ORCHARD PARK - There seems to be no end in sight to the predominant theme through the first four weeks of the Buffalo Bills season: This team is still facing an injury crisis.
Wednesday afternoon, coach Sean McDermott reeled off the names of 13 players who did not practice fully as the Bills begin earnest preparation for Sunday’s home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three of the players - edge rusher Von Miller, offensive guard Rodger Saffold and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones - were just on veteran rest days. But the rest of the list were players who either missed last week’s victory over the Ravens, or who sustained injuries in the game.
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Buffalo Bills injury report for Week 5 looks daunting
Defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips, cornerback Christian Benford, offensive lineman Justin Murray, and wide receiver Jake Kumerow were all out in Baltimore. Lost during the game were wide receivers Isaiah McKenzie (concussion) and Jamison Crowder (broken ankle).
And now we find out that linebacker Tremaine Edmunds suffered a hamstring injury, safety Jordan Poyer hurt his ribs while making his end zone interception, and tight end Dawson Knox continues to battle a variety of bumps and bruises.
With so many players down, McDermott admitted it affects how the team can practice.
“We’re hanging right on that edge just to have a quality practice today,” McDermott said, which begs the question of why, then, do Miller, Jones and Saffold need to sit out when they aren’t hurt. “We’ll try and monitor it as we go, but if we lose a guy or two during practice, then we’re going to have to make a big-time adjustment there.”
Bills practice squad players take on bigger roll
Because so many players are sidelined, several reserves have moved into starter roles, and the practice squad players have had to step up as part of the scout team that impersonates the offense and defense of the upcoming opponent.
“Sometimes the hardest thing is when you move people up, then it’s the ‘look’ team, right?” McDermott explained. “You’re not getting a good look, or you’re having D-linemen play O-line just to give a look and you’ve got receivers playing DB. I applaud those guys who have stepped up in those roles because it’s not really always what they’re paid to do. But again, that selfless approach goes a long way.”
Buffalo Bills injuries at wide receiver a concern
One big area of concern is receiver. Crowder will be placed on injured reserve and he could miss at least the rest of the regular season. And with McKenzie in concussion protocol, you never know how that’s going to go.
Further, McDermott admitted that Gabe Davis is not himself as he deals with an ankle injury.
Davis has not really helped the offense since he got hurt in practice before the Week 2 home opener against Tennessee. He sat out that game and has only four catches for 50 yards in the last two games.
The only two healthy wideouts are Stefon Diggs and rookie Khalil Shakir, and the Bills will likely have to elevate players from the practice squad to fill the gaps, especially if McKenzie can’t play, a practice squad that no longer includes Tavon Austin.
Austin and the Bills have reportedly agreed to part ways because Austin was disappointed by his lack of opportunity. The timing isn't great because it seems as if he would have been the choice to get called up to the active roster. He is being replaced by wide receiver Jacquari Robertson who was on the field Wednesday. The Bills also have Isaiah Hodgins and Tanner Gentry as wide receiver options.
“I think right now, we just got to kind of wait and see how everything pans out during the week and game plan like we normally do,” offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said. “If anybody can’t go, we’ve got a lot of faith in the guy that we have to step in and be able to make plays for us.”
Shakir did that in Baltimore as he was forced into full-time action by midway through the third quarter and he contributed two catches for 23 yards and threw a great block on a screen pass to Devin Singletary on the game-winning drive that was vital to the success of that play.
“I think it really speaks to the readiness of our young players, so credit to them, taking ownership of that, Kahlil in this case, and then the coaches having those guys ready,” McDermott said. “Because of some of the bumps and bruises we’ve had, those players have to be ready, and it’s someone new every week.”
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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Bills injury report for Week 5 is daunting, especially at WR