PITTSFORD – When the Buffalo Bills' players reported to training camp Wednesday, Josh Allen felt comfortable in assuming the role of a grizzled veteran during a conversation with fellow quarterback Tyree Jackson.
Keep in mind, Allen has all of one year of NFL experience and still doesn't need to do much shaving of the round, 23-year-old face that looks like it belongs to a high school kid.
Yet, Allen opted to share some first-hand experience with the lone rookie QB on the roster about what to expect when the team hit the field Thursday for its first practice of the summer. As with Jackson, the former University at Buffalo standout signed as an undrafted free agent, Allen began the 2018 camp at No. 3 on the depth chart.
The status presents its share of challenges, even for someone like Allen, who wore the neon-bright label of seventh overall pick of the draft.
"I remember last year, I didn't get a ton of reps at the start of camp," Allen said. "You just never know when your opportunity's going to be, you never know what opportunities you're going to be thrust into. That's why I told (Jackson), 'Last year, I tried to make the big play just because I got these little reps. There's a deep pass called, I want to throw that deep. I want to hear the crowd, the oohs and ahhs, all that stuff.'
"But I told him, 'Just make the smart play because you make the smart play, you're going to be able to get more reps, then in turn, more more opportunities.' He took it well."
Initiating such a discussion speaks volumes about how far Allen has come in a matter of 12 months. He isn't here to show off that ultra-powerful throwing arm or that ability to outrun the fastest of defenders and leap over linebackers in a single bound. Allen leaned heavily on his best physical traits during his rookie camp and the 11 starts he made in the regular season.
Now, he's incorporating more of his brain into the process.
That was evident multiple times during Thursday's non-contact session at St. John Fisher College, as the offense worked exclusively on two-minute and red-zone drills during 11-on-11 periods.
"Typically, NFL games are won and lost inside the red zone and in two-minute drill," Allen said, still sounding like an old pro.
In those situations, decision-making by the quarterback becomes even more crucial. While completing nine of 18 passes Thursday, Allen generally did more right than wrong.
The tighter space didn't allow him to do a whole lot in the way of long throws. He fired to the back of the end zone when those plays were open, but, more importantly, was mindful of checking down when necessary.
The Bills' coaches made that a priority during offseason workouts, and the same will continue to be true throughout camp and the preseason.
"It's going to be something I'm looking forward to doing a little more of, obviously getting the ball into our playmakers' hands, making the right decision. That's what it all comes down to," Allen said. "Check-downs aren't usually a cop-out. It's usually the smartest play. When everybody (on defense) drops back, get it to a running back, get it to a tight end, get it to our slot, and let them make a play.
"You know, a two-yard throw can turn into 20. We've got understand that. I've got to do a better job of understanding all that stuff, too. So it's still learning process."
A year ago, there didn't seem to be a whole lot of rhyme or reason to the Bills' quarterback plan. AJ McCarron had been signed as a free agent, presumably to serve as the "bridge" that Allen eventually would cross to the starting job either during the season or this year. But coach Sean McDermott was determined to have second-year man Nathan Peterman as part of the mix, largely because of how much he liked and respected him as a person.
The rest was a hodgepodge of alternating during practice. Allen saw work with all three offensive units, although hardly enough to sufficiently prepare him to be a starter when the games counted. After McCarron was surprisingly shipped to the Oakland Raiders, the top job went to Peterman before Allen took over early in the season.
"It's nice to have a player in his second year that you feel good about, that now we can talk more about educating Josh on the NFL game and situational football," McDermott said. "So, it's not as much about answering some of the unknowns as much as it is about developing him as an overall and complete football player."
Allen loves the feeling of having no doubt about where he stood Thursday. He's at the top of the depth chart, followed by Matt Barkley and Jackson.
"It's extremely different, knowing that I'm getting the No. 1 reps. Whenever the ones are out there, that's my reps. Going back to last year, it's like, 'I don't know, maybe I'm getting a couple threes or twos here and there and maybe switched to the ones for a play or two here or there. So just the feel of the whole thing, getting those reps are extremely crucial, I think, for a quarterback."
Allen proved as much as a rookie. The more he played, the better he looked. For the most part, his best showings came toward the end of the Bills' 6-10 season, with Allen starting in five wins.
That, along with the Bills' aggressiveness in moving up to make sure they got the guy they want to be their franchise quarterback, has elevated expectations for Allen. And not just by fans or media.
"I think you would like to see him trending," General Manager Brandon Beane said. "And I think we saw that in the spring. Now that has to, obviously, translate when we're playing against other teams. But I think you saw him distribute the ball, not try and take as many downfield shots. We want him to be aggressive, but we also want him, when the defense tells you to chuck it down and get it to second-and-four, second-and-three or whatever, we want them to take those opportunities, too.
"And you (reporters) were at practice (in the offseason), you saw the command, the leadership. This is his team. That's the biggest thing that I see from a year ago. It wasn't his team at that point. He was fighting for a spot. Now, the other 90 guys know that this is Josh Allen's team as the quarterback."