BUFFALO, NY – Damien Harris came to the Buffalo Bills without expectations. After spending his first four seasons with the New England Patriotsthe running back was looking for a fresh start and signed a one-year contract with free agency.
Harris said he is doing well now and is trying to carry that over into training camp and the regular season.
“I didn’t necessarily end my time in New England the way I wanted to, I was just open and honest and, you know, I’m not ashamed of it,” Harris said. “That wasn’t the case, my last year wasn’t my best year so I want to get back on my feet, rebuild myself and give myself a new image.”
Harris, 26, said it was his best offseason since he was drafted by the Patriots in the third round of the 2019 draft. He will play a role in a remodeled running back room with pressure on the second year JamesCook to take a step forward as a potential lead back.
Harris, who averaged 4.4 yards per carry last season, is just one of several offensive playmakers the Bills have added this season off – a group that also includes wide receivers Trent Sherfield And Deonte Harty and tight end in the first round Dalton Kincaid.
While the Bills had the second-best offense (28.4 points per game) in the league last year in coordinator Ken Dorsey’s first season, their success declined in the second half of the year — falling from 54.37 (second) on offense -EPA from weeks 1-8 to 38.31 (eighths) from weeks 9-18 – due to a variety of factors including quarterback Josh Allenelbow injury. The new players were brought in to remedy some of the offense’s shortcomings. Let’s take a look at each group.
In addition to Harris, the Bills brought in Murray this season and signed Mims, an undrafted free agent, to compete for a spot on the roster. Hines is back after underutilizing (11 touches in nine regular-season games) after being traded in a timely manner last year and being selected to the third round in 2020 Zack Moss for the Indianapolis Colts. Hines’ ability to play on special teams will be a factor in his chances of making the roster.
Devin Singletarywho brought the Bills to peak form in each of his four seasons with the team found a new home with them Houston Texans in free agency, which opened the door for Cook to take on the lead back role. The second round player 2022 had 110 touches in his rookie year, but The Bills’ traditionally pass-heavy offense relies on a mix of defenders to give opposing defenses more leeway to think.
Murray and Harris could compete for opportunities in short-distance situations in training camp. In 2022, the Bills ranked eighth in yards per rush in third-and-short situations (4.7). Adding a back with size in Murray (1.80m, 110kg) and with proven experience in Harris – who needs to show he can remain healthy after missing six games in 2022 with a hamstring injury – should help with that.
“I find [Harris and Murray] Give them a physical nature yet the ability to make big plays with their speed and I’m excited to see them,” Dorsey said.
One of Harris’ best performances was in the game against the Bills, rushing for 100 yards in three of his five career games against the Bills. But in 2022, the running back starting job in New England was lost Rhamondre Stevensonand Harris played just 22% of offensive snaps, compared to Stevenson’s 66%.
Signing a short-term contract to play on another offense is an opportunity for Harris.
“I’ve really played at a really high level in this league and I just want to keep doing that,” Harris said.
Harris’ best season came in 2021 when he rushed for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns.
There are currently 13 wide receivers in the Bills roster, so there will be numerous cuts. Seven was in the squad last season. How the situation develops can be observed in the training camp.
Sherfield, playing for his team for the fourth time in four years, capitalized on the increased chances when he performed Diggs was not present for volunteer OTAs and not participating in team exercises during the mandatory minicamp.
“Trent Sherfield got a lot of Z reps and learned that offense. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Trent so far, the guy works extremely hard,” Allen said during the OTAs in May. “He is one of the hardest working guys on the team. Complains about nothing. He’s rolling now.”
Yards after catch was one area where Allen and the Bills have pointed to improvement in 2022 — then the team ranked 29th in YAC per reception (4.5) last season. Sherfield and Harty were supposed to help there; Harty has a career yards by catch percentage of 53.2% and has a history of returning speed.
That speed could help open up the scope for the rest of the offense. Diggs’ performance declined in the second half of the 2022 season — in the first nine games, he had 72 receptions on 98 goals for 985 yards and seven touchdowns. In the next nine games, including the playoffs, Diggs caught 47 receptions on 74 goals and four touchdowns.
“[Harty’s] “A vertical threat, and if you have a true vertical threat, that can help open things up for Gabe, Stef or Khalil and any of the other players who play receivers,” general manager Brandon Beane said in March. So I think it’s just going to be another piece that Dorsey can use however he wants, like I said, on the outside or the inside.”
Knox, Kincaid and Morris will snag squad spots barring something unexpected happens. Kincaid, who the Bills made a first-round pick, is the conspicuous new target to watch for how he could open the offense.
Dorsey said they’re still learning about Kincaid and how it’s used during the OTAs. However, Kincaid is expected to be used as a slot tight of sorts to improve midfield production. The Bills led the league in drop percentage from the slot in 2022 (7.1%) and ranked 15th in yards per reception in the slot (11.8). One of the selling points for Kincaid, according to Beane, was its “elite hands”.
“[Kincaid] already has a good idea of what the defense is doing. Great hands, great distance running skills, really, really ready to graduate from college,” said Knox. “…It’s going to be great to get him in the box, let the ball run a bit, and then when we’re both out there at the same time, create some discord and get one of those against a linebacker. So I think the more 12 players, the more multi-tight end sets you can play, the more versatile you will be on offense.”