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Things We Learned: Notes from Day 3 of Bills training camp

PITTSFORD – There are milestones at every training camp.

Saturday was one of those days at St. John Fisher College, as the Buffalo Bills practiced in pads for the first time in the 2018 season.

“It brings back good memories,” center Ryan Groy said. “Every late July, you bring out the pads and it’s real football. It’s time to go.”

Throughout the spring and for the first two days of camp, the team practiced in shorts and helmets only.

“It’s good to … get some of that work in, too, don’t get me wrong,” coach Sean McDermott said. “But this is how the game is played. It’s played in pads.”

Gone are the days of two-a-day practices in the blazing heat. That means coaches have to maximize every practice rep.

“The window has certainly been tightened a little bit,” McDermott said of how much practice time is permitted. “We all have to adjust to that. The good thing is that it’s an even playing field. The important part of us coming to training camp is that we have to establish the toughness of our football team. That starts up front.”

To that end, the Bills ran some 9-on-7 drills Saturday. The defense got the better of the offense in the run game, with the first- and second-team front sevens stopping the run on three of four plays. Running back LeSean McCoy broke a 10-plus yard run with fullback Patrick DiMarco as the lead blocker. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: McCoy was the best player on the field.

During 11-on-11 work, the defense worked on several blitz packages. Rafael Bush and Eddie Yarbrough recorded sacks, while second-team middle linebacker Tanner Vallejo did a good job reading AJ McCarron’s eyes to break up a pass over the middle.

“We’re going to start by going at it and if we need to adjust from there, that’s what I know to do,” McDermott said of the intensity level. “It’s important that we’re a tough football team and that we can run the ball and the opponent knows that we can run the ball and we can stop the run when we need to stop the run.”

2. Shaq Lawson needs to step up.

The third-year defensive end was stout against the run, twice setting the edge. More of that is needed from Lawson, who has been working behind Trent Murphy at defensive end.

“Other than working Shaq out through the draft process myself, Shaq and I and our relationship was new last year and I’ve gotten to know him, he’s gotten to know me a little bit and what we expect,” McDermott said. “He’s in a good place, looks like he’s in shape, and ready to go. Look, I’m not going to hide behind (the fact) there’s a strong competition there between a few guys, including Trent Murphy. Shaq … it’s time for him to step up. I look forward to him doing that through training camp and on through the season.”

3. A couple bumps and bruises.

Tight end Nick O’Leary looked to suffer an ankle injury. While he was able to return to 11-on-11 work, a short time later he hobbled off again. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin briefly left the field with a trainer, but also made a quick return and appeared to be a full practice participant.

The only player who remains out of practice is wide receiver Zay Jones, who is on the non-football injury list.

4. One-on-one drills are a good watch.

One of the more entertaining parts of training camp every year are the one-on-one battles between offensive and defensive linemen. That’s particularly true when the pads go on.

Saturday, standouts in that drill were Jordan Mills and Dion Dawkins along the offensive line and Harrison Phillips along the defensive line. Mills handled Murphy on two reps, while Dawkins got the best of Jerry Hughes and Rickey Hatley on his two attempts.

Phillips, the rookie from Stanford, got past Marshall Newhouse and applied pressure against Groy.

Rookie undrafted free agent Mat Boesen used a nice fake spin move to fool De’Ondre Wesley and get an easy pressure. It was Boesen’s first rep of camp in the one-on-one setting. Wesley and Newhouse swapped positions along the second-team offensive line, with Wesley working at left tackle and Newhouse at left guard.

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