Josh Allen’s return is all but official.
The Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback participated fully in a short practice Monday as the team returned from its bye week, the latest sign that Allen will make his much-anticipated return to the lineup Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars visit New Era Field. A sprained throwing elbow suffered in Week 6 against Houston kept Allen out of the team’s last four games – losses to Indianapolis, New England and Chicago, as well as a win over the New York Jets before the bye.
“I’m making throws where I don’t have to second guess, putting the ball where it needs to be, and when I’m making each throw, there’s no grabbing or pulling in there and it feels comfortable and fluid,” Allen said Monday. “Maybe two weeks ago I might’ve had a few throws where, ‘I don’t want to make this throw yet.’ Now, I definitely think it’s full game and every throw is on the table.
“The comfort level obviously in the elbow is getting to where it needs to be, where I want it to be. I know we’re still taking it day by day, but coming out here, I’m going to act like I’m going to be starting on Sunday.”
Barring a medical setback, that’s what will happen.
“He’s had some good rehab sessions. Our medical staff, Josh, our strength and conditioning staff have done a wonderful job,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I’m excited to see him back on the field, excited to see our team back on the field today for a few reps, just to kind of get them warmed up.”
While most of the rest of his teammates were on a beach somewhere last week or simply enjoying time with their families, Allen stayed in Buffalo to continue his rehab.
“His arm looks right back where it needs to be,” wide receiver Robert Foster said. “I mean, he looks great. I’m very proud of him. It takes a lot of mental toughness to go through that.”
Foster stayed behind in Buffalo last week as well, so he caught plenty of passes from Allen.
“I embraced the opportunity,” Foster said. “Let’s get together and work on this connection that we can build.”
At 3-7, the Bills are long shots for the playoffs. That means the remaining six games of the season are all about development of younger players. That list starts with Allen, and continues with Foster, who had a breakout game against the Jets in becoming the Bills’ first 100-yard receiver of the season.
“Robert is one of the guys that kind of stayed back and he threw with me over the week, so I’m confident where he’s at and where our timing and relationship is at,” Allen said. “The dude’s really fast.”
Allen practiced on a limited basis leading up to the game against the Jets, but with the bye week looming, the Bills took the cautious approach and held him out for one more week.
“The difference that I feel in the elbow right now compared to two weeks ago – it’s a very big difference,” Allen said. “I’m thankful that I was able to sit out for one more week. … I got to learn a lot from that game as well. To see some of our guys go out there and make some plays and see our offense, how they performed, it was very exciting to see that and I’m looking forward to what comes.”
Matt Barkley performed so well in leading that 41-10 victory over the Jets there was at least some talk of keeping him in. McDermott, though, was quick to say that Allen would regain the starting job when healthy, which he reiterated Monday.
“I mean, you look at everything. That’s part of my job, my responsibilities to do that,” he said. General Manager Brandon Beane “and I spoke about it, we certainly were impressed with the way Matt handled things. At the end of the day, Josh is our starter, and we’re excited to have him back.”
Allen’s return will add another juicy storyline to a game between a pair of 3-7 teams. On the Jacksonville side, there is the return of coach Doug Marrone and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, while Allen will face one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL in the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey.
In a preseason interview with GQ, Ramsey was quoted calling Allen “trash.” Asked Monday about whether he hangs onto that insult, Allen downplayed it.
“Honestly, I don’t even remember what he said, but I could care less,” he said. “It’s more what my teammates feel about me and how I’m progressing right now and just trying to continue to learn the game of football, enjoy this, and live it with my teammates.”
Even though they’re struggling, the Jaguars still have a formidable defense. Jacksonville ranks fourth in total defense, ninth in points allowed and first in fewest first downs allowed per game.
Allen wore a small brace during Monday’s practice, which he described as more of a “sleeve.”
“This Jacksonville defense is going to be one of the best defenses we’ve played all year,” Allen said. “They’ve got some really good players on that side, their linebackers move very well and their front four, they pay them a lot of money for a very good reason. They’ve got some studs up front and in the back. They’ve got some really good corners, maybe one of the best corners in the game.”
Allen will likely be backed up by Barkley, as veteran Derek Anderson remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol and did not practice Monday. The Bills are carrying three quarterbacks after last week’s release of Nathan Peterman, which McDermott addressed Monday for the first time.
“Tough decision. Nate did everything that was asked,” the coach said. “He’s a class act through and through. We certainly appreciate all the effort, everything he gave when he was here. To carry four quarterbacks is a little bit unique for any extended period of time. Getting Josh to the point where he is allowed us to make a move there.”
In addition to Anderson, tight end Charles Clay (hamstring) also did not practice Monday. Linebacker Matt Milano (concussion) was limited, as was defensive end Trent Murphy (knee).
The Bills filled the vacancy on their 53-man roster by promoting linebacker Corey Thompson from the practice squad. Linebacker Richard Jarvis was signed to the practice squad. He was released by Jacksonville last week.