As mandatory minicamps revolve around the NFL, the Bills had one of the most unique starts on Tuesday.
Stefon Diggs, the team’s star player, did not attend any of the team’s voluntary organized activities during May and June, further underlining the intrigue surrounding his possible whereabouts at the mandatory mini-camp.
It was the first topic he brought up with coach Sean McDermott, and his responses immediately set off alarm bells.
Choosing his words wisely, McDermott said, “Steve’s not here, everyone’s here at the moment.” Then, when asked if he was worried about Diggs’ absence, McDermott said he was “very, very worried”.
The coach refused to go into any details and provided no context for Diggs’ absence other than the receiver who was not present for the training.
This led to a roller coaster ride two hours later while the team was conducting their rehearsals. An initial report came in stating that Diggs was in fact at the team’s facilities, but then left. At approximately 1:40 pm on Tuesday, nearly two hours after McDermott said Diggs was not present, Bills confirmed that Diggs was at the team’s facilities at Orchard Park on Monday and Tuesday morning, but had left before practice. Despite the explanation, no reason was given as to why Diggs left before practice.
It has led many to wonder why there was such a disconnect between Diggs’ actions and words from the head coach right before the Bills started practicing. Had McDermott mentioned that Diggs has been at Orchard Park for the past two days but hasn’t been practicing, that would likely lead to a less dramatic two hours at the team’s facilities. But McDermott left it vague on purpose.
Even if there was no internal separation between the team and Diggs, on the surface it looked like that. McDermott’s “extremely concerned” comment only added fuel to the fire.
Because the whole situation played out in real time, players scheduled to talk to reporters after practice on the field slowly learned what had happened over the previous two hours. Quarterback Josh Allen, who usually gets to the podium after practice on his scheduled speaking days, instead commuted through the indoor training facility to the training center, likely to be debriefed about the situation.
When Allen returned to the microphone moments later, he made his point about Diggs in the first thing he said.
“I know, internally, we’re working on some non-football stuff, but Steve, he’s my favorite guy. Excuse me. [language]Allen said, “I love him.” “It doesn’t work, what we’re doing here, without it.”
As for the ‘non-football’ items that need to be worked on, Allen didn’t delve into many other details but did suggest that some connections may not have been handled in the right way. He also stated that he was layered as to how the feud was classified at this point.
“I think there’s a piece of football, one, and things that happen because of football, and I’ll kind of keep it that way,” Allen said. “I think, for the most part, it’s more about teamwork than anything else.”
But Allen, along with pass rusher and teammate Von Miller, were united by the opinion that Diggs’ situation would be cleaned up in short order.
Miller mentioned that he spoke with Diggs two weeks ago, where the receiver said he wanted to be in Buffalo and wanted to win a Super Bowl with the organization.
“It will work,” Miller said. “I’m not really worried about that.”
“I will do everything I can to get him back in our locker room,” Allen said. “Make no mistake about it, it’s Buffalo Bill and we’ll work it out.”
Allen remained consistent that Diggs wanted to be in Buffalo, and that he did not think the situation was a distraction. But even with the two superstars downplaying the dramatic order of events earlier in the day, there was still a buzz about what McDermott said before training began, and how it fueled the rest of the day.
“I think that’s a typical reaction from a head coach,” Allen said of McDermott’s “very concerned” comment just hours earlier. “As the quarterback, a guy I played with for three years, a guy I know and love, I’m not worried about not getting four reps with him in mandatory minicamp now.”
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McDermott isn’t scheduled to address reporters for the remainder of the mandatory mini-camp, so there may be no explanation as to why he kept things vague to begin with. It would have been a simple case of stating things factually like here and now, which is why he added the line “at the moment” to the end of his answer. Or for those who think it could mean something bigger, McDermott has been known to send a message to some single players through the media before.
Whatever the coach’s approach, his teammates, those closest to Diggs, don’t see the dramatic flair from Tuesday as a long-term matter.
“He wants to win,” Allen said. “This is what it boils down to.
“We don’t want this to be a distraction. He doesn’t want this to be a distraction. It is what it is. The positive thing is we don’t play a game tomorrow. We have time. This is a little camera. We have plenty of time to figure that out.”
The Bills will return to the field on Wednesday for the second practice of their mandatory three-day minicamp. All eyes will once again be on the receivers to see if Diggs makes his debut this season – and whether the two sides find a way to reconnect.
(Photo by Stefon Diggs: Joshua Bessex / Getty Images)
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