In the final day of practice before the Buffalo Bills break for a month, the team got in their last bit of team drills and semi-scrimmaging.
The reason I write "semi-scrimmaging" is due to the fact that the team can only have so much contact during this off-season workouts. On Wednesday, I kept a close eye on the rotation at linebacker throughout the 11-on-11's. Most notably, I wanted to see who lined up where and what role they assumed on given plays.
The conclusion? Either the Bills don't have players pigeonholed in to specific roles just yet, or that's the way Dave Wannstedt wants his linebacking core to look. This all comes with the obvious justification that it is only off-season workouts, and you can't draw too many defined conclusions from them. But it was interesting to see so many guys working at so many different spots even on a play-to-play basis.
Here's the rundown of who took first team reps and where throughout the day:
Kelvin Sheppard - Unknown minor injury, didn't participate on Thursday. Expects to be ready for training camp. Plays the 'Mike' exclusively.
Nick Barnett - Lined up at all three spots at certain points throughout the practice. Diagnosed as the 'Mike' on more than one occasion.
Kirk Morrison - One of the few that played exclusively at one spot. In the few plays he had -- based on the offense running, three and four wide receiver sets without the requirement of having him in there -- Morrison played the 'Sam.'
Bryan Scott - Besides his obvious role as nickel linebacker, on five-wide sets Scott was the 'Mike,' as the only technical linebacker on the field.
Nigel Bradham - Played a fair bit of both 'Sam' and 'Will' throughout the session. I don't recall him getting a look at 'Mike' on Thursday.
Danny Batten - At times commanded the huddle as the 'Mike,' and also the 'Sam' on three-wide sets. Played some 'Will' as well. My best guess for him is that they don't know where his best position is just yet.
Arthur Moats - Played the 'Mike' at times and also dropped in to coverage as the 'Sam.' Also did some work as the 'Will.' I think he's probably in the same boat as Batten in terms of finding a defined spot. That's really nothing new for him in his career.
Scott McKillop - With no Sheppard during team drills, McKillop came in and assumed the 'Mike' role on some first team reps. If he makes the team, that will likely be his primary role.
Rookie Tank Carder didn't get a rep with the first team, meanwhile Chris White is coming off his major knee injury from last season and didn't take any team reps.
I asked Sheppard if it's just a matter of getting guys experience early on at a bunch of different spots or if that's the major ideology of Wannstedt's defense. He spoke of the former.
"There's about 11 or 12 different linebackers here right now. It's not gonna be that many after camp," the linebacker said. "You never know, you never know who's going to be here, you never know who's going to go down in training camp, so you want the whole room to be ready and that's what we're doing right now."
The Bills have said previously they would like their outside linebackers to have versatility and play both the 'Sam' and 'Will.' I just found it interesting to see it in action during the Bills' final off-season workout.
Outside of where the linebackers lined up, there were some good and bad days just like any.
Since I just went in to full detail about them, there was one linebacker that caught my eye. Nigel Bradham has been very impressive in what he's been able to do with such a limited time in the playbook. He makes good reads to his assignments and gets there to break up some plays. We all know about his hitting prowess, but it's his speed and instincts that have stood out the most to me.
If there's ever an injury to one of the three starters, in my opinion he's the likely next man in. If it's Sheppard that can't play, I wouldn't be surprised if Barnett had to move inside to 'Mike,' bringing Bradham in to assume the 'Will' in three-linebacker sets. It's early, but that makes the most sense to me right now.
I'm fairly intrigued by the prospects of one of the Bills' newest signees, H-back Dorin Dickerson. With the type of unique skill-set he has, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he were to make the team outright. He's been getting first team reps each day at practice, and gives Chan Gailey another viable receiving option to play with that could stretch a defense. He just seems to be the type Gailey would like to keep around.
For the not-so-good days, I'd have to start with Chris Hairston. He has the toughest assignment of any lining up across from Mario Williams every day, but a couple times it just wasn't even a contest. Williams blew right by Hairston for an obvious sack a pair of times. I don't even think Hairston got a hand on him.
Once Erik Pears is back, Hairston will be in a training camp battle against Cordy Glenn for the starting left tackle job according to the head coach. When asked about it today, Gailey said he wasn't sure who would win the starting job. Glenn took every single rep at left tackle with the first team that the media was allowed to see.
Finally, Leodis McKelvin had his old bugaboo creep up on him today. On two separate occasions the cornerback was right where he needed to be to make a play, but the receiver went over the top of him to make the play and come down with the ball. The most notable one occurred early on when Donald Jones caught the ball while McKelvin had his back to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He did make a play in a similar instance as the practice progressed.
With mini-camp now all wrapped up, the Bills have a little over a month to soak up the last ounce of their off-season. The next time they get back to work is when they report for training camp on July 25 at St. John Fisher College. The first practice session is on July 26.
Basting under the stifling sun in Orchard Park, the Buffalo Bills took part in the second leg of mandatory mini-camp Wednesday.
As with any practice there were some standouts, and those that weren't necessarily enthralled with their performances.
I thought the star of the day was Bills' third-year receiver Marcus Easley. Whenever the ball was thrown his way he high-pointed it and put himself in position to come away with the ball, and did. His most impressive display came during the 11-on-11 portion of practice. With rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore draped over him and dragging Easley, the wideout fought through and rose up for the catch in the end zone.
He also had another touchdown reception from Vince Young with Isaiah Green in coverage. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw him the first touchdown I mentioned.
Third-round pick and receiver T.J. Graham had a strong afternoon. He started off the day catching a slant route from the slot position for a touchdown. He doubled up his scoring efforts when running a simple hitch. Gilmore, in coverage, was late to react, allowing the speedy Graham to turn it upfield and get right by him.
You're probably noticing a trend here, which sums up how the day went in my opinion. The secondary, while making a nice play every now and again, struggled for the most part against the Bills' offense. Gilmore had his roughest practice that I've been allowed to see, second-year man Aaron Williams had a couple of miscues, Leodis McKelvin was beat in the slot for Graham's first touchdown, rookie Ron Brooks was burnt down the sideline on a fly route by Ruvell Martin. All in all, it was a day the secondary will likely want to improve upon.
To his credit, however, McKelvin picked off a Fitzpatrick pass that wasn't necessarily the quarterback's fault. The throw, maybe a tad low, bounced off the normally sure-handed David Nelson directly in to the bread basket of McKelvin for the interception.
Filling in for linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who did not take part in team drills on Wednesday, Arthur Moats looked rather comfortable during his time with the first unit. Moats wasn't always in there, with Nick Barnett assuming the role of the 'Mike.' During 7-on-7's with Moats though, he stayed with his assignment and made some plays to break up a couple of passes.
For a player that has been in between positions since he got in the NFL, he had to view Wednesday's session as a positive step towards trying to make the roster.
One player that struggled along the line of scrimmage was fifth-round selection Zebrie Sanders. The Florida State product was in at left tackle with the second-team, and preemptively began his kick-slide before the ball was even snapped a couple of times. He did the same thing on Tuesday. Buffalo's offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris visibly and audibly was not a happy camper with the second unit as a whole during 11-on-11's.
Starting left guard Andy Levitre sat out of the practice to rest his knee. Speaking with him after practice, he said there's a chance he'll be able to practice on Thursday but concluded that it was up to the trainers.
Without Levitre, the offensive line from left to right was as follows:
Cordy Glenn - Chad Rinehart - Colin Brown - Kraig Urbik - Chris Hairston
Joining Sheppard and Levitre as non-participants Wednesday were Terrence McGee, Eric Wood, Kellen Heard, Erik Pears, Mike Caussin, Torell Troup, Lionel Dotson and Dwan Edwards.
The Bills have one more day of mini-camp before they get their final one-month break in the off-season.
Outside of Stevie Johnson, many felt that the Buffalo Bills needed to add a receiver to the roster to get the most out of what the offense could do in 2012.
Following an unsuccessful courtship process of free agent wideout Robert Meacham, the Bills were left with the draft to find that player. Passing on the likes of Notre Dame's Michael Floyd in the first round and Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery in the second round, the franchise waited until the third round to take the speedy T.J. Graham out of N.C. State.
After three weeks of Organized Team Activities and one day of mini-camp, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said Graham's quickness is evident. A dimension that's been missing from the Bills' receivers since Roscoe Parrish went down with an injury last season.
"It was nice to see T.J. go out there and make some plays today. He did some good stuff. Every time you see him catch the ball in space you really see his speed," the QB said Tuesday. "It's been refreshing to see him take a hitch, make the defender miss and run down the sideline -- stuff like that."
Graham has been rotating in with the first team throughout the official off-season workouts and has made some impressive plays along the way, most notably down the field. But there's also been times where the ball hits him in the hands and drops to the turf. It's just the pangs of being a rookie wide receiver and trying to commit a new playbook to memory.
"He's still learning it and he's still out there thinking and not playing 100-percent all the time," said Fitzpatrick. "He definitely can add a different dimension to our offense. It's going to be a matter of him getting up to speed and learning things and making the plays when he needs to."
How steep is that learning curve for the former third-round pick, or for any first-year receiver in the Bills' offense?
"It's tough. It's tough for a rookie to come in here," the quarterback replied. "Our offense, you need to know all four positions. It's the way the wide receiver is in our offense. It's a lot more difficult than going somewhere and playing one position all the time."
"That being said, he's made big time strides in the OTA's. We're throwing everything at him. Once we get in to the season, we start game planning and doing those things, it's going to be easier for him to know his assignments, what he has, based on formations and motions and all of that stuff. So we're throwing everything at him right now, and he's doing the best he can."
Graham was part of a rotation of many with the first team during Tuesday's mini-camp, including Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson and Derek Hagan.
During Tuesday's practice, there were some very good performances, and ones that weren't the best for some of the participants on the field.
Second-round pick and left tackle Cordy Glenn took most, if not all, of the reps at left tackle for both the first and second team offenses. Chris Hairston continued his work on the right side with the first time while Erik Pears rehabs from minor off-season surgery.
Newly signed defensive end Mark Anderson had a solid afternoon. His unique style of getting to the quarterback caused some early throws by the quarterbacks he was up against. The thing that stands out most is his quickness off the line of scrimmage. He can certainly get a good jump on the quarterback if he guesses right, which he did a few times on Tuesday.
Tight end Scott Chandler had a great day receiving for the Bills. His most impressive catch came along the sidelines where an under thrown ball should have been an incomplete pass, but the 6-foot-6 Chandler reached over the top of linebacker Kirk Morrison and plucked it out of the air.
Buffalo-native and wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt had perhaps the prettiest catch of the day. A perfectly delivered ball thrown to his back shoulder along the sideline was brought in with grace as he toe-tapped in bounds to secure the catch.
Tyler Thigpen threw that pass, and that was about the only pass that he didn't struggle with. Thigpen was all over the place a large portion of the practice, missing receivers high and wide. He's going to have to improve quickly to not lose too much ground to his training camp opponent Vince Young.
Aaron Williams returned to practice after having the last few days off from OTA's last week. He had a slight knee irritation according to Chan Gailey, but was able to take part in full as the starting cornerback opposite Stephon Gilmore.
Williams broke up the most spirited rep of the afternoon. In the 7-on-7 drill, it was third down with the first team offense in looking for a conversion in the red zone. A pass to Chandler looked to be caught at first, but was broken up by Williams who was in a zone look for the defense. Following the break-up, the defense ran on the field and celebrated for the stop. That was really the first time since off-season workouts started that it felt like training camp was on the horizon.
Only seven players did not take part in the team portion of practice. Terrence McGee, Eric Wood, Kellen Heard, Erik Pears, Mike Caussin, Torell Troup and Lionel Dotson did not participate.
Practice resumes on Wednesday at 2:35 pm at One Bills Drive. Be sure to check back with WGR Sports Radio 550 and WGR550.com throughout for complete coverage of the Bills' mini-camp this week.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson went from unknown undrafted free agent to the target of double-teams by opposing teams in two short years.
Seeing all of that attention from defenses, Nelson made it a point to prepare himself both mentally and physically with his additional responsibilities as the main receiver in the slot for the Bills. This off-season, he aimed at getting stronger and was also able to sharpen up by working with long-time Oakland Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown.
"I was definitely awe-struck, I've been a big fan of his since I was a kid," Nelson said of being able to sit down with the Hall of Fame finalist. "Of course whenever you hear the name Tim Brown you automatically think of just Heisman and an all-around amazing football player. He played the slot, he played outside, he could return kicks, return punts. Just his knowledge of the game is unrivaled. He's a really good guy and I was just trying to spend as much time as I could just absorbing whatever information he could give me."
One of the biggest things Nelson tried to take away from the sessions was to try and combat something he had never seen before last season.
"Last year towards the middle of the year, for the first time in my career I started getting double teamed a little bit, started getting jammed at the line. It was something new for me," said the wideout. "I was just trying to pick from his brain what he would do before the play, what he would do when you see certain coverages, when he was getting double-teamed, preparation week-in and week-out, how to get through the seasons."
Nelson is very thorough and meticulous in his preparations, something that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has noted about one of his favorite targets.
"Watched a lot of film, constantly trying to make myself mentally ready so that whenever I get on the field, I'm ready for anything." The Bills wideout said of his off-season work. "Mentally just trying to learn more about the game, understand and just try to perfect my craft and learning from them, work on different releases on and off the ball."
Nelson got the opportunity to work with Brown through his girlfriend, Kelsi, who went to school with Brown's son. He watched every game of last season during his time away from One Bills Drive. He ranked second on the Bills with 61 receptions, five of which being touchdowns.
The team's three weeks of voluntary Organized Team Activities have now come and gone. The next step for the Bills is the mandatory mini-camp going from Tuesday, June 19 through Thursday June 21. That is the last bit of practice time at team facilities that is allowed until the start of training camp in late July.
Much has been said and written about Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and his work with quarterbacks coach David Lee through the off-season and the first three weeks of Organized Team Activities.
Speaking on The Howard Simon Show on Thursday morning, Fitzpatrick said he's seen some tangible results in his work with Lee even this short in to their working relationship.
"Yeah, there's been a big difference for me in my confidence level," the quarterback said. "Actually charting the throws, percentage of throws that are on the money, and percentage of throws that are being completed. There's been a nice increase over the off-season."
During the interview, Jeremy White asked Fitzpatrick about the work on his mechanics in relation to what Tim Tebow had to go through when he was going through the draft process. He says it's partly a matter of muscle memory, but he doesn't have to try and change what Tebow did back in 2010.
"For me it's not really my throwing motion. It really has nothing to do with my upper body, it's all in my waist down. I think that's something that's a lot easier to correct. I've been throwing, my release point and all that stuff... that's stuff that's really hard to fix. But I think the lower body stuff, there's just a few tweaks in things. Even being able to talk during a game and say, 'Ryan, you missed that low... here's why.' Just to be able to think about that and tweak it, that'll be an easy fix for us."
In his 7 years in the NFL, Fitzpatrick commented at the beginning of OTA's that he'd never really had his throwing motion tinkered with. While admitting that most the work from a quarterbacks coach does, and should focus on the starting quarterback, Fitzpatrick said his work with Lee thus far has been surprising and hopes it's the start of a very fruitful relationship.
"So for me, and even knowing that I wasn't where I needed to be, I didn't think there were a few simple things that I was doing wrong that we'd be able to fix it. That's been an eye-opening experience for me and something that hopefully really helps me improve this year."
Fitzpatrick added Lee has used golf as an analogy when they first started speaking once the Bills hired him.
While fans weren't happy when Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson went down with a season-ending injury through only 10 weeks, they had to smile when seeing the progress of former first-round pick C.J. Spiller.
Through the six game stretch, Spiller showed that he can be a weapon out of the backfield. Some began to get frustrated by Spiller's lack of an impact and even began using the word "bust" to describe him. However, Spiller took advantage of his opportunities and now his teammates think he's ready to help even more this season.
Speaking on The Howard Simon Show this morning, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick talked about the differences he sees in Spiller from last year to this year.
"C.J. is a completely changed man. It's been apparent from day one of this off-season. I think the biggest thing with what he did at the end of the year last year, was he got his confidence. You just see how comfortable he is in this system now. He's telling guys, receivers that they're lined up wrong and letting them know... there's just so many things. He's directing people on the field and out of the huddle. I think he's ready to make a big jump. I think mentally he's made a big jump in the last year. With his confidence level where it is right now, we expect big things out of him this year. He really showed last year what he can do."
During that six-game stretch, Spiller had 446 rushing yards, a 5.2 yards per carry average, 24 receptions, 187 receiving yards and five total touchdowns.
As Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson continues to fight his way back from minor off-season surgery on his groin, he's doing more and more as the days go on.
Following Tuesday's session of Organized Team Activities, Johnson and second-year wide receiver Kamar Aiken ran routes with quarterback Brad Smith throwing them the ball. The three did this for a solid twenty minutes or so, and concluded with a completed post corner route.
Johnson said on Monday that he hopes to be able to participate in the team's mini-camp that starts on Tuesday, June 19.
It appears as though the request from Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson fell on deaf ears.
Moments after the New England Patriots announced that they had severed ties with wide receiver Chad Ochocinco after just one season, Johnson sent a tweet to the 34-year old player to try and woo him to Buffalo.
@StevieJohnson13 OG @Ochocinco tell ya agent to set that up with The #BillsMafia. Ya Field Swag was Contained a Whole Season. Come TurnUp wit us in BuffCity.
While Ochocinco retweeted Johnson's request, the receiver jetted down to Miami for a workout over the weekend.
Upon that session, the Dolphins extended a one-year contract to the Miami-native to give a much-needed boost to their receiving group. Ochocinco joins Brian Hartline and Davone Bess as the likely top targets for whichever quarterback wins the job in Miami this season.
As the Buffalo Bills continued along with Organized Team Activities on Monday, Leodis McKelvin showed up in a big way.
Without Terrence McGee participating in the voluntary sessions due to his knee injury last season, McKelvin is getting plenty of repetitions with the first team in a bit of a different role. While McKelvin is still getting a chance to show his stuff as an outside cornerback, it's him playing on the inside that might just be the perfect role for McKelvin.
There's no doubting his athletic prowess. McKelvin has the speed and change of direction to stick with just about anybody. His problem, which has been well documented, is not being able to make a play on the ball when it's in the air.
Could a switch to the inside help the fifth-year pro?
I think it just might. Take a look at the best things McKelvin brings to the table:
Speed... He would have no problem sticking with the prototypical small and fast slot receiver if they try to extend down the field. Also, by that style of player being the one McKelvin will see most often, he won't often have to worry about that player climbing the ladder and going over the top of him.
Change of direction... When most think about the best slot receiver in the game, they'll think of New England's Wes Welker. One of the things you can highlight about his game is the ability to run routes that deceive most cornerbacks underneath. Having the type of hips that McKelvin shows, he'll be able to stick with the slot player that stops on a dime and changes direction when in man-to-man.
Tackling ability... Against the run, McKelvin has been a sure tackler. It's one point to his game you don't have to worry about. In zone looks, he'll be able to bring down the ball carrier while playing on the inside.
Combine all three of these and you get another facet of a nickel cornerback that McKelvin could prove very useful with. Blitzing. His natural athleticism and tackling ability will put him in a good position, if he can rush free, to make a big play in the backfield.
While I'm sure he'll still get a look as an outside cornerback and be in the running for a starting job, I think he could thrive in a nickel role if the Bills are so inclined.
I spoke with McKelvin during the first week of May. For a look at how he's approaching the season, click here.
Following the conclusion of the Buffalo Bills first week of Organized Team Activities, new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt spoke with reporters on Friday about a multitude of things regarding his new defense.
You can read most of what he said in my wrap-up article here, but Wannstedt also had a bit of praise for rookie and first-round selection Stephon Gilmore. When speaking of the Bills cornerback that opened up OTAs as part of the first-team, the defensive coordinator expressed what he especially liked about Gilmore.
"He kind of falls into that category I was talking about with Mark Anderson, the free agents, and Mario, as far as a talent that has the right mindset. He’s the right type of person and, you know, he doesn’t appear, and you watch him warm up in drills, to be as fast as he is but nobody runs by him. I think playing quarterback (in high school), he’s got a little bit more savvy than some corners might and obviously he’s a size guy. He’s got size and he can run and he’s got great feet, and I used the word great, he’s got great hand-eye coordination. When the ball’s in the air, he’s going to go after it."
Not having done much jamming at the line of scrimmage while at South Carolina, Wannstedt and defensive backs coach George Catavolos really harped on that to Gilmore during the team's rookie mini-camp in May.
Just how long does the process take to get Gilmore acclimated to that aspect of a cornerback's game? The defensive coordinator answered that as well.
"Well that will all come in training camp when we really get the pads on. Right now we can't do one-on-one in press, you know all the one-on-one stuff we do you have to be off because of contact. So we're kind of limited a little bit there. But he's getting enough of the work that... and he's learning the coverages, and he's learning the techniques and he's learning the terminology. The physical part will come."
Gilmore and the Bills continue their second week of OTAs on Tuesday, June 5.