BUFFALO — After a series of coronavirus pandemic-related setbacks, the Buffalo Bills are moving forward with their official start to training camp.
All 80 players have reported for camp, according to general manager Brandon Beane, and veterans began acclimating to their new environment at the team’s Orchard Park facilities on Saturday.
Beane and coach Sean McDermott spoke Sunday on a Zoom conference call for the first time since camp activities began.
“We’ve got to be smart,” McDermott said. “It’s important that we onboard these players and staff in the right way with a methodical approach. … There’s a lot of planning, and we’ve got to be razor-sharp on that end.”
It’s been a bumpy road to this point, with the Bills experiencing several hiccups along the way.
The Bills sent their rookies home on Thursday after five players tested positive for the coronavirus, electing to conduct virtual meetings instead as an additional precaution.
Two players — starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and cornerback E.J. Gaines — have opted out of the upcoming season; Beane announced on Sunday that Gaines opted out because of family reasons. Right guard Jon Feliciano, who was one of Buffalo’s best offensive linemen in 2019, recently underwent surgery for a torn pectoral muscle and is out indefinitely.
Beane and McDermott have taken a methodical, step-by-step approach ever since arriving in Buffalo four years ago. That has resulted in two trips to the playoffs and has Buffalo hoping to dethrone New England in the AFC East following Tom Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay.
They hope that approach also proves beneficial in these uncertain, unprecedented times.
“We were just trying to be smart and make sure we had our arms around it,” Beane said of the decision to send rookies home. “This is something that we’re learning everyday as you see across the country and we’re no different. And we’re just trying to keep it (contained) …
“And there may be more days where we say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a couple guys popped up, they’ve been around another 15-20 guys. Let’s just send everybody home, let another round of tests come in and make sure we’re good.’ Because we’re trying to take the long view, similar to how we’re trying to build this team. As much as we want to be out there every day, we’d rather lose one day or two days than lose 10-14, half our team or anything like that.”
“I just know that there’s no playbook for this out there,” McDermott said. “I can’t stress that enough. When we did send the rookies home the other day, I received multiple calls, as did Brandon, from multiple people around the league. … We want to be smart. We want to be responsible and as I try and communicate to our players and our staff, safety is always No. 1.”
One positive for the Bills did come on Saturday when receiver Stefon Diggs arrived at the team’s facilities for the first time. The Bills acquired Diggs in a blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Vikings earlier this offseason.
“It’s good to see Stefon,” McDermott said. “We saw him yesterday a little bit with the physical. I didn’t get much time to spend with him but it is good to see him, good to meet him in person and for him to meet his teammates in person and just be around each other.”
Buffalo also took additional steps on Sunday to boost the positions affected by their two opt-outs.
The Bills signed cornerback Akeem King and defensive tackle Niles Scott. King has played in 34 games and entered the league as a seventh-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2015. Scott has played in six games and entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers in 2018.