ORCHARD PARK – Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott didn’t even wait for the first question to be asked in his Wednesday afternoon press conference because he knew what it would be.
And so McDermott immediately began reading the lengthy injury list that will once again be one of the key storylines this week as the Bills prepare to meet fellow AFC heavyweight Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.
Not practicing were offensive linemen Ryan Bates (concussion protocol), Dion Dawkins (non-COVID illness) and Rodger Saffold (veteran rest day); cornerback Christian Benford (broken hand); wide receiver Jake Kumerow (ankle); and defensive linemen Jordan Phillips (hamstring) and Von Miller (rest day).
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Working on a limited basis were defensive backs Dane Jackson (neck) and Jordan Poyer (foot); defensive tackle Ed Oliver (ankle); center Mitch Morse (elbow); tight end Dawson Knox (back/hip soreness); and newly signed offensive lineman Justin Murray (undisclosed).
The good news is that players such as offensive tackle Spencer Brown and wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Isaiah McKenzie, all of whom suffered problems because of the oppressive heat down in Miami, were able to participate in full.
“I think our environment is the key piece of this, right,” McDermott said when he was asked about dealing with so much adversity this early in the season. “Right now we’re focused on minimizing distractions and maximizing performance. And I think that’s the key; we have to focus on improving our football team on a day-to-day basis and doing everything possible to do our jobs at a higher level so we get the necessary execution. And in order to do that, you’ve got to make sure that your mind is in the right spot and that you’re minimizing those distractions. The guys seem that they’re in a good spot and focused on improving today and getting better.”
It is already known that Benford, Kumerow and Phillips are already out, but there won’t be much clarity on which of the other players will be ready to go against the Ravens until later in the week. The big ones to watch are obviously Bates, Morse, Poyer, Jackson, Oliver and Knox, six starters who the Bills need to get back.
Bills sign two veteran free agents to fill voids
As expected, the Bills had to look outside the organization for reinforcements to the roster because the practice squad simply isn’t deep enough to cover all of the potential absences.
On Tuesday, they signed cornerback Xavier Rhodes and offensive lineman Justin Murray to the practice squad and there’s a very good chance that at least Rhodes will be activated to the 53-man roster in time for the game.
“Stay ready, so I don’t have to get ready,” Howard said when he was asked if he’d be able to be plug and play if need be. “So yeah, if they put me up, I’m ready.”
Once Benford left the Miami game, the Bills were forced to use practice squad call-up Ja’Marcus Ingram, the former University of Buffalo standout who made his NFL debut and had to play 24 snaps. But Ingram is not ready to be a full-time contributor, so Rhodes was brought in.
The 32-year-old is a 10th-year player who was a first-round pick of the Vikings in 2013 which was current Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier’s last season as head coach in Minnesota. “I’m quite familiar with some things (in Frazier’s defense),” Rhodes said. “I need to and catch up on some things but other than that, yeah.”
Rhodes played seven years for the Vikings, made three Pro Bowls and was a one-time All-Pro who made 10 interceptions, though he isn’t at that level anymore. He spent the last two seasons with the Colts starting 29 of a possible 33 games and making three interceptions. The Colts did not re-sign him and he had been waiting for an opportunity to present itself.
The situation on the offensive line is nearly as problematic as it is in the secondary. Bates being in concussion protocol clouds his status for Sunday, and Morse was hurt enough that he couldn’t dress in Miami. Further, backup Tommy Doyle was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL and is out for the season.
That’s why they signed Murray who entered the NFL in 2016 with the Broncos’ practice squad and bounced around to the Buccaneers, Saints and Bengals before landing with the Raiders in 2018 and finally making his playing debut.
He moved on to the Cardinals and spent the past three seasons there, starting 21 games, though only one last season as he battled injuries. Murray was only able to work on a limited basis so he may not be ready to play.
However, the Bills will get Bobby Hart back after he served a one-game suspension for throwing a punch at a Titans player after the Monday night game at Highmark Stadium.
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills injury report vs Ravens is massive: Buffalo signs Xavier Rhodes