ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Josh Allen's indoctrination to the NFL will be slow and steady. Don't get too caught up with how high he was drafted, or how much the Bills parted with to be able to move up and select him, or in the accomplishments -- or lack thereof -- of the other quarterbacks on this roster. Because the Bills aren't.
They are highly enthused about the promise, mentality, work ethic, athleticism and potential of their first-round pick, but this isn't about today, or tomorrow or the first preseason or even Week 1. It's about putting Allen on a trajectory that has him as game-ready as possible by the time he does lead the Buffalo Bills in the huddle in a game that actually counts in the standings, and it's being conducted with the same pragmatic, analytical approach that this front office took to the entire task of overhauling this team once Sean McDermott took over before the 2017 season.
They are being realistic about where Allen is and how raw he is in some aspects, and they are giving him the smallest doses of starting reps as possible and then seeing how things go. Tuesday morning, he took but five snaps with the starters in 11-on-11 drills and attempted a solitary pass (it was broken up). And I'm told he continue to get about that same workload with the ones until the first pre-season game, and then they'll ramp it up or maintain this pace depending on what they see in the exhibitions. "He'll have to earn it each step of the way," is how one person in the know put it to me.
Could that result in him facing the Ravens in a hostile environment on Sept. 9 with potentially an unproven center snapping him the ball and with maybe his Pro Bowl running back on the commissioner's exempt list (LeSean McCoy's legal situation regarding abuse allegations is ongoing) and with a receiver group short on play-makers? I suppose you can't entirely rule it out, but I certainly wouldn't bank on it, it would require some stellar play in the preseason and the more experienced quarterbacks, Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron, stumbling to some degree as well (several people advised me that Peterman, who is getting the most reps with the starters, will be in this thing through the summer).
"We've got a plan in our minds," McDermott said when asked about how the division of labor with the starting offense will play out in the preseason. One gets the sense that plan calls for a judicious approach with the novice quarterback whose fortunes will be intrinsically tied to those of the head coach and general manager Brandon Beane. These are the same guys willing to trade their highest-paid players shortly upon taking over and willing to look at an untested Peterman in the heart of a playoff race -- because they knew the roster wasn't ready to truly compete just yet in a league where fooling yourself or overstating your chances is a way of life -- and continue a teardown despite the series of quirky events that landed them in the postseason.
So you had best believe the braintrust here will keep their eyes on the longview and the ultimate prize with Allen and not get caught up in asking him to do too much too soon or try to justify their selection by showing him off on Sundays. Allen, for his part, understands where this is going.
"I wouldn't say its extremely important," Allen said when asked about the need to start in Week 1. "Obviously, that's what every quarterback wants to do, but there is only person who can start at the position in every given game. So you want to be out there and the competitiveness in my wants to be out there. But I want to be ready, and sometimes quarterbacks can get thrown in there too early and that can have a snowball effect on them during your career. So coach is going to do the smart thing."
On Tuesday Allen's time with the first-team lasted literally less than five minutes. He was as decoy on an RPO in the red zone, he handed off on an inside run at the 10, he threw an incomplete pass from the 8 that was broken up by a defender in the side of the end zone, he rolled out for what would have been a score and he handed off on an end-around from the 3. That was it.
The rest of the practice he was with the third team, or, what I was calling the 'R' team, since the rookie quarterback was paired often with two rookie receivers, a rookie running back, a few rookie linemen and a first-year tight end. Allen flashes his mobility and speed, but he remains a work very much in progress and his accuracy must improve over time. Peterman had a nice practice and has been steady and detailed; after practice he and Allen were working on their craft with some coaches and receivers and Allen is having to learn that, in this league and given where he is in development, often less is more.
"A couple of times during camp already I have passed on a checkdown for a bigger play," Allen told me, "and it worked out one time, and the other time it didn't work out. And it was the same exact play, same exact thing came up where the safe route was open and I decided to throw a corner instead. One, we caught it for a big gain, and the other one they took it the other way. So ultimately it's being as consistent as possible, and Coach [Brian] Daboll (the offensive coordinator) is always preaching this: 'Don't pass one to take one.' ''
We'll see how this all plays out over the four preseason games. Everyone seems comfortable with this division of labor, and I wouldn't discount Peterman's chances, while McCarron has flashed well in the preseason before and remains ahead of Allen for now as well.
- There has been a lot made of the Bills losing three veteran starters on the offensive line, but I wouldn't sweat most of it. They are very high on emerging left tackle Dion Dawkins, who won the job from since-traded Cordy Glenn a year ago. They'll be fine there, and they always knew the potential for Richie Incognito to get into trouble/retire/go off the rails any given offseason and always viewed him as a year-to-year proposition. Yes, it's a loss given his renaissance in recent years, but Vlad Ducasse is a solid starter with a long bond with lien coach Juan Castillo and he looks good in Incognito's spot. The hope is John Miller can hold down the other guard spot.
- The real problem, however, is at center. The proverbial "hole-in-the-middle" donut jokes do apply here. That is an open competition and could be much of the summer (which is less than ideal if a team were to be trying to race against time to get a raw rookie QB ready for Week 1 -- which, again, is not the case here. Some guys are trying to convert to center. Others are simply unproven there. This will be a central theme of this camp -- whether or not someone comes out and grabs ahold of this spot.
- Talented receiver Zay Jones, a recent high draft pick, is still recovering from an offseason accident and isn't really involved in practice yet. He has done running drills on some days but doesn't seem particularly close at this point. Given the lack of weapons here, that's far from ideal as well. "He's moving in the right direction," McDermott said, speaking to what I assume could be a lengthy process.
- The secondary and linebacker group could be a source of strength for this rebuilding team. More depth and potential quality there than other spots on the roster. There is quiet optimism about the talent there.
- Chris Ivory was a great pickup for a team that could be doing quite a bit of running, and especially if McCoy does face legal discipline or NFL discipline. In the meantime McCoy is practicing regularly with the starters.
- Rave reviews thus far for the team's other first-round pick, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. The youngster is in line to be the quarterback of the defense, he seems to be absorbing everything in stride and his freakish athleticism is impossible to miss on the practice field. "I feel like overall he is ahead of the game," McDermott said of the 20-year old. "How advanced he is in a lot of ways." I don't think he'll be held back once the real games begin.
- Could be a long year in the standings for the Bills, but I like the direction they are headed in. Progress isn't always linear in this league and last year's roster wouldn't reach the playoffs again in most cases. This is about a long-term youth movement to have the pieces of a perennial contender in place when these youngsters reach their prime. The have cleared the deck of bad contracts and bloated cap numbers and will be poised to make aggressive additions in trades or free agency in the coming years. Given the Raiders' issues with Khalil Mack right now, cant help but think how he would look here, for instance, if he ever hit the market (Mack played his college ball at Buffalo). I know this much, they aren't afraid to be bold here, and they have a shared vision between coaching/front office, which can go a long way in this league.