untung99.biz: Notes on Bills backup QBs and first look at rookies

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ORCHARD PARK — The return of Damar Hamlin to the field highlighted a more emotional than usual preseason opener for the Buffalo Bills on Saturday.

The Bills welcomed fans back to a mostly full Highmark Stadium for an exhibition contest with the Indianapolis Colts, winning 23-19. Franchise quarterback Josh Allen and star wide receiver Stefon Diggs dressed but did not play, as coach Sean McDermott previously announced, but most of Buffalo’s projected starters saw some action.

With Josh Allen sitting, it gave McDermott and staff a look at the first and second-team offense with sixth-year veteran Kyle Allen, who signed with Buffalo after stops in Carolina, Washington and Houston.

Kyle Allen began with a rocky first pass, nearly intercepted by Darrell Baker Jr. He played the entire first half and the first drive of the second, finishing 8-for-15 for 122 yards. His final throw was a pick-six by Indy’s Darius Rush, brought back 52 yards to score after the ball slipped through the hands of receiver Tyrell Shavers.

The tough-luck interception ended Allen’s day and gave way to familiar face Matt Barkley, back for his fifth season with the Bills.

Barkley had a nearly spotless second half as the third-string QB. Replacing Kyle Allen after the pick-six, Barkley completed 14-of-15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns, a 22-yarder to Shavers – some redemption for the undrafted rookie – and a 13-yarder to Dezmon Patmon.

Describing the two quarterbacks’ performances as “hot and cold,” McDermott confirmed he sees the No. 2 quarterback spot as an open competition.

“I thought that we moved the ball at times, and then we stalled out or we weren’t, more than anything, probably, productive enough on early downs in the first half,” McDermott said. “And then in the second half, I felt a little bit better, moving the ball on a more consistent basis, Matt getting the ball out. I thought he got into a good rhythm, and my hat goes off to him.”

Barkley said his friend, Josh Allen, gave playcalling input to offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, perhaps even calling an entire fourth quarter touchdown drive.

“Dorsey was still in my ear the whole time, but I think Josh was relaying them up. I don’t know. I don’t want to give too much credit here,” he added with a big smile.

Some more notes and observations from the Bills’ preseason opener:

ROOKIE WATCHBills fans got their first glimpse of the 2023 draft class in game action, including second-round offensive line selection O’Cyrus Torrence. Torrence started at right guard alongside the Bills’ presumed starting line of Dion Dawkins, Connor McGovern, Mitch Morse and Spencer Brown. Torrence’s most likely competition for the starting guard job, Ryan Bates, played second-team center.

Dorian Williams, the third-round pick from Tulane, recorded a game-high seven tackles (six solo) as the second-team weak-side linebacker, replacing Matt Milano midway through the first half.

First-round pick Dalton Kincaid (Utah) did not receive a target in limited action, but started in a two-tight end set with Dawson Knox.

NOW WE’RE COOKIN’James Cook’s bid to grab the lead running back role got an early boost with the second-year Georgia product ripping an 8-yard run for a touchdown on Buffalo’s second offensive play, scoring on a short field after Dane Jackson intercepted Colts rookie Anthony Richardson. Cook started and played Buffalo’s first two drives, taking four carries for 20 yards and a score.

After Cook, veteran Latavius Murray subbed in at tailback with the second team. Damien Harris, the free agent acquisition from New England, did not play after a recent knee injury in camp.

FULL SECONDARYDane Jackson made a strong case in only a handful of snaps in the competition for the starting cornerback spot, opposite Tre’Davious White. Jackson intercepted Richardson on just the fifth play from scrimmage, setting up Cook’s touchdown run.

A four-year vet from Pitt and Hamlin’s college teammate, Jackson was listed in a tie with second-year corners Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford for the second corner on the Bills’ first “unofficial” depth chart.

Though slot corner Taron Johnson did not play, the Bills had their full complement of safeties back. Micah Hyde started next to Jordan Poyer for the first time since Hyde’s neck injury in Week 2 last year.

FACE OF A NEW FRANCHISEFormer Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie suited up in the opposing room for the first time as a member of the Colts, but that didn’t stop him from entering his old locker room on Saturday. McKenzie made a visit with the Bills pre-game, which McDermott admitted is not standard protocol in the NFL.

McKenzie was a popular target for Richardson out of the slot, catching the rookie’s first two passes. He finished with three catches on four targets for 20 yards. McKenzie, a cap casualty in the offseason for the Bills, also was Indy’s first kick returner.

“We all love him,” McDermott said. “He’s such a great human being and I’m just so proud of what he’s done with his life and his career.”

HALFTIME SHOWTeams made up of high school girls flag football – a new varsity sport in New York last school year – players from Section 5 and 6 took the field at halftime to play on the Highmark turf in front of Bills fans. Among the players representing Section 6 was Jayden Leederman, who played last spring for Pioneer in the Panthers’ first season fielding a flag football team.