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Bills tight end Dawson Knox plans similar approach to offseason after breakout year

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Bills Patriots playoffs first

Bills tight end Dawson Knox (88) pulls in a touchdown pass against New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) during the first quarter of the AFC wild-card game at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.

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This is the first in a series of questions facing the Bills in the offseason. First, what can tight end Dawson Knox do for an encore?

The chemistry between quarterback Josh Allen and tight end Dawson Knox is so strong that Allen once threw him a touchdown by accident.

On the opening drive against the New England Patriots in the wild-card game Jan. 15, Allen thought he was putting the ball where no one, not even his 6-foot-4 tight end, could reach it.

“Honestly, I thought I threw the ball away,” Allen said. "It was like, 'I did not mean for that to happen,' but Dawson was in the right place at the right time and made an unbelievable play.”

The touchdown was a surprise in the moment to Allen, but not a shock given Knox’s overall performance in his third year. Knox finished the regular season with 587 yards on 49 catches in 15 games. His nine touchdowns were good for a four-way tie for most touchdown receptions by a tight end in the league in the regular season and set a franchise record. 

All those numbers shattered his previous two seasons. He added another 98 yards, seven receptions and two touchdowns in the playoffs. 

While able to appreciate the leap he made, both on his team and around the league, Knox feels he still has ways to improve.

“I feel like I made a good jump from last year to this year,” he said when the season ended. “But I feel like I'm far from where I want to be as a tight end. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface, and I want to keep going. I want to make another jump going into next year and just doing whatever our team needs.”

A year ago, Knox met with Brian Daboll, also fresh off a disappointing loss in Kansas City. One of the things Knox has loved most about Daboll is how the then-offensive coordinator never hides what he’s thinking. In January 2021, that meant some blunt criticism. He used it as motivation then, and can use it as a measuring stick now.

“After the exit meetings last year, we just had a real conversation: I needed to be more consistent,” Knox said. “They wanted to rely on me more, and they needed me to be more of a player than what I was last year. So that stuck with me.

“I remembered that through the whole offseason and I tried to become what they needed me to be as a tight end for this offense. It was fun meeting with him (at exit meetings this year), just knowing that he was happy with where I was as a player, because his opinion means the world to me.”

Daboll has since moved on to become head coach of the New York Giants, with Ken Dorsey being promoted to offensive coordinator with the Bills.

Knox said he doesn’t have specific goals for his offseason quite yet. He plans to identify those after taking some time off, but given his jump this season, he doesn’t plan to shake things up too much.

“It'll be very much the same process that I started last offseason,” he said. “Clearly, it worked for me a little bit.”

He worked with a vision specialist, to improve his hand-eye coordination and to decrease drops, and he attended the prestigious Tight End University, a three-day congregation of some of the league’s best tight ends. All the different means of offseason work prepared him for the breakout season.

“It's just the consistency of training your eyes, getting with Josh, just trusting your hands,” Knox said. “That's all it is, just doing the right thing every day, finding a good routine for yourself and then just developing that confidence. It's not much more than that.”

Knox had three two-touchdown performances, including in the playoffs against New England. He set personal highs this season of 117 receiving yards in Kansas City and seven catches in Tampa Bay. His increased production started early: From Week 2 to Week 5, Knox had five touchdowns in four games.

Coach Sean McDermott had seen all the work Knox put in during the offseason. He believed it would lead to big returns, but wanted to see what Knox could maintain.

“I would say – I think we all can say – that Dawson’s really had a consistent year in that way, in a good way,” McDermott said. “The returns from the first four or five games have really become what he’s done all season. So the consistency, I think, has been big for Dawson.”

There was one hiccup. Knox broke his hand during the game in Tennessee, staying in long enough to complete a throw to Allen – yes, a throw to Allen – on a two-point conversion. He had surgery over the bye week and missed the next two games, before returning for a game against the Jets on his birthday. Two weeks later, after just nine games, he set the Bills franchise mark for touchdowns in a season by a tight end.

Knox was also proud of his development as an every-down tight end. He was on the field for 87% of the offensive snaps in the regular season in games he was active, per Pro Football Reference.

“Ever since I got to the league, I've said that I wanted to be the three-down tight end that never comes off the field,” Knox said. “I don't want to ever be on the sidelines, especially in crucial situations, and that means I got to be a good blocker.”

He credited tight ends coach Rob Boras with his growth in the run-blocking game. Knox also said multiple times throughout the year that he could feel the game slowing down for him.

“Just knowing our scheme, immediately when I get to the line knowing who I'm blocking, knowing who I'm working with on any double teams, reading coverage, just starting to become second nature,” he said. “And then catching the ball, too. I mean this offseason I found a good routine for myself and I'm planning to just keep building on that.

“A lot of that's confidence, too, and just timing with Josh and having his confidence in me as well,” Knox said.

Like Daboll, General Manager Brandon Beane let Knox know a year ago that the Bills needed more from him. Last year, Beane was candid that he was in search from greater production from the position. This time around, Beane will look at tight ends again, but for a different reason. 

“Dawson did really well. Maybe some depth there to compete with him,” Beane said in his season-ending news conference, when asked about offseason priorities. “But I’m going to look at every position.”

Knox, meanwhile, will get a little more time than Beane to take a breather. He was clear that he plans to find a beach, chill for a bit and then build off his best year yet. He'll once again use something from the end of the season – this time, the loss itself – as motivation. 

“It's going to be something that motivates us to work that much harder when we get to that point next season, the results will be different, ultimately,” Knox said. “But over the next couple of weeks, goal No. 1 is to enjoy the offseason, relax and get the mind right for what's coming up.”

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