PITTSFORD — Tuesday at Bills Training Camp featured the most concerning moment of the first eight days of practices, with All-Pro safety Jordan Poyer leaving the field with what was later revealed by the Bills to be an elbow injury.
On a rushing play during 11-on-11 red zone work, Poyer was struck forcefully near the left elbow, which seemed to cause him significant pain before being helped off the field by athletic trainers. Before leaving the field and heading for the training room, Poyer had to collect himself on one knee, as he appeared unsteady as he walked from the sideline and into the tunnel. It was a scary moment, and per the Bills, the severity of the injury is under further evaluation.
The frightening situation couldn’t come at a worse time for Poyer, who is amid negotiations with the Bills in hopes of acquiring a long-term deal. There was talk before camp of Poyer perhaps holding out as he waited for his contract situation to be resolved, but instead, he chose to arrive at camp on time and participate in full. The hope now is that he avoided a significant injury.
Poyer’s exit comes just a day after fellow starting safety Micah Hyde returned to the practice field after suffering a hip injury, which forced him from the practice field last week. Since his return, Hyde has not participated in team drills but appears to have avoided disaster with his injury. The Bills are hoping for the same with Poyer, who ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported will miss a few weeks but is expected to be back in time for the start of the regular season.
Aside from Poyer’s injury, there was a load of other news to report from Day 8 at camp. Here are a few observations from the sidelines at St. John Fisher University:
COMING AND GOING
Wide receiver Marquez Stevenson also left practice, suffering a foot injury after making a catch in the back of the end zone during 1-on-1 work when he tried to tap his two feet inside the end line to secure the touchdown grab. Immediately upon landing, Stevenson came up lame, began limping and later made his way through the tunnel and toward the Bills’ training room. Before the injury, the second-year WR performed well during the 1-on-1 session and had put together a few solid practices over the past few days.
Offensive lineman Tommy Doyle returned to practice on Tuesday after missing exiting Monday’s session early with an apparent injury to his midsection. Reserve OL Greg Mancz missed practice but was on the exercise bike alongside fellow OL Ryan Bates who missed yet another session.
Expected starting right tackle Spencer Brown was once again in full pads but remained sidelined during 11-on-11 work. Despite being present for all eight training camp practices, Brown has yet to partake in team drills. The RT is still working his way back from an offseason procedure, as announced by the team to begin the summer.
Elsewhere on the offensive line, expected starting guard Rodger Saffold appeared to take a step forward while rehabbing from an offseason rib injury. Saffold was on the sideline with the Bills’ athletic training staff, doing some ladder work, running sprints and showing a bit of explosion during other exercises.
New Bills defensive tackle Tim Settle missed a second consecutive practice with a groin injury but was seen on the stationary bike. Wide receiver Jake Kumerow returned to practice after missing several sessions but did not participate in team drills.
Throughout camp, Tre’Davious White has been off to the side working with the Bills’ athletic training staff. White was incredibly active on Tuesday, hopping off his injured knee through various drills. Whether White will return to the field in time for the Bills’ Week 1 matchup with the defending champion Los Angeles Rams remains to be seen. With that said, before practice on Tuesday, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier provided an encouraging update on the former All-Pro cornerback, saying White is progressing well as he continues his rehab.
It hasn’t been a quiet training camp for the Bills on the injury front. But there is still a long way to go until that matchup with the Rams, so this team still has plenty of time to tend to its wounds before Week 1.
Through the first eight days of camp, much of the talk regarding the Bills’ 2022 rookie class has surrounded first-round cornerback Kaiir Elam. And rightfully so. The first-year defensive back has shown no fear while matching up against some of Buffalo’s top pass-catchers. But on Tuesday, another of the Bills’ rookie CBs shined through, with sixth-rounder Christian Benford making one of the most notable plays of the day on a pass intended for Stefon Diggs.
With Diggs running across the back of the end zone, Josh Allen fired a dart intended for Buffalo’s No. 1 WR, but Benford was there on the coverage and made an excellent play to knock the ball away from Diggs and onto the turf. Earlier in practice, during 1-on-1 drills, Benford matched up with Isaiah McKenzie and provided solid coverage, helping deny McKenzie a catch. He also helped create an incompletion when going up against Stevenson.
Through the first several days of camp, Benford didn’t do much to make his presence felt. After being thrown into the fire the past two practices, the rookie responded with an interception on Monday and a few nice plays on Tuesday while competing against a few of the Bills’ top offensive players.
Benford’s performance over the past few days has been impressive, considering he comes from Villanova University, which competes in the FCS. Before practice on Tuesday, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier commented on how Benford has fit in thus far.
“With Christian, he is one of those guys that we felt may have been overlooked by a lot of people,” said Frazier. “We’re really excited that we were able to draft him and watching what he’s done in the spring as well as what he’s done in training camp, he’s another one of those young corners who has some maturity about him and some instincts and play-making ability that really get you excited. So we’re looking forward to just seeing his progression, but he has a certain maturity that you kind of like to see. He doesn’t back down to any situation, and we’re looking forward to continuing to watch him progress.”
Throughout training camp, various Bills rookies have taken turns showing up with solid production during team drills. It’s far too early to say, but many of Buffalo’s first-year players appear ready to contribute immediately upon the start of their first professional season.
Along with Benford and Elam, rookie third-round linebacker Terrel Bernard has looked the part, including on Tuesday when he provided solid coverage on tight end Tommy Sweeney on an incomplete pass during red zone work that landed near the goal line. Bernard also recorded a would-be sack during the first day of padded practice.
Keep an eye on this rookie class. Several first-year players have already left an impression during training camp.
You don’t have to look very far to find someone who has raved about McKenzie’s performance thus far in camp. The former gadget player has appeared ready to step into a full-time role as the team’s slot receiver through his exceptional production during 1-on-1 and team drills. Tuesday was no exception, but what caught my attention was a play where McKenzie didn’t come away with a catch but instead was involved in a play where Allen threw an interception to nickel cornerback Taron Johnson.
Late in the down, Allen uncorked a pass intended for McKenzie, which caught the diminutive wide receiver by surprise, which he admitted during post-practice media availability. It wasn’t a great throw by Allen, and rather than reacting to the ball and trying to keep Johnson from intercepting it, McKenzie says his awareness wasn’t where he’d like it to be, which allowed Johnson to make the play. McKenzie threw his helmet toward the sideline in frustration after the play was over.
Inconsistent production in a limited role seems no longer good enough for McKenzie, as he appears ready to take the bull by the horns and hold down the Bills’ slot receiver position for the foreseeable future. McKenzie has yet to earn a long-term deal throughout his young career, which is something he may have had the opportunity to do on the open market this past offseason. But he said after practice that being in Buffalo and proving himself alongside the teammates and coaches he’s grown with over the years was more important to him than anything else.
“I love being in Buffalo,” said McKenzie. “I love the team, I love the coaching staff, And I just felt like it was a place I wanted to be. No matter what. A lot of people say you could go get some money somewhere else, or you can be somewehere else. I don’t want to be nowhere else. I’ve been here through the hard times, I know what it felt like, and I don’t want to do that nowhere else. And I felt like me staying here and building with Josh and building with this team. We have something special.
“I feel like we have a great opportunity to do something big here, and I want to be a part of it. And me sticking it out and being a backup, not knowing if I’ll make the team, just grinding it out, I feel like it put me in a position I am now that I can finally fight for a starting position and be that guy for Josh just like (Cole Beasley) was and build that chemistry with the team and help the team win the best way I can.”
McKenzie’s path to a potential starting role hasn’t been linear. But it seems now is his moment to shine within the Bills’ offense.
Bills Training Camp continues on Wednesday when the team hits the practice field for a 9:45 a.m. practice.