Bills youth movement is beginning to make an impact
By JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — First-round draft picks, quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, might be the Buffalo Bills’ most high-profile rookies making a notable impact this season.
They’re not the only ones.
Though eliminated from playoff contention, the Bills (5-9) are getting a promising glimpse into the future in seeing the initial signs of their commitment to rebuild through youth starting to pay off at numerous positions.
It begins with Allen, who improved to 4-5 after his 42-yard touchdown pass to Robert Foster in the fourth quarter rallied Buffalo to a 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Then there’s Edmunds, drafted 16th overall and nine spots behind Allen, who has a team-leading 98 tackles and anchoring a defense which ranks second in the NFL in yards allowed.
And the depth of youth now serving Buffalo extends to lower-round draft picks, such as defensive tackle Harrison Philips and guard Wyatt Teller, and even an undrafted rookie in Foster.
“I don’t want to ever get comfortable, but it’s comforting to know that when you come back in the spring, we have a good feel for who Robert is,” coach Sean McDermott said Monday. “For all of them, it’s really two to three-week interview and we can see what we’ve got and then we can build on top of it if we need to.”
The Bills got a long look at many youngsters against Detroit with six rookies playing at least 60 percent of the snaps. They included Keith Ford, who ended the game as Buffalo’s last healthy running back and finished with a team-best 46 yards rushing in his NFL debut.
All totaled, 11 rookies saw playing time, including six undrafted free agents. The youth movement is expected to continue over the final two weeks of the season, with Buffalo preparing to play at AFC East-leading New England on Sunday.
“Obviously, we haven’t won as many games as we wanted to win, but the fact remains that we’re trying to build this football team, I feel, the right way,” McDermott said. “That’s the type of culture that we’re trying to build in that you have to earn things here.”
It’ll be up to the players to determine whether they deserve to stay beyond this season.
Foster learned that the hard way in October when the Bills waived and then re-signed him to their practice squad. McDermott described the move as being a wake-up call for a young player who wasn’t providing enough effort during and after practice.
Foster responded. In five games since returning to the active roster, Foster has combined for 19 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns. He’s become Buffalo’s first player to top 100 yards receiving three times in one season since Sammy Watkins in 2015.
“Just continue to work the craft and be accountable to the team,” Foster said, referring to the chemistry he’s established with Allen.
Foster made such a good impression, the Bills released veteran receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes two weeks ago to provide Foster and another newcomer, Isaiah McKenzie, more playing time. McKenzie, a second-year player, has 17 catches for 173 yards and also scored a touchdown rushing in five games since being acquired off waivers.
On defense, undrafted rookie cornerback Levi Wallace, made his fifth consecutive start, while linebacker Corey Thompson, another undrafted rookie, played a career-high 20 snaps in place of injured starter Matt Milano.
Wallace showed his inconsistencies. He was out of position in the end zone when Matthew Stafford hit a wide-open Andy Jones for a 4-yard touchdown pass. Wallace also had a potential interception ripped out of his hands by Lions receiver Kenny Golladay for a 24-yard reception during Detroit’s second touchdown drive.
It’s all part of the learning process, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.
“The good thing is that he was in position to make the play,” Frazier said. “I’ve got to believe, over time, Levi is going to make more of those plays as he continues to gain strength and get more confidence in what he’s doing.”
NOTES: McDermott provided no updates on the status of starting running back LeSean McCoy (left hamstring) and backup Chris Ivory (left shoulder), who did not play Sunday. … McDermott said tests confirmed running back Marcus Murphy dislocated his left elbow in the second quarter.
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