ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Practice was over for the Buffalo Bills after the stretch period, and players were heading back to the locker room. As the sun shone down on an almost empty practice field, one player remained. Linebacker Tyrel Dodson was lying down quietly on the sideline.
Dodson, one of the main competitors for the middle linebacker role that Tremaine Edmunds occupied for five seasons before signing with the Chicago Bears as a free agent, has been a central figure in multiple skirmishes over the last few days, including plenty of verbal back-and-forth with offensive teammates and a fight with right tackle Spencer Brown on Tuesday.
“It's gonna get chippy, it's gonna get competitive," Dodson said. “Guys are gonna get in fights, but at the end of the day, like, we're all brothers.”
He remained out on the field, however, for a very different reason -- to meditate. Safety Jordan Poyer introduced the idea of meditating to Dodson, who has been doing it for about 10 days. The locker room was too loud, so 25-year-old decided to try it in the grass.
“I guess in the new position I'm in, I have to sit down and collect my thoughts,” Dodson said, “see how I'm leading, if I can get better with different stuff and see just everything ... emotionally, spiritually.”
Dodson, who originally signed with the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2019, is competing with veteran A.J. Klein and 2022 third-round pick Terrel Bernard for the starting role in the middle of a talented and experienced Bills defense, one of the many competitions ongoing in Buffalo as the team prepares for the second preseason game at Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Middle linebacker: Bernard suffered a hamstring injury in the final practice before the first preseason game, which has changed this battle. Bernard did not play in the game and has not practiced since, although Wednesday he worked out to the side of the field. Coach Sean McDermott said after the game that “usually hamstrings take a little bit of time. So that's what we're expecting.”
Before the injury, the battle was down to Bernard and Dodson, who started three games when Edmunds was injured last season. Dodson remains in a solid position for the role, but Klein has gained some momentum, including moving up the depth chart over Baylon Spector, who missed practice on Wednesday with a back injury, in the preseason game. Klein, 32, is entering his 11th NFL season and didn’t appear to be in the battle for much of camp while the Bills were practicing at St. John Fisher University.
“At some positions I wish one guy would have just kind of really separated himself, per se, but it hasn’t happened and some of that’s due to the competition,” McDermott said last week. “Both players kind of, one has a good day then the next day the other one comes back and has a better day.”
Dodson remains in touch with Edmunds, whom he said was his best friend. The two still go over film together. Edmunds told him to “be smooth” at all times, keep working, and not to expect everything to click once. Dodson has worked at being more of a leader, including dapping up players before practice and making sure they know he’s available to talk.
General manager Brandon Beane said on SiriusXM the team would “love” to have the battle decided by the third preseason game, so Saturday's game will be a big test.
Dodson said he understands what must do to earn the starting role.
“I just gotta keep being the leader, keep getting my defense lined up, just being situational, aware with different stuff," Dodson said. "Just helping guys on and off the field and I think everything else will take care of itself.”
Going into camp, Allen was expected to win the No. 2 job and Barkley looked headed for the practice squad for a second consecutive year. Barkley put up a flashy performance in the preseason win over the Colts -- he completed 14 of 15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Allen completed 8 of 15 for 122 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said not to take too much away from the numbers.
“At the end of the day, really, both of them graded out very similar,” Dorsey said. “... So, when you look at just that competition, I think it's very close between the two of them.”
The biggest challenge for Allen, 27, comes from the mental side and learning an offense that is different than others he has been in during his career.
“It's a lot more dense,” Allen told ESPN when asked how the offense compares. “There's a lot more to it and there's not a lot of reasoning behind a lot of stuff, so it's a lot of memorization. ... It's been built over so many years and a bunch of different people have had their hands on it, so it's not really a cohesive system, but once you memorize it and get it, it makes a lot of sense.”
Throughout practices, Barkley and Allen have been trading off opportunities and days in which one outplayed the other. Josh Allen hasn’t missed a start since his rookie season, but having a capable backup is important in case he misses time.
Dorsey said they are looking for consistency through decision-making and accuracy for the winner of the role. “And we preach, 'Hey, if a few guys make good decisions, everything else takes care of itself.' Because we feel like it's a good, good group around them,” Dorsey said.
Cornerback No. 2: The job remains open for three candidates -- Dane Jackson and second-year corners Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford. In the first preseason game, Jackson played just the first series and had an interception, while Elam and Benford played almost an equal number of snaps as the team wanted to see more from the younger corners.
Elam, a 2022 first-round pick, has not done enough to earn the starting role opposite Tre'Davious White, which has left the competition open throughout camp.
“They're talented guys and they only push me to become the best Kaiir Elam I can be,” Elam told ESPN. “I'm taking less off my plate mentally and really just focusing on being the best I can be, really trying to dominate and win every rep and still like off the field trying to be a good teammate.”
While Jackson has appeared in the lead at times, this battle remains one that could go in any direction.