The Buffalo Bills’ youth movement kicked into another gear Sunday.
The team had six rookie undrafted free agents playing on offense or defense during a 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions.
“We feel good about it. I mean, obviously, we haven’t won as many games as we wanted to win, but the fact remains that we’re building this football team, I feel like, the right way,” coach Sean McDermott said on Monday. “That means trying to develop a football team that can sustain success over a period of time and compete at a high level over a period of time.”
The Bills had three rookie UDFAs on both offense and defense against Detroit. By snap counts, they were: wide receiver Robert Foster (57), cornerback Levi Wallace (56), running back Keith Ford (41), linebacker Corey Thompson (20), defensive end Mike Love (9) and guard Ike Boettger (9). Add first-year pro Jason Croom, who spent last season on the practice squad, and that’s seven UDFAs who contributed to the win.
“It’s comforting to know that when you come back in the spring, you know we have a good feel for who Robert is, who Levi is, Corey Thompson now, Keith Ford,” McDermott said. “We got Ike Boettger out there yesterday, Mike Love was out there for nine or 10 plays, as well. We’re getting these young guys some valuable playing time. For all of them, it’s really an interview. It’s a two- to three-week interview to see what we’ve got and we can build on top of it if we need to.”
With Foster, the Bills seem to have really found something. He had his third 100-yard receiving game of the season, finishing with four catches for 108 yards. Over the last four weeks, Foster is second in the NFL in receiving yards with 306 (behind only Dallas’ Amari Cooper with 473).
“These last four or five weeks, he’s done a good job with taking advantage of the opportunities that he’s had,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “He was just up here a little while ago going through the tape and getting with the receiver coaches. He’s got a good mindset for a young player.”
Ford and Love made their Bills debuts, Thompson played on defense for the first time and Boettger got in on offense for just the second time this season.
“Guys played with a lot of energy,” McDermott said. “Thompson, I thought there were some plays where he looked like a rookie, and then there were some other plays where he really seemed like he was comfortable out there. He made a good tackle when the ball was checked down to a tight end somewhere underneath – showed his speed and made a nice tackle. He’s only going to get better with time.”
Ford, meanwhile, was the team’s only running back for the second half after Marcus Murphy was hurt in the second quarter. Ford finished the game with 14 carries for 46 yards.
“I was impressed in the way that he came in and also handled himself, the way he ran behind the line,” McDermott said. “I thought the line did a good job in that third quarter there. Keith was pounding the ball and had some positive plays.”
Murphy suffered a dislocated elbow against the Lions, McDermott confirmed Monday. It’s still being determined if it is an injury he can attempt to play through.
McDermott did not have an update on running backs LeSean McCoy (hamstring) and Chris Ivory (shoulder), both of whom missed Sunday’s game because of injuries. They continue to be evaluated, as does tight end Logan Thomas (hamstring). Cornerback Ryan Lewis is in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
McDermott said the Bills elected to punt from the Detroit 36-yard line because he didn’t feel comfortable with kicker Stephen Hauschka, who was questionable for the game with a hip injury, attempting a 54-yard field goal.
“Really want to get Stephen’s first kick to be a little bit tighter in if we could, just because of coming off of what he came off of, and the week he had leading up to the game,” McDermott said. “Just didn’t feel real good about it right then and there, so we decided to punt.”
As for passing up a 31-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to go for it on fourth and 2, McDermott said that had nothing to do with Hauschka’s injury status.
“That was my decision,” he said. “Going to win the game.”