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Minicamp observations: Kaiir Elam shows ball skills as Bills close shop for spring

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Buffalo Bills defender Kaiir Elam deflects a ball.

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It’s a sign of the star-studded nature of the Buffalo Bills’ roster that first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam has flown under the radar during four weeks of spring practices.

The Bills’ rookie cornerback ended minicamp on a high note Wednesday. Here are observations from the Bills’ final spring practice on a hot day on the grass fields at the ADPRO Sports Training Center:

1. Elam shows ball skills.

The 23rd overall pick in the draft made the defensive play of the day with an uncontested pickoff down the left sideline during 11-on-11 work. There was some kind of miscommunication between Josh Allen and his receiver (either Gabriel Davis or Jamison Crowder; we couldn’t tell), who broke off his route instead of going deep.

That allowed Elam to make a solo play on the ball. But the 6-foot-1 cornerback did a good job leaping to make the catch and touching both feet in bounds as he fell to the sidelines.

Elam contributed to a good coverage day for the first-team defense.

On the play before Elam’s pickoff, safety Micah Hyde got his fingers on a pass deep over the middle for receiver Isaiah McKenzie. It was a well thrown pass, and McKenzie got a hand on it, but Hyde’s deflection prevented a catch.

The defense got a stand in the red zone at the end of Allen’s first drive in 11-on-11 work. On first down from inside the 20, A.J. Epenesa ignored misdirection and stayed home at his defensive end spot to create a would-be tackle for loss. Zack Moss made a short catch out of the backfield on the next play. But on third down from the 5-yard line, Elam and the entire back end had tight coverage, creating a would-be sack of Allen. Von Miller would have been in on the takedown.

Elam figures to get a lot more attention in training camp, given the likelihood he will be asked to play a key role right from the start of the season.

2. See you in Rochester.

As has been his practice in recent years, coach Sean McDermott called off the third day of minicamp practice that was scheduled for Thursday. The Bills had two full days of mandatory minicamp.

The players now are off until the start of training camp at St. John Fisher College in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford. The expectation is their first day on the field at camp is going to be July 24. The official camp schedule is expected to be released soon. The Bills get to open camp a few days ahead of most of the other NFL teams because they are playing in the NFL Kickoff Game in Los Angeles against the Rams on Sept. 8.

“It kind of honestly just feels like college camp going away,” tight end Dawson Knox said of going to St. John Fisher. “You're in the dorm rooms. It's great mentally, too, to kind of get out of Buffalo, get out of your homes and kind of have that feeling of everyone's kind of going to war together, because those days are long and they're tough. But when you spend them so closely with all the guys, it kind of brings the team together, too.

"So it's nothing new ... because everyone's gone through a camp where they're in dorm rooms and sleeping off campus, doing stuff like that. But I think everyone is kind of excited about it, especially the new guys who haven't been to Rochester yet.”

3. McKenzie's got talent.

McKenzie got good reviews from his teammates for singing on the national television show "America’s Got Talent." An episode featuring McKenzie aired Tuesday night. McKenzie performed in a quartet with former Bills Bryan Scott, Michael Gaines and Dwayne Wright. They sang the 1970s hit “Lean On Me” and were given an advance by the judges to the next round. The Bills had a watch party with a bunch of players, including McKenzie, at the team facility.

“I thought it was great,” Knox said. “I just wish we could actually hear him. I was waiting for a solo but didn't get it. But, they killed it. It was awesome.

“It was pretty fun,” McKenzie said. “They got on me a little bit because it took two hours. People were texting my phone, ‘Are you even on the TV?’ But it was cool. They stayed. Josh and all the guys stayed the whole time, and they cheered me on.”

Asked what gave him the courage to sing on national TV, McKenzie said: “I have no idea. I guess the shower and the car. When I play music in the shower and the car, I feel like I can sing.”

“Everyone thinks they can sing after seeing that,” Knox said. “But we actually started the team meeting today with the song (‘Lean on Me’), it came on. Everybody was singing and he was just standing there smiling. He didn't actually sing today. But it was fun watching them in that setting.”

4. Highlights.

The best pass of the day was a sideline completion of about 30 yards from Allen to Stefon Diggs, who got behind Cam Lewis. It was in perfect stride and drew oohs-and-ahhs from the players on the sidelines. ... Rookie James Cook, the second-round pick from Georgia, showed sure hands all spring. ... Ed Oliver was getting penetration and looked good next to Miller.

Quarterback Case Keenum capped his opening 70-yard drive with a TD pass to Crowder on a third-and-14 play. Crowder made a catch at the side of the end zone with safety Damar Hamlin in pursuit. ... Defensive tackle Brandin Bryant had a bat-down of a Matt Barkley pass at the line of scrimmage. Tight end Quintin Morris made a tough catch for the second day in a row, plucking a low ball from Barkley. ... Allen converted a drive for a score with a 5-yard TD pass to Devin Singletary. The key play in the drive was a defensive pass interference on Dane Jackson, who was grabbing Davis on a sideline route. Hyde lobbied, to no avail, that Allen was allowed too much time to bounce on his toes in the pocket. ... The Bills closed the last spring practice with a half-speed run-game period.

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Bills/NFL writer

Gaughan's insight is featured in the "PlayAction" video series, providing analysis to get Bills fans ready for the next game. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector for 12 years.

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