Tyree Jackson wasn’t going to bite.
His ready answer for practically every question reporters asked after Friday’s practice at Buffalo Bills rookie minicamp included some variation of him being “excited” and focused on “getting better each day.”
The former University at Buffalo quarterback, whom the Bills signed as an undrafted free agent, wasn’t going to venture anywhere near something that could remotely be construed as controversial. And that included the largest question that has hovered over him since he wasn’t selected in last month’s NFL Draft.
Did he think he would have been better off staying in college for one more year and following through with switching to another school after entering the NCAA transfer portal?
“No, sir,” Jackson said. “I walked into the facilities when we first got here and I was so happy to be here. And I’m excited to get to work with my teammates, and like I said, just get better each day.”
How about Thursday’s retirement of 14-year veteran Derek Anderson, shrinking the Bills’ quarterback depth chart to three — including Josh Allen and Matt Barkley — and seemingly giving Jackson a better chance to make the roster?
“My reaction is always going to be focus on getting better each day, listening to the coaches and improving each day,” Jackson said. “That’s my goal since I arrived here and that's the goal that the coaches have for me is just to go out and improve each day and work hard.”
Safe. Generic. Minimize all off-field attention.
Sean McDermott did his part to try to keep Jackson’s profile as low as possible, even if he was the biggest topic of the gathering of rookies and try-out players at One Bills Drive.
Asked about the qualities Jackson had that could allow him to make the team, the coach smiled.
“We haven’t even had our first practice,” McDermott said. “But it’s great, number one, to have a local guy from UB, as well as (cornerback) Cam Lewis. I think that says a lot about the program that coach (Lance Leipold) runs over at UB and the direction they are headed.
“In particular with Tyree, he is a talented man that’s just gotten through his first meeting and walk-through and is about to get his first professional practice under his belt. We’re anxious to see what he can do. Certainly, the talent is there in a lot of different ways, but there’s also a process involved of taking it one practice at a time.”
After the non-contact workout, Jackson acknowledged to feeling some jitters before taking part in his first NFL workout. He got over them quickly.
“Every time you go out there for the first practice with a new team, you might be a little nervous,” Jackson said. “But at the end of the day, once the ball’s snapped, it’s football. And we’ve got a lot of really good rookies out there, so it’s fun to get the ball to them and compete.”
At every turn, the rookie wanted to make it clear he was embracing everything about the opportunity the Bills gave him after Jackson surprised many in the NFL — including Bills General Manager Brandon Beane — by going undrafted. ESPN cameras captured Jackson’s shock and disappointment, especially when projections he could be taken as high as the fourth round proved inaccurate.
However, they also showed him smiling and laughing as he popped a champagne cork and celebrated with family, friends and his agents after learning the Bills were offering him a contract worth $75,000 — a $15,000 signing bonus, plus $60,000 in guarantees. That was the face and tone on display after his first practice with the Bills.
“As we’ve seen, careers aren’t made on stages in Nashville,” Brian McLaughlin, one of Jackson’s agents, said in reference to this year’s draft. “They’re made on the field.”
Anderson’s departure dramatically reduces the Bills’ experience at quarterback. Allen is entering only his second NFL season, while Barkley is entering his seventh.
The Bills could always add a more experienced player at the position, but for now, McDermott is satisfied with the way things stand.
“We feel good about adding Ken Dorsey to the room,” McDermott said of the former NFL quarterback who replaced David Culley as QBs coach. “Derek and Ken worked together in Carolina for a number of years. I think I would be a little more concerned about it had we not added Dorsey to the mix this off-season.
“With some of the experience that Matt brings to the table, too, this isn’t his first go-around, so that piece along with the influence that Brian (Daboll) has in the room, at this point I feel comfortable with what we’ve got.”