Bills Injury Updates: Slot WR, Starting DT Expected to Play vs. Steelers


Getty Isaiah McKenzie and Taron Johnson of the Buffalo Bills tackle New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold during a game in October 2020.

The 2021 NFL season officially kicks off in about 48 hours, but, like most teams, the Buffalo Bills will have to wait until Sunday afternoon to begin their possible journey to Super Bowl LVI. When the Bills host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week One action, they could be close to full strength, according to head coach Sean McDermott.

The fifth-year head coach said Tuesday that a trio of hobbled players are all looking good for Sunday’s season-opener.

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In late August, McKenzie – who was unvaccinated against COVID-19 at the time – and Cole Beasley, were both fined nearly $15,000 for violating NFL COVID-19 protocols. As unvaccinated players, the duo were required to wear masks at the team facility, but according to a letter from the league that McKenzie posted to his Twitter account, he was observed on two occasions without a mask on.

Since then, McKenzie has received the vaccine, but Beasley – perhaps the league’s most vocal anti-vaxxer – is assumed to still be unvaccinated. Just two days before taking to Twitter to react to his hefty fine, McKenzie suffered a shoulder injury after a hard collision with safety Jordan Poyer, which was keeping his status for the Steelers game in doubt.

With McKenzie back in the fold, the Bills should be able to roll out most of their wide receiving corps against Pittsburgh, which includes All-Pro Stefon Diggs, Beasley, newcomer Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis and Jake Kumerow.

Marquez Stevenson will begin the season on the injured reserve list.

Lotulelei Returns to the Field for First Time Since 2019 Season


GettyKurt Coleman and Star Lotulelei of the Buffalo Bills during a game in 2019.

Only a couple of days prior to Beasley’s and McKenzie’s fines, Lotulelei was one of five Bills players – including Beasley – that was sent home from the team’s practice facility due to COVID-19 protocols.

Lotulelei – who has been nursing a calf injury – was selected 14th overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2013 NFL draft after playing three college football seasons at the University of Utah. After starting all 16 games in 2013 and recording 42 tackles and three sacks, the now-31-year-old was named to the All-Rookie Team.

Lotulelei spent the first five seasons of his career with the Panthers, before signing a five-year contract with the Bills during the 2018 offseason. Lotulelei has started in all 16 games in each of his past four seasons played, though he opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson Had Career Highlight Last Season Against Steelers


GettyBuffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson runs back an interception return for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a game in 2020.

Johnson was the team’s fourth round selection at 121st overall during the 2018 draft and played four seasons at Weber St. The 25-year-old has seen his numbers steadily climb over his first three seasons in the league.

In 2018, he recorded 42 tackles, three pass deflections and one interception in 11 games – two of which were starts. Johnson racked up 50 tackles and five pass deflections over 12 games (seven starts) in 2019, before erupting for 94 tackles, seven pass deflections and an interception in 2020, when he played in all 16 games and started in 11 of them.

His lone interception during the 2020 season was against Pittsburgh and resulted in a 51-yard pick-six.

It was Johnson’s first NFL pick-six, so was surely his most memorable individual highlight as a pro, at least until about one month later.

Not only did the interception and run back against the Baltimore Ravens come in the final minute of the third quarter of a playoff game, but on third and goal, Lamar Jackson and company were threatening to tie the game.

With McKenzie, Lotulelei and Johnson – who was battling a hand injury – seemingly ready to roll for Pittsburgh, the Bills are heading into the season as the most popular pick to unseat the two-time defending AFC-champion Kansas City Chiefs.

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