Josh Allen knows exactly what Tyree Jackson is going through.
The Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback was in Jackson’s spot on the third team a year ago as he prepared for the first preseason game of his career.
Allen wanted nothing more than to go out and put on a show under the lights. He did, too, uncorking a bomb to Robert Foster on his first play against the Carolina Panthers.
Like Allen, Jackson has an arm that makes scouts swoon. The challenge for him is to resist the urge to use it at all times, starting Thursday when the Bills host the Indianapolis Colts at New Era Field.
“It’s not practice anymore, it’s another team and you can and you will get hit, so be prepared for that, but he’s a big guy, big frame and I know he’s not worried about that,” Allen said. “When the opportunity presents itself to go deep, obviously he’s got a big arm and wants to show it off, kind of like how I was last year and still am a little bit. Whatever the defense gives you, just kind of take it. The smart play is the right play.”
The urge to show the coaching staff what he can do was not easy for Allen to suppress. As the third-team quarterback, the amount of opportunities to impress are limited. Throughout training camp, Allen has worked with Jackson to understand why the check down is sometimes better than the risky throw into traffic.
“Sometimes you want to force it because you get one or two opportunities in practice to do it,” Allen said. “I think the first couple days, he might have tried to force something down the field, where now he’s kind of like ‘OK, let’s make the right play.’ When you start making the right play, you’re going to have more opportunities.”
Jackson should get plenty of those against the Colts. Allen and the starters are expected to play about one quarter. He’ll be followed by Matt Barkley in the quarterback rotation, which could leave Jackson the entire second half. The University at Buffalo product likely needs an impressive preseason to convince the Bills’ coaching staff to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster. For now, it’s more likely that Jackson is playing for a spot on the practice squad, although getting him there means he would have to pass through waivers. A successful preseason may attract another team or force the Bills to keep him on the 53-man roster.
Jackson made it a habit throughout training camp at St. John Fisher College to be the first player on the practice field. The 6-foot-7, 249-pounder was out early every day with offensive assistant Shea Tierney, maximizing his amount of on-field instruction time. Jackson feels like his footwork has improved, but knows the list of things to work on remains lengthy.
“Our coaches do such a good job of hammering doing the little things right,” Jackson said. “That's just how our offensive philosophy is and just learning from the older guys like Josh and Matt, watching them do it, you just want to do the right play and make the right decision. I'm surrounded by so many smart people, so anything I can steal from them and learn from them I think is a blessing. Each day I come out here, I learn something I didn't know before.”
Jackson got a taste of what it will be like to wear a Bills uniform inside New Era Field during the team’s open practice last week, but the game against the Colts will be a different experience.
“I'll be riled up and excited, but I’ve also just got to stay calm and do what my coaches have taught me,” he said. “It's going to be surreal going out there and playing. It's just going to be exciting.”
Jackson isn’t the only UB product looking forward to making his Bills debut. Cornerback Cam Lewis, a fellow undrafted free agent, also will be on the field against the Colts. Lewis impressed the coaching staff during training camp, recently earning second-team reps.
“I think he's done some really good things,” coach Sean McDermott said of Lewis. “Everyone I talked to throughout the evaluation process being around UB's program had nothing but positive things to say about Cam – who he was as a young man, who he was as a player, his commitment to the team, his commitment to the program. That was true from not only the head coach, but everyone. Talking all the way to the trainers and support staff. That doesn't happen all the time. I think we've seen early signs of that with us to this point. I think his best football is ahead of him.”
The groin injury suffered by E.J. Gaines creates some drama in the secondary. McDermott said Gaines is expected to be out for “weeks,” which could open a spot on the 53-man roster to start the season. Lewis is similar to Gaines in that he can play both outside and the slot, versatility that the coaches like.
A spot on the practice squad is more likely a realistic goal for Lewis, and a strong showing against the Colts would strengthen his case.
“It’s a humbling experience, for sure,” Lewis said of staying in Buffalo. “Playing at UB, the fans, community always came out to show love. Being my first time in this stadium and seeing all the fans here, it's going to be a surreal moment. It's kind of different from college, more on the mental side of the game, but the vets have been keeping me straight.”