Bills to lean on youth en­ter­ing fi­nal month of sea­son

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By John Wawrow AP Sports Writer

OR­CHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) >> Left tackle Dion Dawkins scans the Buf­falo Bills locker room from the van­tage point of his cor­ner stall and sees a glimpse of a young and promis­ing fu­ture core of a team be­gin­ning to emerge.

“It’s just like a fresh­man class at col­lege, and we all are grow­ing as one,” the sec­ond-year player said fol­low­ing prac­tice Wed­nes­day.

The po­ten­tial is all around him. To Dawkins’ far left is rookie quar­ter­back Josh Allen’s locker. To his im­me­di­ate right is rookie re­ceiver Robert Foster’s stall, while sec­ond-year re­ceiver Zay Jones sits a lit­tle fur­ther down.

And on the far side of the room, blocked from Dawkins’ view, are two newly emp­tied lock­ers once oc­cu­pied by re­ceivers Kelvin Ben­jamin and An­dre Holmes, who were cut a day ear­lier.

Their de­par­tures are not lost

on Dawkins, ei­ther. He re­al­izes how the moves have cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties for other young­sters over the fi­nal four weeks of a sea­son in which the Bills (4-8) are all but math­e­mat­i­cally elim­i­nated from play­off con­tention.

“Those guys know the ta­ble is wide open, so choose wisely and go hard be­cause they could be that guy for us if they choose to,” Dawkins said.

Call it an au­di­tion or “eval­u­a­tion,” as coach Sean McDer­mott phrased it, the Bills are turn­ing their at­ten­tion to beyond this sea­son in de­ter­min­ing who mer­its fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion and which play­ers don’t, such as Ben­jamin and Holmes.

Ben­jamin, whose con­tract is about to ex­pire, un­der­per­formed dur­ing his 13-month stint in Buf­falo after the Bills ac­quired the 2014 first-round pick in a trade with Carolina. Holmes, signed through the end of the 2019 sea­son, pro­vided lit­tle value beyond be­ing a reg­u­lar on spe­cial teams.

“It ob­vi­ously didn’t work,” McDer­mott said, re­fer­ring to Ben­jamin, who caught 39 of the 89 passes thrown in his di­rec­tion for 571 yards and two touch­downs in 18 games in Buf­falo.

McDer­mott, how­ever, de­fended the Bills’ phi­los­o­phy be­hind trad­ing a third- and sev­enth-round pick to ac­quire the 6-foot5, 245-pound re­ceiver who showed po­ten­tial dur­ing three-plus sea­sons in Carolina.

“The im­por­tant thing for us is that we con­tinue to take swings,” he said. “Some of those are go­ing to work, and some aren’t. But the only way you get a hit is if you take a swing.”

Mi­nus Ben­jamin, the Bills pre­pare to host the New York Jets (3- 9) on Sun­day with an of­fense that could fea­ture as many as five starters with fewer than two full sea­sons of NFL ex­pe­ri­ence. Buf­falo’s de­fense has four starters in their first or sec­ond NFL sea­sons.

The youth move­ment is start­ing to show signs of gain­ing trac­tion .

Buf­falo’s once sput­ter­ing of­fense, which av­er­aged

248 yards, 18 first downs and 10.6 points through nine games, is av­er­ag­ing 398 yards, 22 first downs and 27 points in its past three.

Allen has com­bined for 391 yards pass­ing and three touch­downs with two in­ter­cep­tions, and 234 yards rush­ing and a score in his past two games since miss­ing four with a sprained right throw­ing el­bow.

Jones is show­ing signs of blos­som­ing. He’s com­bined for 12 catches for 160 yards and three scores in his past three games after man­ag­ing just 29 catches for 299 yards and one touch­down in his first nine.

Foster has 226 yards re­ceiv­ing and a touch­down in three games since be­ing pro­moted off the prac­tice squad.

And even Isa­iah McKen­zie has con­trib­uted since be­ing claimed by Buf­falo after be­ing re­leased by Den­ver last month. The sec­ond-year speed­ster, ini­tially pro­jected to re­turn punts and kick­offs, had a ca­reer-best four catches for 46 yards in a 21-17 loss to Mi­ami last week­end.

Vet­eran de­fen­sive tackle Kyle Wil­liams’ spir­its are buoyed by how he saw the young­sters per­form against the Dol­phins.

SETH WENIG - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

FILE - In this Nov. 11, 2018file photo Buf­falo Bills of­fen­sive tackle Dion Dawkins (73) scores a touch­down against the New York Jets dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of an NFL foot­ball game in East Ruther­ford, N.J.

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