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Carucci Take2: Buffalo Bills training camp highlighted by good signs on defense, offensive adjustments

WGRZ Bills/NFL Insider Vic Carucci discusses his takeaways after two days of Buffalo Bills training camp.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Here are my five takeaways after two days of Buffalo Bills training camp at St. John Fisher University:

1. Good Sign, Part One: Jordan Poyer not only reported to camp on time, but is fully participating in practice as he continues to pursue a contract extension.

Such circumstances often strain the relationship between the player and the team, especially if the player chooses to holdout and negotiations stall. Though Poyer stayed away from voluntary offseason workouts, he took part in mandatory minicamp last month and his presence here speaks volumes about the optimism the All-Pro safety has that a deal is coming soon.

Another positive sign was the fact his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was here Sunday. As Poyer put it, Rosenhaus was “talking things out” with General Manager Brandon Beane “and I know they’re both working things out on each side.”

Expect the Bills to use more of the creative finance work they did to give Stefon Diggs the kind of money that went to other top NFL receivers during the offseason as the market for that position saw an unprecedented jump. The team transferred portions of Diggs’ base salary into guaranteed money that allowed them to keep him comfortably under its tight salary cap.

2. Good Sign, Part Two: The Bills are in better shape at cornerback than one might think given that their best player at the position, Tre’Davious White, is on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate in his left knee.

Coach Sean McDermott was vague with reporters on a timetable for White’s return, beyond saying “he’s on schedule with what the trainers are telling me what’s on schedule.” 

But the Bills are, at the very least, solid with the cornerbacks filling the top two spots on the depth chart: Dane Jackson and first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam.

Jackson has starter-level talent. He shows superb athleticism, mirrors well in coverage and has strong ball instincts as he demonstrated by intercepting a Josh Allen pass Monday.

Elam needs to work on his skills in coverage off the line, because he mainly played press-man at University of Florida. So far, though, he has shown a good grasp on that aspect of his game. Elam also seems to maintain poise, not showing any obvious signs of being flustered when things don’t go well.

The fact the Bills didn’t see the need to add a veteran cornerback during the offseason is telling as far as their faith in Jackson and Elam. Beane won’t rule out the possibility of signing a corner, but for now he and the rest of the player-personnel staff are assessing what they have.

“We’ll definitely give a strong evaluation,” Beane said. “How are they doing? Do we think they’re ready if they need to start Week 1? And if not, then we’ll definitely pay attention to the veteran market, whether that’s trade for a guy or go sign a guy who's unemployed.”

3. The rest of the world can have all of the monumental expectation it wants for Josh Allen’s performance this season, but the Bills’ quarterback is doing a decent job of keeping his cleats firmly planted on the ground.

“We’ve got to come out here, find ways to get better and improve on ourselves,” Allen said. “Nothing that we did last year is going to carry over to this year. Nothing that we’re going to do next year is going to affect us this year. … We’re a new team, we’re different team.”

On Monday, Allen threw three interceptions in 11-on-11 drills, a day after some struggles in a red-zone segment of Sunday’s practice.

None of that should be cause for alarm. Much of it is a function of Allen and his teammates find their way in an offense with a new coordinator, Ken Dorsey, who also is putting his own tweaks and adjustments in that scheme previously run by Brian Daboll.

“We’re just trying to find what we are, what our identity is; that’s really what training camp is for,” Allen said. “Hopefully, by the time we leave St. John Fisher, we know what type of team we are mentally and physically, and we can start developing game plans and go from there week by week.

“There’s no higher expectations than what we have for ourselves. If you’re a team that doesn’t have Super Bowl-or-nothing in your minds, I don’t think you’re doing it the right way.”

4. Having a new offensive coordinator will present its share of challenges, especially when it comes to learning some new material.

The offense was installed during the offseason, when practices generally ran at a slower and more deliberate pace. In training camp, it’s a matter of players executing plays at a faster and more urgent tempo.

Finding a comfort zone doesn’t happen overnight.

“I’ve always been the type of learner where I need to go out and execute to do it, to kind of get it to click in my head, so over the next few weeks it’s just going to be huge for us to start developing that playbook,” tight end Dawson Knox said. “I don’t want to give away any trade secrets right now, but there’s definitely some cool twists we’re working on. It’s fun having guys like O.J. (Howard) in the (tight end) room. There’s going to be a lot of diversity, a lot of versatility with the position now. There’s going to be a lot of cool stuff that’s added, but (Dorsey) is keeping a lot of the stuff the same, too.

“(Howard’s) a freak athlete, first of all. He makes me feel small. The dude’s like 6 ft 6 in, his arms are massive. Just having another weapon like that is going to make us that much harder to stop.… It’s going to be fun to bring us in, run the ball some, spread us out, get us good matchups on linebackers. It’s just an extra piece that’s going to be a nightmare to defend.”

5. This just in: Von Miller is the real deal.

That shouldn’t come us any surprise, given that the Bills signed him to a massive contract that calls for nearly $52 million in guaranteed money this season and next year. But watching him on the field is something to behold.

Miller has remarkable quickness off the edge. His first step is so fast that the offensive tackle usually struggles to get back into position to block him. Miller also has an amazing knack for being able to get extremely low as he goes around the corner, making it doubly difficult for the tackle to disrupt Miller’s path to the quarterback.

If defenders were allowed to make contact with the quarterback in practice, Miller would have easily had multiple sacks Monday.

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