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Kaiir Elam an eager student on Bills' first day of rookie minicamp

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Buffalo Bills Rookie Mini Camp (copy)

Bills rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam was happy to be back on the football field Friday.

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Sean McDermott does everything in his power to manage expectations for rookie players.

When it comes to Kaiir Elam, though, the Buffalo Bills’ coach knows plenty will be expected of the team’s first-round draft pick. Elam got his first taste of life as a professional Friday as the Bills opened rookie minicamp.

“We've got a veteran team in terms of guys who have come in here before and earned their way,” McDermott said. “That's no different with Kaiir. You've got to come in and just focus on what you can control, what's right in front of you every day, and then put one foot in front of the other so that you can become the best version of yourself. There's no preconceived expectations. That's for people outside of these walls, and I respect that, but at the end of the day, the best way to go about it is just focus on what you're here to do, and your job, and develop every day.”

The Bills hope Elam, who was selected with the 23rd overall pick out of Florida, can develop into a starting-caliber cornerback in short order. General manager Brandon Beane has said in the past that he expects any player chosen in the first round to at least compete for a starting job, and the Bills could have a big opening in their lineup if Tre’Davious White – who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL – isn’t ready to play at the start of the season.

There is a lot of time between today and September for that to be sorted out. For now, Elam is just happy to be back on the field.

“Football is football,” he said. “I was just so excited to be out there because if I was in college, I probably would have been done with spring already. I was super excited to be out there. Try to fly around, have fun and motivate my teammates, push my teammates and just keep continuing to get better.”

Elam said Friday’s practice felt like the first of his freshman year of college. Adjusting to the tighter hash marks in the NFL is a change, but mostly, he couldn’t hide his excitement to be on a football field again. He was even eager to end his news conference following practice to get to his next meeting.

“That part of it, I enjoy,” he said. “I can talk football all day. It's awesome. Honestly, I’m just trying to embrace it all, trying to learn as much as I can.”

Elam’s eagerness to learn became a big storyline after he was drafted. As part of the Bills’ “Embedded” series that showcases the pre-draft process, a portion of Elam’s interview with the team at the NFL scouting combine was aired. As he was being interviewed, Elam showed team representatives the notebook he used at Florida to document mistakes he made during games and what hurt his team, with the idea being it would be what he worked on to improve. The clip showed a glimpse of Elam’s work ethic. On Friday, he largely downplayed the moment.

“That was just something I picked up as a freshman. I wasn't trying to be outside the box or anything like that,” he said. “That was just something I always did. I thought that was something that, you know, I just always wanted to show off that I was prepared. I didn't try to not be myself. At the end of the day, I try to prepare better than anybody else, but I also try to learn as much as I can. What I did, that's just me. I'm not in here for likes and follows, you know what I'm saying? I'm here because I love football and I just want to help this team win.”

Elam brought the notebook with him to Buffalo, and made it clear he’ll have it with him during his rookie year.

“I'm going to keep that for the rest of my life,” he said. “I might have to go back to it and prepare like I did in college. You know, I keep that with me just in case. It's just like, I don't know, like a map, almost.”

McDermott spoke with the media for the first time Friday since the draft. He said the notebook portion of Elam’s combine interview has been “overblown a little bit,” but that he’s been impressed with how the 21-year-old has handled himself leading up to and after the draft.

“There's a contrast between what he did and the way he presented himself at the combine and on the 30 visit to maybe some other players in the way they handle it,” he said. “You could just tell he's been well schooled with his prep for the draft. He's got great support from his dad who played, and family members, as well, additional family members who have played in the league. It's just some of that stood out by the way he handled himself off the field.”

Of course, Elam’s performance on the field will take center stage come September. McDermott likes what he’s seen there, too.

“The tape spoke for itself,” the coach said. “We think in our system, it'll be good and he'll be able to play well in a mutually beneficial approach to press, off, changing some things up. And he's got a great support system behind him.”

Elam has already gotten a taste of what it’s like to be a member of the Bills. The night after he was drafted, he sat in a suite at a Buffalo Sabres game with quarterback Josh Allen. When he was introduced on the Jumbotron, he got a standing ovation.

“That was awesome, man. That was something I had never dreamed of before,” he said. “Honestly, it just made me a little bit hungrier, just to see how much they accepted me. I just want to go out there and prove, not even to them, but prove it to myself that I can help this team win. … I appreciate that from them. I'm happy to be a Bill.”

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