Maybe the Buffalo Bills need to string Christmas lights onto Josh Allen’s red practice quarterback stop sign jersey. It’s 2022, there has to be a way to put a sensor on the defensive players so it beeps when Allen is approaching like a blind spot device on a new car.
Allen was fine after practice on Friday and Saturday, but he took more contact than he should have out of game uniform for an entire season. On Friday, the Bills were practicing without pads and Allen took a tumble. It was a designed quarterback running play, and when he took off he collided with one of the offensive players. He terrified every person at that training camp session when his facemask was buried in the turf for a few seconds but he popped up and jogged back to the huddle.
That play can be looked at as, “haha, Josh is clumsy,” while the heart rate of everyone who witnessed the play gradually slows down to normal. On Saturday, however, the Bills starting quarterback — who has led them to three consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the four Super Bowl losses of the early 1990s — started a skirmish with an opposing defensive player.
The Bills brought back the enormous Jordan Phillips as one of their many offseason moves to try and get over the hump and win the franchise’s first Super Bowl. At 6-foot-6, 341 pounds, Phillips returns after a successful stint with the Bills for part of 2018 and all of 2019 to provide the always necessary defensive line depth. He’s also lucky that he’s still on the team after making contact with Allen during a goal-line session.
Again, Phillips is huge and it’s hard to slow all of that mass down instantly when Allen makes a cut in tight quarters. That being said, he’s a professional athlete, and physical tasks that are impossible for other humans are why he gets paid money to play sports. Allen took quite the exception to Phillips running into him and shoved the 300-plus pounder right in the chest, starting a bit of a brouhaha.
Allen sent out a super football tweet after the practice about the boys getting going on day 1 of padded practice and they’re “just pushing each other to be great.” It sounds great, but the Bills’ defensive players need to realize that when Allen takes off during practice they are to do one of two things. Preferably, treat it like they just got caught in a game of freeze tag, or if the offense really needs to work getting to the right spots to make the blocks, they should then run directly into the player assigned to make the block.
Maybe when Allen takes off in practice every player on the field should just yell “poison!” The defensive players need to avoid him like they would a knuckleball on the punt return team. This is the NFL and guys need to be competitive at all times, especially those trying to make the team, but no coach will hold against a player pulling up excessively early to avoid hitting the starting quarterback.
If a great starting quarterback goes down with injury, the season goes with him. This means the coaching staff always needs to put their quarterback in the best place to succeed, including practice. A quarterback as mobile as Allen is certainly going to be used in the rushing game, and instinctively he’s going to take off in practice sometimes when he drops back and no pass catchers are open.
There is no way to get a perfect look on a quarterback run in practice. Any running play is hard to practice. Coaches surely don’t even want their top running backs taking unnecessary contact before the hundreds of car crashes they will be part of on the field during the regular season, but Devin Singletary and James Cook weren’t guaranteed $150 million. If necessary, the Bills should put a backup running back in Allen’s spot on running plays in practice to get the offense and defense used to reacting in those situations. Everyone’s on edge when the quarterback has the ball in practice, so the rep isn’t going to be great anyway. Allen is a top-tier athlete, more so than almost all other top-tier athletes. He can figure out where to go on running plays by film study, walk-throughs, and instinct.
Regardless of what Allen tweets, there needs to be some changes at Bills camp. Either he needs to be placed in a form-fitting bubble that allows him to still pass or a siren needs to blare when he takes his first step forward. This potential All-Pro quarterback needs to be kept off the ground and untouched during practice if the Bills want a chance at bringing their talented roster, and crash-test dummy fans, to Arizona come February.