ORCHARD PARK - The last time the Buffalo Bills walked through the tunnel at New Era Field in full uniform, uncertainty enveloped the team.
Eight months later, there's a new head coach in Orchard Park along with a makeover of the Bills roster. In Thursday's preseason opener, Sean McDermott's first team defense stole the show against the Minnesota Vikings.
Bills fans could be excused for not knowing of Eddie Yarbrough before Thursday. Not any more.
The 1st-year defensive end from Wyoming has been a revelation for McDermott's defense throughout training camp at St. John Fisher, rising up from the 3rd team defense. Yarbrough started in place of Shaq Lawson, who was out with a groin injury. Yarbrough dropped Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford for a sack in the opening drive of the game.
"As Kyle [Williams] tells me, 'it's never a destination, it's a journey,'" said Yarbrough after the game referencing the 12-year star defensive tackle. "You gotta flush this game and keep building, keep stacking good days on another good day so eventually you get to where you want to go."
Earlier in the week, Williams referred to Yarbrough as the Bills MVP of training camp. The Bills' head ball coach is recognizing him too.
"This wasn't the first time he has flashed. He earns it. He really does," said McDermott. "He's one of the first ones in our team meeting each morning. He's got flash cards, he's drilling himself mentally. His success on the field tonight was not a surprise to those that know him and I'm really happy for him."
Jerry Hughes and Marquavius Lewis each picked up sacks of their own to round out the night for the Bills defense. Joe Powell also picked off Vikings 3rd string quarterback Taylor Heinicke in the fourth quarter.
As for the Bills offense, McDermott gave star running back LeSean McCoy the night off for rest. Left tackle Cordy Glenn was also out as he recovers from a nagging foot injury.
Tyrod Taylor made Bills fans hold their breath as he came up slowly from a sack by Everson Griffen during Buffalo's opening drive. Taylor completed the series before getting looked at under a tent on the sideline. He'd return for the Bills second series, ending the night completed 5 of 8 pass attempts for 46 yards.
His first 3 passes each went to Sammy Watkins. The team's premier wideout has looked good at training camp while trying to distance himself from prior foot and ankle injuries. Thursday was a big test on that road to recovery, finishing unscathed along with four catches for 39 yards.
A 3-3 game at halftime finally gathered steam in the second half, long after the starters departed the game.
The Vikings found the endzone twice in the third quarter via a 2-yard touchdown run from CJ Ham and a 2-yard pass from Heinicke to Rodney Adams.
T.J. Yates was the second Bills quarterback to see playing time on Thursday, but failed to impress, completing 6 of 11 passes for 48 yards along with two sacks. His four drives under center failed to advance into Minnesota territory.
With the 3rd string on the field, rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman led the Bills on their only touchdown drive of the game, completing a 1-yard pass to Dez Lewis in the back of the endzone early in the fourth quarter.
"For Nate in his first experience, first chance to get out there in an NFL game I thought he handled himself well, He was poised, showed great composure, he did face some pressure which was expected and he did a nice job," said McDermott
"I did some good things I did some bad things , some missed reads here or there, could have taken some shots, I'll get better," added Peterman
"It really slowed down, they brought some pressure on us so that was good for me to feel out where my hot reads are and just to get the full feel of the game, thought it was good. This was okay start, I think I wasn't perfect out there so just have to keep getting better," added the rookie quarterback.
Peterman had a chance to lead the Bills down the field for a possible game-tying drive, but on 4th and 4 from the Minnesota 45, a snap over his head resulted in a Vikings fumble recovery.
On the injury front, running back Jonathan Williams tweaked his hamstring, but after the game proclaimed he would have been continued playing had the game featured actual consequences. Rookie linebacker Tanner Vallejo injured his shoulder in the second quarter and did not return.
Penalties were a theme for the Bills, racking up 106 yards on ten infractions.
The Bills return to training camp at St. John Fisher on Sunday at 2:15pm. Their next preseason game is Thursday, August 17 at Philadelphia.
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