Bills receivers challenged to adapt after Boldin retires
By JOHN WAWROW
Aug. 22, 2017
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Quarterback Tyrod Taylor understood there would be changes at the receiver position when he elected to return to Buffalo for a third season by restructuring his contract in March.
Little did he anticipate how drastic the transformation would be following Anquan Boldin's abrupt decision to retire Sunday, which came on the heels of Sammy Watkins being traded to the Los Angeles Rams.
"It's definitely big," Taylor said following practice Tuesday. "I don't think it's a situation that has ever happened like that in recent history."
All three of Buffalo's starters from last year have now been replaced, including the losses of Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in free agency. And then there's Boldin, whose stint with the Bills lasted just under two weeks.
The latest shuffle leaves Taylor scrambling to build chemistry with a young, patchwork collection of receivers.
It's a group now led by second-round draft pick Zay Jones and Jordan Matthews, who has been sidelined since chipping a bone in his chest during his first practice with Buffalo. Matthews was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia on Aug. 11, the same day Watkins was dealt to LA.
"No excuses ever want to be made on my end. You've got to deal with whatever's given to you," Taylor said.
"Yes, we lost Sammy. Yes, we lost Anquan. But there's guys that are very good players, very talented players. We just have to do whatever it takes to get on the same page."
Time is running out with Buffalo's opener against the New York Jets less than three weeks away.
Boldin's decision to quit football and focus on his civil justice and humanitarian causes caught the Bills by surprise. The 14-year veteran was being counted on as a reliable target in the slot and to mentor the team's youngsters, including Jones.
"That's life and that's football," Jones said. "A lot has been thrown at this team, not just me, so there's a lot of growing up to do."
Running back LeSean McCoy said he'll miss Boldin because he's among the league's best downfield-blocking receivers.
Coach Sean McDermott challenged his team to respond to adversity.
"The bottom line with Anquan's situation as a football team is we respect his decision," he said. "As a football team, we adapt. These players have adapted before and we will continue to adapt and show grit."
McDermott dismissed the notion the Bills lack experience without Boldin. He specifically mentioned Matthews, who is entering his fourth season, and free-agent addition Andre Holmes, who broke into the NFL with Dallas as an undrafted rookie in 2011. Holmes, however, has just 102 catches for 1,482 yards and 12 touchdowns in 65 games, including only 20 starts.
The Bills' depth at receiver has been further depleted with Rod Streater's status uncertain; he hurt his left toe in a 20-16 preseason loss at Philadelphia last week. Another offseason free-agent addition, the fifth-year player is listed week to week, though McDermott hasn't ruled out Streater requiring surgery.
That leaves Holmes, Walt Powell and Philly Brown among those competing for the No. 3 spot behind Matthews and Jones.
"I feel like we still have receivers that can get the job done," Holmes said. "I don't think it's going to set us back, but I do think that he could've done a lot for us."
Taylor said the burden falls on him to keep the receivers focused while spending extra time working with them after practice.
"It's a challenge for all of us," Taylor said. "We'll see as the time goes on how they respond to that challenge. I'm looking forward to seeing them respond in a great way."
NOTES: The Bills officially placed Boldin on their reserve/retired list. ... McDermott extended his condolences to Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who announced the death of his father on Monday. Joe Kelly was 88 and had been placed in hospice care a week ago in Florida. ... The Bills prepare to play at Baltimore in their third preseason game on Saturday.
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