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Best of Bills training camp 2019: MVPs, top rookie, biggest concerns

PITTSFORD – The Buffalo Bills’ abbreviated stay in suburban Rochester wrapped up Tuesday.

The team broke training camp at St. John Fisher College after 10 practices and will head home to Orchard Park to prepare for Thursday’s preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. The 20th annual camp at Fisher was shorter than usual because the team will head to South Carolina next week for a pair of joint practices with the Panthers ahead of their preseason game.

“First-rate hospitality, first-class all-around,” coach Sean McDermott said of the team’s setup at Fisher. “From the people who clean our rooms to the cafeteria on campus. And then off campus in the community, just first class all the way, so we appreciate that.

"I also want to thank the garbage guy who came every morning on the dot to wake me up. I appreciate his routine. But no, it’s been a great camp and I think it’s one of the best venues in all of the NFL to go away to camp.”

Here’s a look at some of the standout performers and memorable moments from the last two weeks:

Offensive MVP: WR John Brown

Brown averaged a career-best 17.0 yards per catch last season with the Baltimore Ravens, tied for fourth best in the NFL, so it was well-known the Bills were acquiring a deep threat when they signed him in the offseason. Through 10 training camp practices, though, Brown has shown to be more than that. He was a reliable target in the red zone who used his shiftiness to consistently get open. Brown looked like the Bills’ No. 1 receiver at St. John Fisher. “John is a great pro,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “Some guys are just exclusively shifty guys that can use and manipulate in the slot and move them around. Other guys have shiftiness, but they also have speed. Even though John is a little bit shorter, he has very good vertical speed, but he also has great balance and body control, ability to break down and cut.”

Defensive MVP: DT Ed Oliver

It took less than two weeks for Oliver to move into the starting lineup ahead of Jordan Phillips. Just a hunch, but expect him to stay there for a long time. The team’s first-round draft pick showed the type of burst off the ball that made him a top-10 selection. “I think it’s a credit to the way he plays,” McDermott said of Oliver showing up in the backfield so often. “He plays hard every snap.” Oliver took his game to a new level once the pads went on at camp, and there is good reason to be excited for what comes next from him.

Most improved player: CB Levi Wallace

So much for that competition for the No. 2 cornerback job opposite Tre’Davious White. “He is the incumbent starter and somebody has to take it away from him,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of Wallace early in camp. So far, that hasn’t come close to happening. Wallace has consistently been with the starters, and appears close to officially solidifying his spot in the starting lineup.

Most pleasant surprise: WR Ray-Ray McCloud

It’s significant when both the head coach and offensive coordinator bring up your name without being asked. That’s what’s happened with McCloud, the 2018 sixth-round draft pick out of Clemson who had a forgettable rookie year. “It’s such a difference from year one to year two,” Daboll said of McCloud’s development. It’s still early to say that McCloud is a lock for the 53-man roster, but he made a positive impression during training camp and will look to build on that in the preseason.

Biggest agitator: G Jon Feliciano

The Bills must be saving up their fighting energy for the joint practices coming up with the Carolina Panthers, because training camp didn’t feature any huge blowups. The few times there were skirmishes, though, it seemed like Feliciano was in the middle of them. The former Raiders lineman plays with the type of edge you’d expect from a former Raiders lineman. He got into it on different days with safety Dean Marlowe and Oliver. A mean streak in an offensive lineman isn’t a bad thing provided it doesn’t cross a line.

Underrated free agent addition: WR Andre Roberts

A first-team All-Pro last season as a kick returner, Roberts was, of course, brought in to help the special teams. If training camp is any indication, though, there could be a role for him on offense. Roberts has consistently mixed in with the first team at wide receiver. “We’ve had some injuries there, so he’s very willingly stepped up and shown what he has,” McDermott said. “I think he’s been more than a returner over the course of his career if you go back to Arizona, having gone against him. He’s a great teammate, positive guy, great energy, puts the team first and I think he’s done some nice things from the line of scrimmage, too.”

Top rookie: OL Cody Ford

Oliver would also be a fine choice, but we’ll go with Ford, who has seen time at both right tackle and right guard with the starting offensive line. “I really appreciate his attitude and mindset with it. To me, it really personifies who we are becoming as a team and the way he was unselfish with it and his approach to it,” McDermott said of Ford moving from tackle to guard. “I love that he put the team first. We’re just looking at things this time of year and trying to put the best five on the field.” It’s looking more like Ford will be one of them, no matter which position he ultimately ends up playing.

Biggest disappointment: TE Jason Croom

Croom managed to practice just once before going down with a hamstring injury. It’s the same problem he had in the spring, which cost him valuable practice time then as well. With presumed starter Tyler Kroft out with a broken foot, Croom had a big opportunity to take the next step in his career. Because of injury, he’s thus far been unable to take it. The longer he remains out, the less secure his spot on the 53-man roster becomes.

Biggest injury: C Mitch Morse

Morse has missed eight straight practices after being diagnosed with a concussion. As per NFL rules, the team has been tight-lipped on his condition. Morse has been spotted frequently on the sideline working out with trainers, which seems like a good sign. There is no denying, though, that given his history with concussions, this has to be a major concern for the organization. The Bills made Morse the highest-paid center in the game. Doing so shows the front office felt like he would be a major part of a rebuilt offensive line. There is still a month to go until the regular season, so he has time to make it back. If he does and goes on to play all 16 games, maybe this will look like an overexaggeration. For now, it’s fair to call it a legitimate worry.

Lifetime achievement award: LB Lorenzo Alexander

Entering his 13th NFL season, Alexander has dutifully held down his starting spot at linebacker in the team’s base, 4-3 defensive scheme. The 36-year-old is again in phenomenal shape and remains one of the team’s most important leaders in what he has said will be his last season.

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