything. That's really the core of it.

"As a football team, we adapt. These players, this football team, has adapted before and will continue to adapt and shown grit. That's a hallmark of a good football team. I've been extremely proud of the way everyone has done that all through preseason."

Even after the departures of Boldin and Sammy Watkins, whom the Bills traded to the Los Angeles Rams, McDermott said he feels good about the team's situation at receiver. He pointed out that other receivers recognize the chance to show what they can do to fill the gaps.

McDermott mentioned that he "really liked" what he saw from undrafted rookies Brandon Reilly and Daikiel Shorts in last Thursday night's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Reilly caught four passes for 39 yards and the Bills' lone touchdown, a nine-yarder late in the fourth quarter. Shorts had two catches for 22 yards.

"And they continue to show, as young players, the ability to catch the ball in traffic," McDermott said.

He also went out of his way to compliment two other newcomers: Jones, the Bills' second-round draft pick, and veteran free-agent addition Andre Holmes.

"I like what Andre Holmes has done the last couple of weeks," McDermott said. "I like his contributions in terms of the vertical game, the physical part of the game, and then as I mentioned the other night, a couple young guys stepped up and did a nice job as well."

Any hit to morale that Boldin's decision might cause is something the coach won't look to handle on his own. He's enlisting the help of his veteran leaders.

Before the season begins, the Bills will have a "leadership council," made up of veteran players who serve as a conduit between the squad and the coach.

"But I do lean on those guys already," McDermott said. "The Kyle Williamses of our football team, the Lorenzo Alexanders, the Eric Woods and the list goes on. They're a great sounding board in terms of what's going on, how the team's reacting to things ... They’ve been a tremendous help to me and I really appreciate their leadership, their guidance, and their feel for the pulse of the team overall."

Alexander doesn't accept the premise that Boldin "quit" on the Bills. Boldin's 14-year career, during which he established himself as one of the top receivers in NFL history, affords him the benefit of the doubt. So, too, does the fact he was contemplating retirement the last couple of years and decided, after a strong season with the Detroit Lions in 2016, "to come back and give it one last shot to see where he was at mentally, physically, and spritually with the game."

The 34-year-old Alexander, who is entering his 11th season in the league, can relate to Boldin becoming reflective even after signing a one-year, $2.75-million contract.

"As a guy who has played in this league a long time, I know how hard it is to make it through a season," the linebacker said. "And knowing Anquan from afar and watching how he competes, if he wasn't all the way in, it was best for him to walk away. And I don't think guys felt like he walked out on us and just left us hanging for dry. And that's kind of the sentiment that most guys have. It's not, 'Woe is us.'

"We can't think about, 'Well, we lost another guy, we lost Sammy, we're punting the season away.' That's not the mentality of a football team, and when you start thinking like that, that's when you're definitely not going to have a good season at all."

For Alexander, it didn't matter that Boldin cited recent events in Charlottesville, Va., as the tipping point in his decision to walk away from the game -- that he wants to devote more time to doing whatever he can to help heal a nation he feels has never been more divided.

"He could have said, 'You know what? I'm just not in it, I don't want to do it, my body doesn't feel right, I'm not playing at the level I want to and I'm done with the game,'" Alexander said. "And I would have been fine with that, because everybody has their choices. I'm proud of him that he's going to take the platform that he built in the NFL and use it to obviously try to help bring our country together and help certain issues, but it's an individual decision. It could have been anything, and I'd have been, 'OK, I understand, bro.' Because you can't play this game half-hearted."

"I respect Anquan's decision a hundred percent," Incognito said. "The guy's been a warrior. He's played a long time in this league. He knows what it takes, mentally and physically, to complete a season. And he recognized that maybe his head and his heart weren't into it and he made a decision. I think it's better than just kind of sitting around, collecting a year of checks and really not being into it. He manned up and made a decision, and we respect that."

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