Bills rookie QB Josh Allen causing big buzz in Buffalo
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — A week before launching his first pass in a competitive NFL setting, rookie quarterback Josh Allen stood in awe amid a throng of Buffalo Bills fans who were not only chanting his name but also that of his mother.
“Mrs. Allen! Mrs. Allen!” they yelled, trying to get the attention of LaVonne Allen, who was standing on New Era Field following a recent practice, watching her son signing countless autographs.
“I’m just kind of speechless right now,” Josh Allen said, referring to the attention he and his mother have received since training camp opened three weeks ago.
“It’s really cool to feel wanted by the fans,” he added, noting there’s nothing during his playing days at Wyoming that compares to what he’s experienced since arriving in Buffalo. “I’m just trying to be the best quarterback possible. So as long as I’m playing well and improving every day, I will just continue this.”
The Bills’ first-round draft pick took his first big step in that process during Buffalo’s 28-23 preseason-opening loss to Carolina on Thursday night.
A loud cheer went up following the second-half kickoff, when Allen — in his No. 17 jersey — took the field for the first time. And the buzz grew on the first play, when Allen faked a handoff and effortlessly threw the ball nearly 60 yards only to have receiver Robert Foster catch it just out of bounds along the left sideline.
“You have to love that, right?” coach Sean McDermott said of Allen’s first attempt. “I think the fans appreciated that. I appreciated it. We’re out there, these guys are having fun, and I thought it gave the crowd some juice.”
It wasn’t, however, lost on McDermott that the pass was one of many that fell incomplete, a reflection of how much Allen still has to develop before being deemed ready to take over as the team’s starter.
Allen finished 9 of 19 for 116 yards, and essentially threaded a needle between two defenders by hitting rookie Ray-Ray McCloud III for a 14-yard touchdown pass. There were some errant throws, too, such as the short swing pass to his right that sailed well wide of Foster early in the fourth quarter.
“We looked really good at times last night, and then we saw where we still have a lot of work to do, and Josh is no different,” McDermott said Friday. “He’s a young player, who I thought took a step last night. It was a good step in the right direction.”
McDermott continues to be ultra-cautious in not wanting to rush Allen’s development. Allen works mostly with the third-string offense, while returning backup Nathan Peterman and free-agent addition A.J. McCarron are splitting time with the starters.
“Calculated,” is how McDermott described his approach to Allen. “You can see the arm talent. You can see the special type of player that he could be. But there’s a lot of room for growth between where we are now and where he needs to get to.”
The 22-year-old Allen represents a hopeful future for a franchise that appears to be moving on an upward trend. The Bills sneaked into the playoffs on the final day of the season to snap a 17-year playoff drought — the NFL’s longest active streak.
Buffalo then traded third-year starter Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, and moved up five spots to draft Allen seventh overall in a bid to fill a position that has remained unsettled since Hall of Famer Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season.
Give him time, said veteran running back LeSean McCoy, who refers to Allen as “one of my favorites.”
“He’s a rookie, but he has a super talent,” McCoy said. “And I think once he gets the bruises of playing a little bit, the lumps, he’ll be fine.”
As for the attention Allen has attracted, McCoy isn’t surprised.
“A high draft pick, anywhere you go, it’s like that,” he said. “The thing here is we’ve been waiting for this franchise quarterback. He’s young. A lot of high expectations. I think he could do it. I really do.”
Allen is taking it one step at a time, and focused on not allowing the buzz to distract him.
“I understand that this comes with it, but I’m completely focused on playing football for the Bills,” he said. “I’m here to compete.”
LaVonne Allen is impressed by and grateful for the welcome she and her son have received.
“It’s overwhelming, to be honest with you, to see the love and the passion they have for the game and for Josh,” she said. “They seem excited that he’s here. And he’s as excited as they are.”
It’s a lot like what happened during Allen’s three-year stint at Wyoming, where two years ago he led the school to its first appearance in the Mountain West championship game.
“People are coming up to us left and right and introducing themselves,” LaVonne Allen said. “It feels like Laramie. It feels like home.”