Bills gearing up for joint practices with the Panthers

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Photo credit Photo: Jeremy Brevard - USA TODAY Sports

After a day off from practice on Saturday, the Buffalo Bills were back to work on Sunday outside of the ADPRO Sports Training House in Orchard Park.

The team worked on the field for an hour-and-a-half on Sunday before the group travels to Spartanburg, South Carolina on Monday for a couple of joint practices with the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday and Wednesday at Wofford College. Then both teams will head north to Charlotte, North Carolina for their preseason matchup at Bank of America Stadium on Friday night.

Bills head coach Sean McDermott is looking forward to getting down to Wofford College and getting some work in against another team, especially with it being his old team in Carolina, where he spent six seasons with the Panthers as their defensive coordinator.

"It'll be nice and a great opportunity to see some old friends, and a place that helped me in so many ways with great people and a great organization," McDermott said during his press conference before practice on Sunday. "Wofford is a neat campus, very similar to St. John Fisher [College] in terms of the pride that they take and what they do down there. With that said, we have work to do, and that's why we're going down there. I'm excited to watch our team grow through this experience."

The Bills have taken part in joint practices in the past against teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, but nothing to this extent with the travel south to the Carolinas.

Veteran wide receiver Cole Beasley has taken part in a number of joint practices with other teams while with the Dallas Cowboys. He says that after a while of practicing against one another on the same team, it's good to face some new faces just before the start of the regular season.

"It's good to go against someone else," Beasley said. "You only hope that each team will take care of each other because it's not a real game, but sometimes things get out of hand. That's part of it. Maybe it will bring a little more fire out of guys, so it will be good; good competition anyways.

"It's good to go against another team and have some competition, and that's what we want. We definitely promote competition here, and that's what we want. It only makes guys better."

Not only is the travel going to be a factor in these joint practices, but the weather is shaping up to be a different factor for the Bills than what they are used to. The forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday is expected to be in the mid-90's, which is not too common for the weather in Western New York.

McDermott knows that one focus for the next few days in the Carolinas is to stay hydrated and be ready for whatever elements are coming their way.

"We've met as an organization, different departments, making sure we are on top of that," McDermott said. "It's not any surprise to us. The heat is real down there. We want to make sure we're out in front of it."

One player who will be used to the conditions of South Carolina is defensive end Shaq Lawson. The fourth-year pass rusher grew up in the town of Lake Wylie, South Carolina, which is about an hour and twenty minute drive from Wofford College. The 25-year-old also played his college football in South Carolina, spending three years at Clemson University.

He knows that you have to be ready for the weather that the team will face this week, or else it can make things a lot worse for you on the field.

"The heat is bad," echoed Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson. "I talked to my younger brother down there, and they said for high school, practice has been terrible right now. I'm kind of used to it because I'm from that area, but I'll be ready."

Another player with some familiarity of playing in the summer heat of the Carolinas is the newest cornerback on the roster, Captain Munnerlyn.

The 31-year-old defensive back took part in his first practice with the Bills on Sunday after being signed as a free agent to the 91-man roster on Saturday. Munnerlyn is eager to get started in his 11th season in the NFL, and first with the Bills.

"I feel like I've still got a lot of football in me," Munnerlyn said. "If you look at my age, everybody's like, 'man, you're only 31-years-old!' I've been in the league going into my 11th season and I'm only 31-years-old... Most guys that have been in the league 10-11 years, they are 34-35-year-old. I was fortunate to have come out [of college] early, and I've still had a healthy career, so I feel like I have a lot of football left in me. I'm not done yet. I still want to play and show my work."

Munnerlyn has seen plenty of playing time with the Panthers over the course of his career, starting out as a seventh round pick of the team back in 2009 and having two separate tenures in Carolina. In his 10 years with the Panthers and Minnesota Vikings, Munnerlyn has played in 154 of a possible 160 regular season games with 522 tackles, 10.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, 12 interceptions, and five touchdowns.

Just like a number of the defensive players already on the Bills roster, Munnerlyn has past experience playing under McDermott when with the Panthers. He believes that he is a perfect fit for the Bills and for what McDermott wants out of his football team.

"Being under coach McDermott and his style of defense, I play my best football," Munnerlyn said. "I think the defense just fits my style, especially at the nickel position, the toughness I bring, and coach McDermott likes blitzing. He's not going to sit back, he's going to go after you. I'm a great blitzer, and I like to compete. I'm going to go out there, be a competitor and I'm going to make plays."

"I was with him, it's been a few years since we've worked together, but what I remember is the competitiveness, the toughness," McDermott said of his new cornerback. "He's obviously played in the system before, so he has some familiarity with our system both inside the slot and out at corner. We'll see how he does and how he progresses here. He's been out of it for a bit, so he has to play himself back into shape here."

While playing in McDermott's defense in Carolina, Munnerlyn was primarily used in the slot as a nickel cornerback. McDermott said before practice on Sunday that they'll see where he works in with the defense moving forward with him just signing with the team.

"That's where he has played [at nickel] moreso over the course of the four or five years," McDermott said. "We just want to get him acclimated into what we do and his new surroundings, his new teammates, and we'll take it one day at a time."

Munnerlyn was released by the Panthers back in February shortly after completing his seventh season with the Panthers organization. He had been working out during the offseason with the hopes of earning a new contract just in time for the start of the 2019 season.

Now that the long-time veteran is back in action, he is getting ready to head back to Carolina to take on the Panthers in another uniform at the joint practices. That has the veteran itching to get on the field and go to work.

"I wouldn't care who it was, to be honest. I'm hungry again. I've been training my butt off," Munnerlyn said. "There's a difference between training and playing football. Like coach [McDermott] said, you've got to get in football shape, but at the same time, my release got me hungry again and ready to roll."

"Don't get me wrong, I'm excited. I would be lying to you if said I wasn't excited about that, but I wouldn't care who it was. I'm just excited to be on the field. I want to go down there and compete. If that's the case, I know there's going to be a lot of trash talking. I probably will be doing a lot of it, but at the same time, it will be about going out and competing and making plays."

And while he just joined the Bills on Saturday, Munnerlyn knows that no roster spot is guaranteed for him, and he is going to be ready to compete and fight for a spot in Buffalo.

"I think on Tuesday and Wednesday, there's no easing me in. I'm a competitor. I want to go down there and compete," Munnerlyn said. "I just want to go out there and make plays; show the guys, my new teammates, that I'm capable of making plays and I belong here."

On the field at practice on Sunday, Munnerlyn was primarily working with the second-team defense throughout practice. He certainly did not look out of place, as the veteran was already making nice reads and getting into the backfield to make plays for the defense.

Another new name to the squad getting in his first practice with the team was offensive lineman Ryan Bates, who started the practice working on the right side of the line with the third-team unit. As the day went on, he ended up finding himself working in with the second-team unit.

Up front on the first-team offense looked as follows:

  • LT - Dion Dawkins
  • LG - Quinton Spain
  • C - Spencer Long
  • RG - Cody Ford
  • RT - Ty Nsekhe

Jon Feliciano was also working in with the first team offense on Sunday, getting some reps at both center and right guard. Ford and Nsekhe also rotated in and out at right tackle as practice progressed throughout the day. Long also got in some reps at left guard.

As for injuries, center Mitch Morse and offensive tackle Conor McDermott remain in the league's concussion protocol, though Morse was working on the bikes and doing more cardio work off the side. Center Russell Bodine also missed another practice for the Bills as he deals with an oblique injury.

While Tyler Kroft remains out at tight end, Dawson Knox and Jason Croom continue to take steps in the right direction with their hamstring injuries. Knox was working off to the side in some footwork drills early on, but going at a good pace. Croom was back on the field in full pads for a second straight day, but was limited as he did not take part on the 11-on-11 drills.

Other injures that McDermott brought up on Sunday were injuries to running back Senorise Perry (ankle) and linebacker Corey Thompson (groin). Both players did not take part in any team activities, but they were both seen working on the bikes. 

Here are some other notes from Bills practice on Sunday:
  • Safety Micah Hyde was a full go at practice on Sunday after dealing with a lingering neck issue. He ended up with an interception during the 11-on-11 portion of practice when quarterback Josh Allen tried to throw a deep ball to wide receiver Robert Foster in triple coverage. 
  • Undrafted cornerback Cam Lewis is continuing to make some big plays in practices. The University at Buffalo product made a nice play during 11-on-11 drills with the second-team to step in front of wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud and pick off quarterback Matt Barkley. 
  • Isaiah McKenzie continues to get in more work with the first-team unit as he fights for a wide receiver spot on the roster. Ran some nice routes and had a couple of nice catches during his work on Sunday.

The Bills are off on Monday to travel to Spartanburg, South Carolina before taking part in the first joint practice with the Panthers on Tuesday at 9:15 a.m.