2021 Buffalo Bills Training Camp Injury Preview- Tight End

This is the 2021 Training Camp Preview for the Buffalo Bills Tight End room. This will outline every known injury from 2020 and outlook heading into 2021.

Returning

Nate Becker

Appeared in 1 game.

Becker spent his time on the practice squad with the exception of a Week 17 appearance against the Dolphins. He did not suffer any publicly known injuries and will continue to be a good practice squad candidate but will have difficulty in making the roster unless others get injured.

Tommy Sweeney

Spent entire year on IR.

Sweeney missed the entire season due to a broken foot initially in the offseason that eventually required surgery. While the specifics of the surgery have not been revealed, he was on track to return later in the season before nearly the entire tight end room was exposed to COVID. 

Sweeney unfortunately acquired COVID and as part of the screen to ensure that he was able to return, doctors found myocarditis, an inflammation of the cardiac muscle. He was forced to not participate in any form of exercise for 3 months before he could resume getting back in shape to play. He was able to participate in OTA’s and minicamp without restrictions, indicating that he is cleared for the regular season. 

Once myocarditis has been addressed, it is not something that will spontaneously occur again. He has also had over a year to fully rehab his foot injury which should bode well to reduce any chance of re-injury. He will require a strong training camp to justify sticking around on the roster, but Sweeney’s injury luck can’t get any worse than it was last year.

Reggie Gilliam

Appeared in 14 games, 3 postseason games.

The rookie tight end spent time mostly on special teams but found time to line up at tight end and fullback when called upon, even scoring his first TD early in the season. Injuries included:

  • Hamstring strain, Week 12, missed 0 games.
  • Knee injury, possible left knee, Week 15, missed 2 games.
  • Hamstring strain, Week 17, missed 0 games.

Gilliam was able to stay healthy until the final stretch of the season when he suffered the hamstring strain that he played through before suffering the knee injury several weeks later. It wasn’t clear the type of injury he suffered to his knee but it knocked him out for two games. 

Without knowing the specifics of the injury, it’s hard to determine whether this contributed to his hamstring injury in Week 17 or whether the hamstring from Week 12 was re-injured. I am concerned that the soft tissue injuries could linger but with a traditional offseason and preseason could help ensure a proper ramp-up period to reduce the risk. If he can avoid injury, he could make the 53-man roster again.

Dawson Knox

Appeared in 12 games, 3 postseason games.

Knox may be the biggest barrier to himself as to whether he can finally be the game-changing tight end that the Bills saw that he could develop into when they drafted him. A slew of injuries in 2020 really hampered his availability and that has opened the door for others to attempt to steal reps or consistently talk to trade for other tight ends. Knox’s injuries include:

  • Concussion, Week 2, missed 1 game.
  • Calf injury, Week 5, missed 1 game.
  • COVID, Week 7, missed 2 games.
  • Hamstring strain, Week 10, side not specified, missed 0 games.
  • Right side stinger, Week 14, missed 0 games.
  • Stinger, side unspecified, Week 15, missed 0 games.

He was never truly healthy all season and that was reflected in his statistics. The concussion he suffered was the first known one of his career which can’t necessarily be prevented, but something to keep in mind for future seasons.

The calf injury appears to be independent of anything else and while he only missed 1 game solely due to the injury, he tested positive for COVID the next week. This forced him out for an additional two games, helping him to recover from the calf injury.

When he returned, suffering the hamstring strain in Week 10 likely would have forced him out additional time, but the bye week was well timed in his favor. This may have been more of a tweak, but he did have a history of hamstring injuries going back to 2019, causing him to miss most of training camp.

Finally, the stingers in back-to-back weeks can be worrisome if there is additional damage in the neck area, but that is currently not known. I am hoping that he got hit, then the next week it was aggravated before it finally got time to heal. Ideally, these are isolated events and not the start of a pattern.

Looking at everything as a whole, I am concerned for Knox to be injured further in 2021. He will undoubtedly suffer some sort of injury due to his position, but the hope is that he can string together several healthy games like he did in December where he was the most productive. The proper ramp-up period for training camp and off-season work can help reduce the soft-tissue injuries he has had the past two seasons and avoiding any future incidence of concussions or stingers could be the key to unlock his potential.

New to the roster:

Jacob Hollister

Hollister comes to the Bills following several seasons in Seattle and New England with consistent play, but without the stats of a TE1. In addition, he also comes pretty healthy which equals availability especially as Dawson Knox has shown inconsistencies staying on the field. Besides a rough 2018 which consisted of a bruised lung and hamstring strain, Hollister has been healthy. The health of others could make Hollister more valuable or just another guy.

Quintin Morris

Morris has a long way to go to make the roster coming out of Bowling Green as a UDFA, but the lack of an injury history does help him in his quest. Besides a broken collarbone in high school, there is little information on the games he has missed, which have been few. With a strong performance and several injuries, Morris could find his way onto the 53-man roster or at the very least the practice squad due to the overall depth at the position.

Not returning:

Tyler Kroft

Kroft was supposed to be an upgrade at tight end when he came over in 2019 but foot and ankle injuries really hampered his ability to get on the field. In 2020, while he did not get injured, exposure to COVID and a false positive cost him several games along with a reduced role to Dawson Knox. He has since signed with the New York Jets as he continues to extend his career.

Lee Smith

Smith, a veteran leader in the locker room, was effective in his position as a blocking tight end during his second stint with the Bills. He also did not suffer many injuries with the exception of a left knee contusion in Week 14 and a COVID exposure earlier in the season. Lee was later traded to the Atlanta Falcons for a 7th-round pick in the offseason.

2021 Injury expectations

TE1 is Dawson Knox’s position to lose. Simple as that. He must stay healthy and produce, demonstrating that 3rd year leap the team and fan base are expecting. The depth behind him isn’t all that spectacular, but time missed by Knox could allow Hollister to take his snaps and open the door for Sweeney and Gilliam to find a more defined role on this team.

Knox’s health could also see the Bills still look to address the position through free agency or trade if things don’t start off on the right foot. This is one position group that is a weak spot both from a production and depth standpoint, any injury to those that make the active roster could weaken it further. 

Published by Dr. Trimble

My name is Dr. Kyle Trimble and I am, first and foremost, a Buffalo Bills fan!! When I am not cheering on the Buffalo Bills, I am a Physical Therapist. To give a background on myself; I was born and raised in Erie, PA, moved to Buffalo in 2006 to begin my studies at D'Youville College towards becoming a Physical Therapist at which time I became a devoted Buffalo Bills fan.  I graduated in 2013 with my Doctorate in Physical Therapy and moved home for several years. Moving back to the Buffalo area in 2016, I have gained extensive experience in outpatient orthopedics, skilled nursing, acute care hospital, and home care. Having obtained a significant wealth of knowledge that continues to grow, along with a undying fandom of the Bills, puts me in the unique position to educate my fellow fans about our great team. 
I am currently an injury spotter working with Dr. David Chao, Orthopedic Surgeon @ProFootballDoc based out of San Diego. In this role, I provide real time updates regarding injuries during the game. I hope you enjoy what I publish and I welcome any comments or questions you may have.
Disclaimer: My opinions are my own.  Any thoughts I have on the injuries is based on media reports, my knowledge of the injury, and speculation based on the information currently available.


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