The highly anticipated first practice of the year has come and gone as the Buffalo Bills kicked off training camp at St. John Fisher College on Sunday night.
In front of a charged up crowd inside Growney Stadium, the Bills went through their first of two mandatory padless practices to ramp up for the remainder of camp. Just because there were no pads worn, the tempo of the practice certainly didn't dip from where it was during spring workouts.
After going through individual drills and stretching, the Bills opened up the second hour of practice by going after the defensive backs. One by one, each wide receiver ran a fly route down the sideline with either Kevin Kolb, EJ Manuel or Jeff Tuel tossing them the ball. It got the fans in attendance vocally involved and the players were showing some emotion during the drills as well.
Starting from that point, there were some players that stood out for both good and bad reasons. Here are some quick hits from the first night of practice:
QB EJ Manuel
- When the quarterbacks and wide receivers were going with an all-out assault on the defensive backs to start the second hour of practice, EJ Manuel was the main writer of the burn book. You could tell the rookie was feeling it during that portion of the practice, hitting most of his targets in stride on whatever route was called. T.J. Graham even revealed Manuel called him off a shorter route in favor of a fly, and the two converted for a touchdown. The rest of the practice did not provide as much positivity as that drill did. On one play in particular during 11-on-11's, Manuel stared down his receiver coming open over the middle of the field when matched up with a safety. The only problem, the free safety dropping back on the play read Manuel's eyes the entire way and easily cut in front of the ball for an interception. That player, Mana Silva, then returned it for a touchdown. An up and down day for the rookie, but the type of evening fans should come to expect from a young quarterback. However, you can see the natural arm talent when the ball is released -- it's something the Bills haven't seen in quite some time. Whether or not it translates to the regular season though is the lingering concern.
QB Kevin Kolb
- Getting all the first team reps during the first practice, Kolb was merely average. He correctly diagnosed some plays for short gains, was able to escape the pocket and throw the ball away when other plays broke down, but also threw two interceptions throughout the practice. He also had T.J. Graham on a perfect 15-yard slant over the middle and waited too long to pull the trigger. It ended up behind Graham and falling to the ground for an incompletion. Kolb is clearly the less talented of the two, but can still win this job as long as he doesn't make as many errors as he did on Sunday.
OLB Mario Williams
- Coming out in his helmet, jersey and shorts, Mario Williams didn't do much past the individual and stretching portion of the practice. Head Coach Doug Marrone revealed after that Williams had come to them and said he had a sore foot. The Bills chose to hold him out of practice on Sunday. Williams declined to comment after the practice, instead just deferring to the head coach. It doesn't sound very serious from the start, but something clearly to monitor in the coming days.
WR T.J. Graham
- It was quite the day for T.J. Graham. Outside of a couple of drops which he admitted to when speaking with reporters, Graham had an impressive practice. He burned down the right sideline twice catching a fly route for a touchdown on each repetition. Graham is also being trusted by the coaching staff, getting time with the first team opposite Stevie Johnson.
CB Justin Rogers
- In fact, Graham's biggest victim of the day was Justin Rogers. Rogers was burned down the sideline for both of the touchdowns where it wasn't even really that close. He saved the day for himself later on by forcing a fumble following a Marcus Easley catch on a slant route. If it wasn't for that, he would have been in strong consideration for LVP honors.
LG Colin Brown
- In the much less publicized battle at left guard, Colin Brown took all the first-team repetitions on Sunday night and flourished. Both in the 1-on-1's and team drills, Brown was consistently thwarting his opponent's efforts. In 1-on-1's especially, Brown had two showdowns where he completely dominated. The first was against Jay Ross and then later on versus Corbin Bryant. With his size and arm length in comparison to Doug Legursky, more days like that could wrap up the job pretty easily.
Offensive Line's three units
- Speaking of the offensive line, with the additions and subtractions over the past couple of days, here are how the top first, second and third-team units shook out on Sunday:
*From left tackle to right tackle
1st Team: Cordy Glenn, Colin Brown, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, Erik Pears
2nd Team: Thomas Welch, Doug Legursky, David Snow, Keith Williams, Sam Young
3rd Team: Zebrie Sanders, Zack Chibane, Ryan Turnley, Antoine Caldwell, Tony Hills/Hutch Eckerson
Marcell Dareus / D-Line
- On the defensive side of the trenches, one notable name was only taking every third set of plays during team drills. Perhaps former third overall pick Marcell Dareus was limited, but he only took part in that many 11-on-11's, and only did took a single 1-on-1 rep. Doug Marrone was not asked about Dareus and did not address it on his own, so we'll have to see what the story is on Monday.
Day 1 MVP: LB Marcus Dowtin
- The opening day Most Valuable Player honors goes to Marcus Dowtin, who fans will get very acclimated with this season. With the way he's been used throughout the spring and through the first day, the Bills have a very versatile role for him lined up. Dowtin lined up at both outside and inside linebacker during different 11-on-11 drills Sunday, constantly finding himself around the play. He tore Hutch Eckerson to shreds in 1-on-1's and had the play of the day during team drills as well. A deflected Kevin Kolb pass looked like it was out of reach for everyone, but Dowtin tracked it down and made a diving grab along the sidelines for an interception. He may not start and he might not be the first defender you think of with this group, but fans will see plenty of Marcus Dowtin if the past few months have been any indication.
Day 1 LVP: OT Zebrie Sanders
- The second-year offensive tackle did not have the type of first training camp practice he would have liked to. Considering he basically redshirted during his rookie season, Sanders struggled out of the gates to start camp in 2013. Going against Manny Lawson twice during 1-on-1's Sanders was blown out of the water on his first attempt, and then had to grab a good portion of Lawson's jersey just to minimally slow him down on the second. For someone people had hopes for this season, it was a rough start.
The Bills hit the practice field for their second day of workouts on Monday at 2 pm. The session is open to the public.
Entering training camp in 2013, the Buffalo Bills have only one player that will miss practice time to start off the festivities in Pittsford, NY.
Offensive tackle Chris Hairston, who some consider to be the favorite to win the right tackle job, will start camp at St. John Fisher College on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. It's said to be a lower-body injury (no, this isn't hockey), but the Bills are hoping for the best with the third-year player.
Unlike the regular season PUP list, being on the preseason list means that a player can come off at any time once he is medically cleared. Whereas for the regular season counterpart, a player would have to wait until six weeks of the season had passed before getting off that designation.
"I'm hoping that he comes back soon," said Head Coach Doug Marrone. "I'm not a doctor, but I'm sitting there thinking to myself that, that was the first question I asked also. Can we pull that tag off at any time? So I think as soon as the doctors feel comfortable with it, we'll get him out there and then start working him in."
Hairston will be in a battle with Erik Pears for the starting right tackle job when he does get back on the field.
In an ambitious world, most people have goals for the upcoming year.
Some want to achieve personal milestones like getting married or having children, others look for work-related goals with either getting a promotion or a raise. In the case of Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, his goal for 2013 on the football thing revolves around one thing:
A magic number of rushing yards.
"I do. I do have a number. I'll share it after the season," Spiller started off. " I think you should write down your goals. In order to be great and achieve things, you have to write them down and challenge yourself. I think it's a challenge for me to see where I'm at. I've got different categories that I want to achieve, I'll keep it at that."
Just wondering what type of goal-setter Spiller is, whether it be of the realistic or the 'get out of here you're dreaming' realm, the question laid before him was if he attained his goal in 2012.
"Did I meet it? No, I was a little shy," he replied.
Well, what was the goal?
"13," Spiller stated succinctly.
The running back was referring to his total number of rushing yards, where he was just 66 yards shy of reaching his personal goal of 1,300.
Whatever his mission is for 2013, he's likely adjusted it for the predicted jump in carries for the season. And if he has the type of impact that he had last year, a rather lofty goal could be quite doable.
Going against the grain of the past seven years of training camps with the Buffalo Bills, St. John Fisher College will see a live scrimmage in 2013.
While there have been some live drills along the goaline over the past few years, a full-scale scrimmage with live tackling hasn't been a part of the training camp process in Pittsford for quite some time.
It's a new era under Head Coach Doug Marrone, and he's excited for that very day.
"For us right now, we'll work on tackling every day, work on those drills every day that you have to be able to do from a contact standpoint, but we'll avoid that with the players early on until we drill it and get a foundation," Marrone started. "So my philosophy is, we'll have a big scrimmage Tuesday night. That'll be a big scrimmage down the road. That will be a live scrimmage."
As for when this will happen, there was a little confusion when Marrone brought up that it would be happening on Tuesday night. The way the schedule is laid out, the Bills have a morning practice this coming Tuesday, July 30 and have next Tuesday, August 6 as one of their off days.
Marrone also said it would be ahead of the preseason games, which rules out the Tuesday night practice on August 20.
As it turns out, the live scrimmage will be on Monday, August 5 a member of the Bills public relations staff clarified, one of five night practices scheduled for this year's training camp. Marrone did confirm that there would be live hitting and tackling on that night.
The practice will start off with some warmups, individual work and 7-on-7's, but then ultimately break out into a full-scale scrimmage. As it goes with any of the night practices, fans will need a ticket for entrance to that session which starts at 6 pm.
"We did wind up releasing a player not too long ago, Chris Scott, and it's just unfortunate in this profession that we have expectations of coaches coming in," he said. "We didn't feel that Chris fulfilled his expectations to us, his teammates or the coaches, so we let him go."
Listed at 360 pounds on the team's official media guide, that could be some of the expectations the teams had for a player of his stature. The Bills roster now stands at 85.
While the Buffalo Bills are getting ready to start training camp practices at St. John Fisher College on Sunday night, the team excavated yet another roster spot with the release of tight end Mickey Shuler.
Signed by the team in mid-May, the blocking-centric tight end struggled to assert himself in the off-season workouts and even sat out some practice time due to an injury. With Shuler's release, the Bills roster now resides at 86, with four open spots. That gives the Bills the flexibility to make a signing if they so choose.
Shuler faced an uphill battle at the tight end position as it was. With Scott Chandler nearing full health, it could be a simple case of not having enough repetitions to go around.
Since Dorin Dickerson switched to tight end during spring workouts, the Bills had six players at that position before the release of Shuler. Chandler, Dickerson, Lee Smith, Mike Caussin and rookie Chris Gragg all have legitimate hopes of making the roster this season. The same could not have been said for Shuler, hence the release on Saturday morning.
The Bills' first training camp practice is Sunday night at St. John Fisher College at 6 pm.
With the news that Buffalo Bills wide receiver Brad Smith has renegotiated his contract, that obviously increases his odds of making the 53-man roster in 2013. Just because he renegotiated his contract however, it doesn't mean safety is guaranteed just yet.
Looking at the wide receiver position, there seem to be four locks for the roster. Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and T.J. Graham all are most likely going to take up the first four spots on the wideout depth chart.
Past the initial four names though, there are four names likely fighting for two spots. With as many young, enigmatic receivers as the Bills have, it's probably a safe bet that the team keeps six spots for the position.
Along with Smith, Da'Rick Rogers, Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley will be in competition for those two spots.
However, Rogers is the clear cut favorite to land one of the spots. With all off-the-field concerns considered, he has clear physical talent that the other three listed simply do not have. As long as he keeps his head on straight during training camp, he should be a good bet to make it on to the roster.
The sixth spot then comes down to Smith, Hogan and Easley. With due respect to the fans that are still holding out hope on Easley's potential, he's the hidden man of the competition at this point. Unless he really comes out and performs at a high level, he's got an uphill climb to make the roster outright.
That means it comes down to the recently renegotiated Smith, and the former Hard Knocks star Hogan. During spring practices, Hogan seemed to outperform Smith -- but that was without the physicality that a normal training camp practice would present.
Smith has a clear advantage over Hogan in part because the latter still has practice squad eligibility. As long as they can sneak him past waivers, he could become the 7th man of the receiver group but just not on the active roster.
Combine that with the renegotiated deal, it could be too much for Hogan to overcome. It certainly looks now like Smith is a favorite to make the roster, but don't book it just yet.
Since he's been in the National Football League, nagging injuries have plagued Buffalo Bills wide reciever Stevie Johnson. Whatever ailment it may be, usually an injury forces him to miss some practice time at some point during a season.
During the spring practices in 2013, a back ailment kept Johnson away from being a full participant early on. He slowly but surely continued to rehab the injury, and then finally got on the field for some repetitions during mandatory mini-camp.
Now with six weeks of rest, Johnson feels like a new man and is ready to go for training camp without restrictions.
"Everything's full-go," Johnson said as he checked in to his dorm room at St. John Fisher College. "Gotta get it rolling, man, be smart and take care of our bodies. It's going to be an important training camp for all of us, every position. As long as we get things meshing and going on the right track, we'll be all right."
In the team's final off-season workout before they broke for camp, Johnson revealed to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News that he actually had a fractured L-5 vertebra. That apparently is no longer an issue to the wide receiver.
Johnson understands little bumps and bruises are a part of the game, but has one little request for whatever ailment comes his way.
"If I get hurt, as long as it stays in training camp, you know what I mean? If I do get injured, oh, well," he said. "Let's get them out of the way early and get ready for the season."
Johnson is the Bills' top wide receiver and has posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons.
The career of Arizona Cardinals wide reciever Ryan Swope is over before it even got started. The rookie sixth-round pick out of Texas A&M was forced to retire from the NFL because of concussions suffered in his time at college.
Swope was one of 30 pre-draft visits the Bills conducted in Orchard Park, but fell to the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft because of those same concussion concerns. Swope is the second player to end his playing career prematurely due to concussions this year, joining former Detroit running back Jahvid Best.
The Cardinals also released a player that might interest the likes of the Buffalo front office. To make room for the recently signed John Abraham, Arizona released outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield. He started nine games last season and had 4 sacks on the season. He's 6-foot-3, 242 pounds and seen mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker that rushes the passer.