Doing it in practice, especially when the defense isn’t allow to tackle, is one thing, but doing it against an actual opponent is another, and that’s the next step Buffalo Bills wide receiver Khalil Shakir needs to take.
The team hopes that process starts Saturday night when the Bills open the preseason at Highmark Stadium against the Colts.
However, the rookie fifth-round pick — who opened more than 35,000 sets of eyes during the Bills’ stadium practice last week — sat out the Sunday and Monday sessions back at St. John Fisher University, so his availability for the game is unknown.
“They still have continued soreness so we’re just trying to be smart at this point,” coach Sean McDermott said, speaking also of wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie who missed his second straight workout, too.
McKenzie can take all the time he needs to rest because, in all likelihood, he probably wasn’t going to play much, if any, against Indianapolis. Plus, the Bills know exactly what he brings to the offense.
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With Shakir, the coaches need to see as much of him in live situations as possible in the three preseason games because given his strong performance to date, he’s making a legitimate push to not only make the 53-man roster, but possibly be active on game day.
“I think Khalil is doing a great job and for a young receiver he’s come in and really kind of learned and is growing within the system,” said offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. “We’re still kind of working through where he’s going to fit, what’s his fit, and he’s still competing for the opportunity to be out there.”
Shakir has lined up mostly in the slot and that’s where the action is in this camp because the Bills also have McKenzie, Jamison Crowder and Tavon Austin — all NFL veterans — competing to become Cole Beasley’s replacement.
But the shifty 6-foot, 190-pounder from Boise State has also worked some reps on the outside and if he can handle those duties and be a reliable backup to Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, that certainly enhances his chances to get early-season playing time.
“He’s done a pretty good job in terms of learning the offense,” Josh Allen said. “He’s been switching up from Z to X and doing a really good job of knowing what he’s doing, being able to be switched around. Someone needs a break because they’re gassed from running something, he’s the first one in and he’s been on top of his stuff in the meetings. He’s going to help this team. I’m excited about him, I really am.”
One of the hallmarks of Shakir’s three starting seasons at Boise State was the fact that 75.3% of his receptions resulted in first downs including 20 touchdowns. In his last two seasons he averaged 121.5 all-purpose yards per game and as a receiver in his senior year, he had 77 catches for 1,117 yards.
If Allen isn’t his biggest fan so far, offensive tackle Dion Dawkins might be. “I mean, 10 (is a) special kid,” Dawkins said after Shakir’s impressive performance at the stadium. “Beane knows what he’s doing. Beane got the right guys here.”
Here are some other items of notes from Fisher:
Ex-Bill Jon Feliciano takes a shot at McDermott
The former Bills offensive guard, who was signed by the Giants after his release from Buffalo, shared a few acerbic comments with New York media regarding McDermott, seemingly claiming the offensive linemen weren’t respected.
“The last place I was, we were kind of the thorn in the heel,” Feliciano said of the Bills’ offensive linemen. “Here it’s different. Dabes has really been honest and giving us love, so it’s been great.”
Dabes, of course, is former Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll who is now the Giants head coach. Daboll was rumored to have had a rocky relationship with McDermott at the end of his time in Buffalo, and perhaps that has something to do with Feliciano sounding off.
Interestingly, former Bills offensive line coach Bobby Johnson followed Daboll to New York and is again coaching Feliciano, so Felciano’s comments are squarely pointed at McDermott.
Buffalo Bills offensive line getting back to normal
One of the reasons why the Bills offense has struggled throughout much of the Pittsford portion of training camp has been the health along the offensive line.
At various times, the Bills have been without four of their five presumptive starters with only center Mitch Morse participating in every workout except for Sunday’s when he was given a rest day. Dawkins missed a couple days for a personal reason.
Things have taken a turn for the better in the last few days as both starting guards — Rodger Saffold and Ryan Bates — are back on the field, though Saffold has not worked his way into the full 11-on-11 drills. And right tackle Spencer Brown was finally involved in the 11-on-11 portion Monday as he rotated with David Quessenberry on the first unit.
Speaking about Saffold specifically, McDermott said, “I know he was anxious to get out there. It’s great to have him back. I thought he did a good amount of work for his first day (Sunday), so I think we’re heading in the right direction. It’s good to have him out there from a leadership standpoint, from a veteran standpoint.”
Guard was a problem area for the Bills last season, and Saffold is being counted on to solidify the left side, while Bates was re-signed after he had agreed to an offer sheet from the Bears because the Bills believe he can produce at right guard.
Cornerback is a possible area of concern
As each day passes, it seems more likely that Tre’Davious White is not going to be ready for the start of the regular season Sept. 8. I’d say it’s a longshot at this point, but I’d also say you never know.
Assuming he’s not, the Bills are really rolling the dice that third-year man Dane Jackson and rookie Kaiir Elam will hold up on the outside. Two weeks into practice, both have had their struggles, though to be fair, they’re generally going against Diggs and Davis.
There has been nothing grinding through the rumor mill about the Bills signing a veteran free agent corner to hedge their bet, but it’s still early and with Brandon Beane, you never rule that out.
Elam, as a first-round pick, is being scrutinized a little closer, and one thing that stands out is that his confidence is high and he’s able to put a bad play behind him pretty quickly.
“It’s just the way it is in our league, especially the position that he plays,” defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of high-visibility plays both positive and negative. “One of the things we liked about him in college, when something negative would happen, he did a good job of moving on past that. And you have to be able to do that in our league at corner because they’re gonna make some plays. He’ll get frustrated at times because all guys want to break up every single pass, but he has the ability to be able to move on.”
Isaiah Hodgins is doing all he can
The 2020 sixth-round pick has had a rough first two seasons with Buffalo because injuries have sabotaged any chance he had of earning a roster spot. And in a very competitive wide receiver room, it seems as if there’s little chance he’ll crack the 53-man roster this year and thus could be headed back to the practice squad.
But in recent practices, Hodgins has made some plays and Monday he was getting some run with the first team. He has such great size for the position (6-3, 201 pounds) and it seems like if he ever got a chance - either in Buffalo or elsewhere - he could find a niche.
“I think he’s playing his best football,” McDermott said. “He’s had a good camp, he’s playing strong at the point, whether it’s at the catch point or at the point of contact.”
Of Hodgins’ perseverance, McDermott said, “That’s what I think really speaks to Isaiah’s character, right? I mean, he didn’t experience that success that maybe in this case, as you mentioned, Gabe (Davis, who was the fourth-round pick in 2020) has, and everyone has their own journey. We’ll see where it goes. I really applaud him for persevering through those two years of injury and challenges.”
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills training training camp: WR Khalil Shakir turning heads