BUFFALO, N.Y. — While there was some room for debate about which place group deserved essentially the most blame when GM Brandon Beane mentioned the Buffalo Bills wanted to run the ball higher following the 2020 season, he did not mince phrases when it got here to critiquing the tight ends.
The group struggled to make a lot of an impression statistically in 2020, combining for 442 yards and eight touchdowns on 40 catches between 2019 third-spherical decide Dawson Knox, Lee Smith and Tyler Kroft. Smith and Kroft are not on the crew, and improved play from that place is a focus for the 2021 season.
“I thought it was up and down, to be honest with you,” Beane mentioned in January in regards to the play of the tight ends. “At the end of the year, I thought we did a little bit, Dawson started to get his groove, but it was never where the opposing defense was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to stop their tight ends from going off.’ … We’d love to have a guy like what we just faced in Kansas City [All-Pro Travis Kelce] — they don’t come very often. But that’s what we want.
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“We’ve got some guys here we want to continue to develop and see what happens.”
Presumably changing Smith and Kroft are 2019 seventh-spherical decide Tommy Sweeney, who missed all the 2020 season with a foot damage and myocarditis stemming from COVID-19, and former Seattle Seahawks reserve Jacob Hollister.
Sweeney and Hollister are anticipated to contribute, but it surely’s Knox for whom the crew has large expectations this coming season. After a promising rookie yr, the Mississippi product had an underwhelming sophomore marketing campaign whereas coping with a handful of accidents and COVID-19 after the coronavirus pandemic thwarted his first full NFL offseason. With restrictions loosening, Knox has made essentially the most of this offseason, notably spending time with Bills quarterback Josh Allen in California.
“It was great being with Josh … It was good hanging out off the field, but on the field was great, too,” Knox mentioned. “We just did a bunch of routes and it was during our first phase of Zoom meetings. So if there was a new play or route concept Dabes [offensive coordinator Brian Daboll] was installing, we were able to take it straight to the field. [Allen] kind of would work through some of the points where he would tell me what he was looking for. When to give him eyes on certain routes and real little details that we were able to hammer down on some of the new stuff, which was nice.”
Knox, who dropped 10 passes (20% of his targets) as a rookie in 2019 and 4 (9.1%) in 2020, additionally labored with what he described as a “hand-eye trainer,” Ryan Anderson, to deal with the problem.
He mentioned Anderson works with a number of skilled athletes, utilizing issues like touchpad challenges and a machine that shoots pingpong balls, making them curve (and harder to catch).
“I was with him every day for about six weeks or so,” Knox mentioned. “Some of the stuff was crazy. It would work your eyes in a way where you’d feel like you’re almost hypnotized. I felt like my progress from my first day with him to my last day was pretty great.”
Knox’s offseason work ethic was, in half, impressed by Beane’s need to have a tight finish like Kelce, who caught 18 passes for 183 yards and 4 touchdowns in two video games in opposition to the Bills final season. Knox mentioned he spoke with Kelce after Buffalo’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game and took part in the “Tight End University” summit hosted by Kelce, George Kittle (San Francisco 49ers) and retired former Pro Bowler Greg Olsen in Nashville this month.
His improvement goes past rubbing elbows with the most effective tight ends in the league. Knox has taken a extra cerebral method to the place he’s nonetheless studying to play; he transformed from a highschool quarterback to fullback at Mississippi, and finally to tight finish.
“I want to get to the point where I am that weapon for our team and Travis is the best in the league right now at what he does,” Knox mentioned. “But it just comes from watching film and getting on the field and starting to feel out some of the stuff that he can see pretty quickly. It’s really not just running your route and being in the right spot. It’s how well can you adjust on the fly? How well can you read coverages when the ball is snapped? Because defenses are so good at disguising coverages and safeties are moving around and linebackers are showing blitz and then they’re dropping out.
“So it is simply having the ability to catch on to a few of these issues, which I felt like I used to be ready to do increasingly more because the yr went on. … I positively really feel assured that I’ll have the ability to try this this yr.”
Behind Knox, Bills coach Sean McDermott mentioned Sweeney is “off to a good start” after absolutely recovering from the center situation that ended his 2020 season. Sweeney has been in the Bills’ facility all offseason to practice. Allen lauded the crew’s determination to signal Hollister, whom he performed with in faculty at Wyoming. Hollister ended spring practices doing primarily facet work in the course of the two-day minicamp, however he, Sweeney and Knox every turned in strong performances all through OTAs and minicamp.
Still, with the Bills’ Super Bowl window as open because it has been because the early Nineties, there stays loads of hypothesis as to whether or not the tight finish place is up to a championship customary. If the Bills come to the conclusion it is not, they might commerce for Philadelphia Eagles tight finish Zach Ertz, whom the Eagles have acquired a number of provides for over the previous few months.
Ertz, 30, is a 3-time Pro Bowler and was a primary-crew All-Pro in 2018; he would give the Bills a former Super Bowl champion and somebody who was a high-three participant on the place earlier than accidents derailed his 2020 season.
Knox was requested about the potential of including Ertz, as a result of the Bills have been linked to him greater than as soon as this offseason. Knox likened it to his expertise at Mississippi, the place he earned a beginning job regardless of his background as a stroll-on.
“[At Ole Miss] I used to be studying behind Evan [Engram], who was an All-American,” Knox mentioned of the present New York Giants starter. “He graduated and they brought in three four-star recruits that same year, and I feel like that elevated my level of play.
“Then I used to be ready to come in as a rookie [with the Bills] and earn the beginning spot. No matter who they bring about in, whether or not it is a rookie or All-Pro like Zach, I believe it will be nice simply to elevate the competitors. Iron sharpens iron and that is an enormous philosophy that I’ve. It’s nice having [Hollister] right here, too, and we’re studying issues from one another. We’re competing, but in addition constructing some good crew chemistry to use multiple-tight finish units and stuff like that. It’s actually not what can I do to be higher than the man subsequent to me. It’s what can I do to make myself the most effective participant I can.”