The Buffalo Bills should have one of their most versatile offensive players on the field when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL’s opening game this week.
Speedy wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie had been dealing with a groin injury that put his status for Thursday night’s opener in jeopardy, but he now appears to be on track to play. McKenzie will be stepping into a bigger role in the team’s offense this season after the departure of slot receiver Cole Beasley, and he will also have a chance to contribute on special teams as the primary kick returner.
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McKenzie Practices on Sunday
McKenzie’s status for the Thursday night opener appeared in doubt earlier in the week after he suffered a groin injury. As WGR 550’s Sal Capaccio reported, he was forced to leave the team’s August 27 practice early after being hurt during a drill.
“However, wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie left practice early and did not return after coming up limping following an 11-on-11 rep. McKenzie started limping after the play, then walked over to a trainer, ultimately walking with him into the fieldhouse,” he wrote for Audacy.com.
McKenzie missed practice again on Monday, and Bills general manager Brandon Beane said on Wednesday that it was unclear whether he’d be back in time to play.
But McKenzie was able to return to practice later in the week, and was a full participant in Monday’s practice. Syracuse.com’s Matt Parrino shared a video on Twitter that showed McKenzie looking sharp as he ran a route.
McKenzie Slated for Bigger Role
After spending most of his four years with the Bills as a jet sweep specialist and occasional receiving threat, McKenzie will likely have a more significant role with the offense in the coming season. The departure of starting slot receiver Cole Beasley created an opening, and McKenzie beat out veteran free-agent acquisition Jamison Crowder to start in the slot.
McKenzie already flashed his potential in the slot last season. In a Week 16 game against the New England Patriots, he stepped up after Beasley had a positive COVID-19 test and caught 11 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, leading the team to a key win that gave them control of the division.
As The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia reported in August, McKenzie looks to fit one of the most critical needs for the offense this season — the ability to get more yards after the catch.
“The speedy McKenzie is a nightmare against man and is improved against zone,” Buscaglia wrote. “He has been excellent all summer and has far more potential to provide the team yards after the catch than Crowder. Getting more after the catch has been a talking point all spring and summer and will likely be a focus of the offense all season.”
The Bills coaching staff has also hinted that McKenzie will be a bigger factor in the offense this year.
“He just wants an opportunity, and he’s really waited and been a great teammate,” said offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, via WGR 550’s Sal Capaccio on Twitter. “And now he’s in a position where his role can expand, and he’s excited about that opportunity…as a coach you want guys who are hungry.”