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Bills Beat Blog



By Joe Buscaglia
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Posts from July 2014


Bills training camp observations: Day 10
The Buffalo Bills did their best to play weather forecaster in attempting to dodge the rain to get a dry practice in at St. John Fisher College. They were successful, getting their second-to-last session in before their very first live game action of 2014.

A couple of bottom of the roster players really showed their stuff, while a bonafide merry-go-round started at one position on the offensive line due to an injury. Here are some notes from Day 10:

EJ starts strong and has an average finish
- EJ Manuel had a continuation from his strong efforts on Wednesday when the practice first got underway. Manuel was crisp during routes vs. air, hitting his receivers in stride and not making them reach for it like what happens on occasion. Once the practice progressed into the first team drill session, Manuel threw one of his best passes in all of training camp. Starting at their own two-yard line, Manuel reared back and threw a deep ball down the left sideline to an open Sammy Watkins. The receiver didn’t break stride and the ball dropped into the bucket that was his welcoming arms for a reception and burst all the way up the field for a touchdown. Unfortunately from there, Manuel’s practice went from a good start to just average. He started settling for dump off’s in 7-on-7s, he underthrew Marquise Goodwin on a deep route by quite a bit that resulted in an interception and then later on in team drills he couldn’t quite find the same accuracy as he did early on.

Watkins putting on an early show
- Going hand in hand with Manuel’s early prowess was the pair of plays Watkins made at the beginning of practice during team drills. One of them was the aforementioned 98-yard touchdown, but it was an especially notable play for Watkins because of who he did it against. The rookie wide receiver hasn’t been able to beat Stephon Gilmore too badly so far during camp, but he got him on Thursday. He put a shifty move at the beginning of the play, ran by and kept a solid yard or two in distance from Gilmore on the way to catching the pass and speeding off for the touchdown. Another quality play from Watkins came in the form of a pass that caught him by surprise. The wideout ran a slant route to the inside, and as he turned his head around the ball was right on him and high. His reaction time took over and somehow he caught the pass basically with his hands behind his head, making a very difficult catch look quite easy. Another day of practice, and another one in the books that had Watkins making quality plays.

Left guard shuffle
- Coming into training camp the left guard position was thought to be an open and shut case. The team signed Chris Williams in the offseason and he’s taken every single rep until Thursday. So what happens when Williams gets hurt like he did during the session? The Bills used rookie Cyril Richardson in his place, who has turned his training camp around from where it started to regain some trust from the coaching staff. Richardson, though, was one of four different players that took a first-team snap at left guard on Thursday. Counting both him and Williams, a poor effort by Richardson during team drills made the Bills pull him from the lineup and insert Antoine McClain for one play. On that McClain play, he got roasted by Kyle Williams and the team wasn’t happy once again. Following that rep the first-team ran off the field, but when it was their turn next, neither Richardson nor McClain was the man with the first team at left guard… it was then J.J. ‘Unga’s turn at the plate. Eventually Richardson regained first-team duties by the end of practice, but the Bills tried out a lot at the position on Day 10.

Bottom of the roster DT stands out
- A recent signing of the Bills, defensive tackle Landon Cohen could not be contained by any of the three offensive linemen he went up against in one-on-one’s on Thursday. First it was Jared Wheeler, getting pushed straight back and then dished aside by Cohen. Following that, Cohen made J.J. ‘Unga look foolish on a swim move that almost ripped the offensive lineman to the ground. Cohen was to the quarterback in about two seconds. His third rep was against Macky MacPherson, and all Cohen needed to do was bull rush MacPherson straight back. The defensive tackle has some experience at the NFL level, and it showed during Thursday’s practice against three very green players.

Felder Fielding like a Fiend
- Joining Landon Cohen as a recently signed player that stood out on Thursday was cornerback Bobby Felder. Going up against EJ Manuel and Marquise Goodwin during 7-on-7s, the odds were stacked against the relatively unknown cornerback from Nicholls State. Felder did a fairly good job staying in the hip pocket of Goodwin, but Manuel vastly underthrew his wideout and the cornerback pounced on the opportunity. He rose up and brought in the interception, but he wasn’t done there. Felder struck again during team drills with Jeff Tuel as the quarterback. He read both the quarterback and the comeback route perfectly and jumped it along the sideline for his second pick of the day.

Day 10 MVP: DT Kyle Williams
- The reason for the aforementioned left guard shuffle was brought on solely by one man: Kyle Williams. He made Cyril Richardson and Antoine McClain look quite foolish on consecutive plays, which made the offensive staff change the personnel three straight times. Williams is at full health and seems ready to reclaim the same disruptive role that he had in 2013.

Day 10 LVP: WR T.J. Graham
- It’s certainly not for a lack of effort, but T.J. Graham just isn’t making plays consistently enough. It seems as though he drops a completely catchable pass at least once or twice per practice, and when he does catch the pass, often times he either double clutches it or uses his body to complete the catch. It doesn’t look like he’s trusting the very component to a receiver that should come most naturally: his hands. If cuts were to be made today, it’s hard to make a case for Graham as one of the top six wideouts. He has some work to do, but luckily for him, he’s got quite some time to do it.

Up Next: The Bills are back on the field for practice on Friday at 6 pm. It’s their final session before their first preseason game of the year. Practice is open to the public, but a ticket is needed for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Bills back to only two healthy TEs; starting guard injured
Merely a day removed from the Buffalo Bills getting Chris Gragg back on the practice field from his bout with heat cramps, the team once again went down to only two available tight ends for Thursday’s practice. This time around, Lee Smith joined both Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki as the tight ends that were unable to participate throughout the afternoon session.

Smith had to miss Thursday’s practice due to what head coach Doug Marrone called a “lower body injury.” While there isn’t any indication what that injury might be or what Smith’s timetable is, he was seen sporting an athletic sleeve on his lower right leg.

Marrone also didn’t have any updated information regarding how long Chandler (groin) would be out, and it was already determined that Moeaki (hamstring) would be out for a while. Without the trio, the Bills are down to only Gragg and Dominique Jones as the available tight ends.

The team also had to spend the majority of practice without starting left guard Chris Williams available to the team. Williams suffered a toe injury early on in team drills, left with a trainer, and did not return.

In his place, the Bills shifted rookie guard Cyril Richardson over to the left side and gave the fifth-round pick most of the first-team snaps. As of Wednesday, Richardson had been splitting first-team reps at right guard with the incumbent Kraig Urbik in place of Chris Hairston, who left that practice with a back injury. Hairston was once again unable to participate on Thursday.

The Bills have only one more practice before their first preseason game of 2014. The team will be under the lights of Growney Stadium at St. John Fisher College on Friday night at 6. The practice will be open to the public, but a ticket is needed for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Bills training camp observations: Day 9
EJ Manuel
The Buffalo Bills took the field on Wednesday afternoon following their day off from practice, only to get their session delayed an hour due to inclement weather. Just short of an hour into practice thunder erupted in the sky above them, a loud announcement sounded that practice would be delayed and the Bills ran into the locker room for cover.

Lightning crashed a couple of times but eventually the weather lifted enough for the Bills to take the field in front of a plucky crowd of around 75 fans. Even though he threw an interception in team drills before the rain delay, the team’s young quarterback came back refreshed and ready for the rest of practice.

EJ’s best practice yet
- Once the Bills got back on the field following the rain delay Wednesday, EJ Manuel looked quite relaxed all throughout the remainder of practice. His work during team drills stood out, hitting all his receivers in stride and helping them continue to move the ball down the field. The passes were crisp and decisive just like his diagnostic skills for each passing play he participated in. Manuel only overthrew his targets a pair of times in the second half of practice — with one of them quite possibly being on purpose to a completely covered up wide receiver — making his performance a good one in the scope of what has been seen so far from the young player. It’s a definite step in the right direction as far as practice is concerned.

Richardson reps increasing
- Fans of incumbent starting right guard Kraig Urbik can’t be too pleased because for the fourth time since the end of last season, Urbik has lost some first-team repetitions to another player by the Bills. Head coach Doug Marrone has reaffirmed that it is an open competition on a few different occasions since the start of training camp, and the newest entrant into the fray is rookie fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson. After an incredibly slow start to offseason workouts and even training camp, Richardson has very quickly worked his way back to a favorable spot with the coaching staff. They entrusted him with more responsibility as the second-team left guard over the weekend, and now is getting reps with the first team at right guard. They’re giving him a shot, which is worse news for Urbik than it is good news for Richardson, at least for the time being. If the rookie continues to play well, all bets are off.

Bradham explains himself
- Since the start of the offseason workouts, the Bills have been spewing positivity out whenever it came to outside linebacker Nigel Bradham. They thought he had an outstanding spring, they believe that he has a more mature mindset coming into the year and they rewarded him with almost all the first-team reps at weakside linebacker to this point in training camp. That came to a screeching halt earlier in the afternoon when news broke that Bradham had been suspended by the NFL for violating the substance abuse policy, which led most to believe he’d gotten himself into trouble once again. The only difference is, he didn’t. It was the same charge stemming from last year, that was later dismissed, and that is also forcing Bradham to miss the team’s first game. Unlike it did last year, it didn’t appear he was on Marrone’s bad side in his first practice since the news broke. Bradham took all his reps, fully explained himself and seemed like he was ready to move on. It seems as though the Bills are ready to move on with him, too.

Gragg gets back
- A welcomed sight at St. John Fisher College, a third tight end got back on the field for the team Wednesday. Chris Gragg, who was hospitalized for two days with heat cramps, was back in full pads with the rest of his teammates. Scott Chandler (groin) and Tony Moeaki (hamstring) watched the practice from the sidelines while Gragg, Lee Smith and Dominique Jones took all the reps. Gragg lost some ground but he has a lot of time to make it up with Moeaki out, and an even larger opportunity if Chandler is out for a significant amount of time as well.

Hairston leaves early
- In the aforementioned right guard competition, another piece to the puzzle is former fourth-round pick Chris Hairston. He has been splitting first-team reps with Urbik throughout training camp to this point at right guard, but has yet to really take a stronghold of the opportunity at hand. Hairston, who was injured at the beginning of training camp in 2013, had to leave practice early on Wednesday due to an injury to the same body part that kept him from participating last July and August. After practice head coach Doug Marrone revealed Hairston suffered a back injury, but his status for upcoming practices is not yet known. Hairston can play both guard and offensive tackle, but is thought to be fighting for a roster spot in 2014.

Day 9 MVP: WR Robert Woods
- Woods took over during the 7-on-7 goal line drill to end practice on Wednesday. Woods ran his routes correctly, didn’t come back to the ball when he was near the goal line and displayed outstanding hands during his few reps. Woods first took a well-placed over the shoulder throw from EJ Manuel while a defender was draped all over the wide receiver. Woods simply reached out with his right arm, still getting his left arm dragged from behind and corralled the pass in for a touchdown. It was a gorgeous play.

Day 9 LVP: QB Thad Lewis
- Training camp has not been kind to Thad Lewis in 2014. Lewis has been erratic and is on the wrong page with his receivers way more often than he should be. He threw a bad interception to Michael Carter on the sideline during a throw that required to be closer to the boundary for the receiver. While Jeff Tuel hasn’t stood out in any way, he has made less mistakes than Lewis. So far, the nod would have to go to Tuel to be the backup, but there is still a long way to go.

Up Next: The Bills resume practice on Thursday, July 31 at 8 am. Practice is open to the general public, with no ticket being required for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
NFL suspends Bills Bradham for 1 game
For the second straight year, Buffalo Bills outside linebacker Nigel Bradham is his own worst enemy. On the verge of a starting position in both the 2013 and 2014 versions of training camp, Bradham will have to answer to head coach Doug Marrone once again.

On Wednesday afternoon, the National Football League suspended the linebacker for one game without pay for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Bradham will still be allowed to participate in both the practices and games throughout preseason. When the first week of the season arrives, Bradham will not be eligible for the active roster until Monday, September 8, the day after the Bills take on the Chicago Bears in their regular season opener.

In 2013, Bradham was stopped and ticketed for possession of marijuana following one of the team's preseason games. At that point in time, he was in a battle with Arthur Moats for the second starting inside linebacker job beside Kiko Alonso and a little after the news set in, Moats started taking the majority of first-team repetitions.

It was from that charge, however, that the league elected to suspend him for the first game of the season. Even though the charges were dismissed and Bradham appealed to the league, they ultimately decided the action was still worthy of a one-game ban.

This year, Bradham was in a strong position to replace the injured Alonso at weakside linebacker in the Bills' new 4-3 base defensive scheme. Both Marrone and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz have raved about his work through offseason workouts and into the first two weeks of training camp.

Bradham is a third-year linebacker out of Florida State University, whom the Bills selected in the fourth-round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
 




 
Bills enter next chapter of sale: so what's next?
The Buffalo Bills are officially up for sale and prospective owners have until the end of business on Tuesday to declare their intentions to the team's hired legal and financial firms. The notable day of the sale process, July 29 marks the deadline for interested parties to submit their paperwork to the team to be a part of the bidding process, and also the next stage of the sale.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the interested persons or groups must submit a nonbinding bid to the trust with an idea of a purchase price. Those numbers are not locked in, however. The July 29 deadline is solely for indications of interest that are due, and to identify the key potential buyers. 

To even get to this point in the sale, prospective owners had to sign an initial non-disclosure agreement. Once the nonbinding bids are in, the source said the trust will look to very quickly narrow down the list of prospective buyers to those that they believe are the most suitable potential new owners of the Bills.

After the serious candidates have been identified, over the course of the next month a vetting process will be performed by the trust’s financial firm — Morgan Stanley, and also by the National Football League as part of the sale process. The vetting process could be done in a fairly short amount of time, with a window of mid-to-late August being the target.

Once that has been completed and all the serious candidates have been vetted, according to the source, binding offers will be due on or around the start of September. From there the trust would move on to the next stage and come to a decision on who the winning party will be. 

From that point, it would ultimately lead to the hopeful ratification of the new owner at one of the league’s upcoming owners meetings. The current hope by the Bills, the source said, is to have the winning bidder be put to a league vote at the meetings on October 7 and 8 in New York City. The person or group must be approved by 24 of 31 owners.

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, rocker Jon Bon Jovi (along with MLSE’s Larry Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers of Rogers Communication), former Sabres owner Tom Golisano and Donald Trump are the four most publicly known names linked to the sale of the team. It is likely that the Bills will receive other nonbinding bids by the end of the business day on Tuesday in addition to those four.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
 
 




 
Bills training camp observations: Day 8
It happens around this time every single year. Once the novelty of training camp begins to wear off and all the players have to deal with is constant communication and banter with their teammates, eventually a boiling point happens during one random practice.

While the Buffalo Bills were a team on paper, they were divided by offense and defense as two separate entities for a solid 30 minute stretch on Monday night. Tempers flared and it resulted in some activities that head coach Doug Marrone is not very fond of, but it also led to the most spirited practice to date.

Boy, that escalated quickly
- It certainly did jump up a notch, Champ. For those in attendance on Monday night, they got to see big hits, scrums and an intense back-and-forth between offensive and defensive players. While the exact catalyst of the events is unknown, things got fairly chippy starting with rookie offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio throwing punches at defensive lineman Ikponmwosa Igbinosun. That was only the start of it, and from there things only got more heated. Lined up on the opposite side of the field, defensive end Jerry Hughes was shouting something in the direction of the offensive line before things really broke down. There were a couple of loud thuds in this version of team drills, all leading up to the biggest scrum of the night between a pair of third-string players. Defensive end Bryan Johnson and center Macky MacPherson started getting into it well after the play, they whipped each other around and Johnson even threw, at least, four punches to the midsection of MacPherson. It was at that moment that Marrone felt like enough was enough. He is not shy about his feelings on things breaking down during a camp practice like that. Point blank: he hates it. While the rest of the team went into the special teams period, the head coach yelled out for both the offensive and defensive lines to huddle up and try to stop what was happening before it got even more heated and out of hand. After a few stern words, Marrone had his group laughing and it seemed like the two sides came to an understanding once the coach left. That wasn’t the last of it, though, as Marrone spoke with defensive line coach Pepper Johnson after practice, followed by a powwow with both Kyle and Mario Williams. It's likely a safe bet to not anticipate too many more of those moments in a Doug Marrone led training camp.

Two-minute drill gets three completions, but ends in EJ INT
- The Bills didn’t make their practice ‘live’ at all on Monday like they had the previous two days, but they crossed off another first for the 2014 version of training camp. The team ran through their two-minute drill in what was, very much like the rest of practice, a very spirited exercise. EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis each got to run the two-minute offense in the team’s second-to-last drill of Monday’s practice, with Lewis getting much better results. Both players were set up with 1:42 to go on the clock and 75 yards in front of them before they reached the end zone. In two out of his first three plays, Manuel found Fred Jackson twice for 24 yards, and then linked up with Marquise Goodwin for a six-yard slant pattern. The quarterback only threw five passes total, however, and both almost resulted in turnovers. The first was an attempt to find Robert Woods on an intermediate route, but the ball was placed a good two to three yards in front of the wide receiver. Safety Jonathan Meeks was half a step away from getting the interception. To end the session for the first-team offense, Manuel thought he had found his wideout breaking towards the sideline in man-to-man coverage, but he locked on and did not look off the cornerback who was playing in zone coverage. Cornerback Ron Brooks read Manuel’s eyes, drifted back and came away with an impressive interception — undoubtedly his best play of camp -- and perhaps his best since being drafted by the team. Thad Lewis led a rather sloppy two-minute drill that ended up four yards short of the end zone when the quarterback found T.J. Graham on a last second heave. The defense won this round, again.

Kouandjio’s struggles continue
- It’s been a slow process for the rookie and it seems as though the book may be out from his teammates going up against him in practice. Kouandjio has the tendency to get too tall out of his stance which creates many more chances for his opponents to get him unbalanced. Once he does this, if the defensive end or whomever he’s up against decides to give a good, solid jab up high on his pads, the rookie loses just enough ground to lose his man completely. Throughout the day, Kouandjio suffered bad beats against Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and Jacquies Smith all in different drills. Young players have struggled like this in the past, and it’s certainly fair to note the second-round pick only turned 21 a week ago. However, the Bills had to be expecting a more polished player than the one they’ve seen at this point in camp. He’ll get plenty of opportunities throughout practices to improve, and it’s entirely possible that he will improve. It just hasn’t happened yet.

DL Williamses with a quality day
- One of the players that torched Kouandjio on two straight plays in team drills was Mario Williams and the defensive end has been quite impressive during camp, most notably on Monday. Williams was in the backfield on more than just his sack plays and didn’t look phased by what the offense was throwing at the defense in the slightest bit. Both he and Kyle Williams had a total of four sacks during Thad Lewis’ two-minute drill, with the latter Williams beating rookie Cyril Richardson at least once, if not both times. The performance was especially good timing considering defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz boasted earlier in the day that blitzing on his own terms is what will help the Bills to success. Having the defensive linemen that he does, Schwartz has to be feeling fairly good about their prospects heading into 2014.

Surprise on the depth chart?
- When the running back group is brought up, the names C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are both brought up almost simultaneously. Since the May draft, the third name out of people's mouths is former Philadelphia Eagles runner Bryce Brown as the likely heir apparent to one of those two roles if one, or both, leave the Bills as an unrestricted free agent next year. There’s just one problem: Brown isn’t even third on the depth chart on his own team yet. The Bills sent along their first official depth chart and Brown was listed as the fourth running back, while free agent acquisition and special teams ace Anthony Dixon took up the third spot. Dixon has been running quite hard during camp and is a lot faster than one would initially imagine. Perhaps the Bills are making Brown earn it, perhaps they’re trying to redshirt him if or when the stuff hits the fan next March with Spiller and Jackson, or, maybe the Bills just feel Dixon is the better runner right now. Whichever reason it is, it’s one of the only surprises on the first depth chart.

No Watkins, No Williams
- Two of the more important players on the Bills’ roster did not take part in the majority of team drills, but it does not appear either will have a lingering effect. Rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins watched the majority of reps from the sidelines, allowing time on the field to Chris Hogan with the first-team. The way it was described to the media is that Watkins was merely getting a rest day after being such a presence through the first seven days of camp. On the other hand, safety Aaron Williams was too sick to be out on the field and practice at St. John Fisher College. It is unclear at this point how, if at all, these absences will affect future practices.

Day 8 MVP: DE Mario Williams
- Mario Williams used all the tools in his arsenal: speed, power, reading the offensive lineman, and more, to have his most productive day of training camp since it began on July 20. It’s a reminder of how much taller, bigger and stronger he is than the players he goes up against from week to week. If he was a bit more sudden it would likely create more opportunities, but for the time being Williams is having a very good camp.

Day 8 LVP: OT Cyrus Kouandjio
- Once again Kouandjio couldn’t get out of his way and let the margin between him and Erik Pears for the starting right tackle job grow a little bit more. A solid performance on Sunday during the Hall of Fame Game could help his confidence heading into future practices, because he just hasn’t gotten the hang of the NFL yet.

Injury Update: The Bills held out safety Kenny Ladler (hamstring) and tight ends Scott Chandler (groin), Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Chris Gragg (heat cramps) from Monday’s session. Leodis McKelvin was dressed for practice once more, but for the fourth straight day did not take any part in team drills.

Up Next: The Bills have Tuesday off from practice and then get back for their third-to-last session before the Hall of Fame Game. The team will take the field on Wednesday at 2 pm at St. John Fisher College. The practice is open to the general public.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo Courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Bills' Schwartz gives gilmpse into blitz philosophy
When Mike Pettine left the Buffalo Bills to take the job as the head coach with the Cleveland Browns, many considered the departure of the defensive coordinator to be among one of the biggest losses of the offseason. Pettine had a unique playcalling style on that side of the ball and it resulted in the Bills setting a franchise record for sacks in one season.

To replace him, the Bills hired former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, who before that was a well-respected defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Through his time in the National Football League, Schwartz has been heralded for having strong defensive lines that have set the tone for his unit.

In Buffalo, that won't appear to be a problem with the quartet of starters they've lined up in Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. Due in part to the failed experiment of Dave Wannstedt as the Bills defensive coordinator very recently, some have made the connection of Schwartz's defensive theory being similar to that of Wannstedt: rely on the front four to create pressure and rarely blitz.

Some might even be scared of the defensive coordinator when he called on logic and simple math Monday, explaining that a blitz isn't always necessary due to the front four being as talented, and strong as they are.

"Generally offenses are going to protect with five, six guys," Schwartz started. "We've got four, there's a couple of guys that are gonna be one-on-one, and we've got guys that can win one-on-one."

If the first seven practices are any indication, though, the Bills won't be hesitant to blitz... at all. The Bills have sent linebackers both inside and outside, cornerbacks and safeties alike to get the offense to make a mistake. Instead of blitzing from all over like they did with Pettine in 2013, Schwartz has a little bit of a different interpretation on how to best utilize the added pressure.

"I think any time you can blitz on your own terms, you're at an advantage defensively," he said. "By that I mean you don't have to blitz to get a pass rush. If you can rely on your front four to get a pass rush, you can do so many more things with your coverage. And then when you want to blitz, you can blitz. It's not, 'Well we've got to get pressure on the quarterback so we have to blitz.' And I think that's one of the advantages of having a strong front four."

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Bills training camp observations: Day 7
EJ Manuel
While other teams around the National Football League are just getting started at training camp, the Buffalo Bills have already gone through a full week’s worth of work. Only a week away from their first preseason game, the Bills have a lot on their collective plate at practice throughout the next few days.

Head coach Doug Marrone introduced live hitting on Saturday for the first time in 2014 and they kept that going for a second straight day, giving the team their first taste of goal line work. Compared to their efforts on Saturday, specifically by the offense, Sunday brought about much more optimism.

EJ Update
- The man with the most influence on the outcome of the 2014 regular season is undoubtedly EJ Manuel, and to this point in training camp he hasn’t done much to inspire the overwhelming confidence his coaches and teammates seem to have in him. While that much held true during the seventh practice of camp, Manuel showed a lot more than he did in previous efforts. A difference from a practice a few days ago, the second-year quarterback was decisive in 7-on-7 drills and found a lot of receivers in space. He still struggled with going through all of his reads, which is concerning because it appears as though Jeff Tuel has no problem doing so in the offense, and that has limited him at practice so far. That, in addition to his inaccuracy, is what holds him back from realizing the potential the Bills believe that he has. In his favor, however, is the fact that the Bills went out this offseason and acquired two receivers that are very good at making bad throws look good. With transactions like those and how those two players have performed in camp so far, the Bills appear as though they’re eliminating any and all excuses for Manuel’s second season.

Hogan gets time with the 1s
- It has been written numerous times over the past two years, but wide receiver Chris Hogan had another very good practice for the Bills on Sunday. Shaking off a two-drop performance on Friday night, Hogan was strong in his routes and on the ball whenever given the opportunity during the afternoon practice. Due to all his strong play throughout the first six days of camp, the Bills rewarded him with time on the field with the first-team offense as the third wide receiver. It wasn’t a direct shot at Mike Williams, but more of a pat on the back to Hogan who has done mostly everything right to this point. Williams also got time with the first unit. It’s quite a long training camp so there are no guarantees on July 27, but with more performances like the one he’s had consistently (and special teams experience to boot), he could remove any doubt that he makes the roster.

Red Zone Mike
- Captain Obvious supports the next sentence: The Bills want to be much better in the red zone and on the goal line than they were in 2013. To help them do just that, from a theoretical standpoint anyway, they traded for Mike Williams and his 25 career touchdowns in four seasons (after grabbing 23 in his first three). Williams showed off that skill set on Sunday as the team continued to work in tight and help the offense progress. If there was a jump ball to be had, the wideout went up and got it on all but one occasion. After one catch in the back corner of the end zone, he looked at the crowd and took a bow, which drew some laughs from the crowd but also indicated that he is totally in control in those areas of the field. That will be where he is most important to the team, considering their dreadful past at capitalizing on in-close opportunities with getting six points rather than only three.

Don’t run with your head down vs. 2nd team defense
- Through two days of live hitting at St. John Fisher College the biggest hitter has been identified, and it’s not someone one would initially expect. Jonathan Meeks, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2013 and backup strong safety, has been crushing teammates during the last two practices. He was the player responsible for the big hit that left wide receiver Kevin Elliott, to put it ever so delicately, a bit woozy. The hit was clean and it was one of a handful that he’s brought to practice over the weekend. He likely won’t push for a starting job in 2014, but his presence on the roster as a suitable backup is evident.

Richardson gets a step up
- An inauspicious start to the training camp of fifth-round pick and rookie guard Cyril Richardson has led to many being skeptical about his chances of making an impact on the roster in his inaugural season. Despite some bad beats through the first five practices, starting on Saturday night Richardson was bumped up a unit. Initially serving as the third-team left guard Richardson and Antoine McClain, who was the second-team left guard through the first five practices, switched places. It’s been a steep learning curve for the rookie and he hasn’t necessarily taken advantage of his heightened opportunities in the past two days, but at the very least the Bills are giving him the chance to prove himself.

Day 7 MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- Gilmore has been a cool customer through the first six days of training camp, and it wasn’t until Sunday that he started to show the signs of what he did at St. John Fisher College in 2013. He mirrored the receivers anywhere they went and minimized their impact on the given play, regardless if they made the catch. He earned MVP honors with a fantastic one-handed interception in the end zone against EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins, sticking with the impressive rookie and then turning his head around to be in perfect position to come away with the turnover. He added another interception in the practice to put his day over the top.

Day 7 LVP: WR Chris Summers
- Among the players fighting to get noticed out of the wide receiver group, Summers really hasn’t stood out for any reason beside his height. In a drill where a 6-foot-5 player should dominate against smaller corners, Summers failed to make an impact in jump-ball setting in the end zone. He doesn’t get a lot of separation on the initial route and then fails to rise up and meet the ball at it’s highest point. The throw needs to be there, but even when it was not it didn’t appear as though he had the right positioning during and after the route’s completion to inspire confidence in a successful attempt.

Up Next: The Bills resume practice on Monday morning at 8 o’clock. The session will once again be open to the general public.
[Edit: The Bills, likely due to the expected weather, have changed Monday's practice to 6 pm. It's open to the public and fans will not need a ticket for entry.]

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Tight ends take another hit: Bills' Chandler injured Sunday
One full week of practice is over and done with at St. John Fisher College, and with all things considered, the Buffalo Bills haven't been hit too hard by the injury bug through the first seven sessions. The tight end room, however, would beg to differ.

The Bills are already without both Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Chris Gragg (heat cramps) due to injuries, and the team suffered another one on Sunday with starter Scott Chandler. Last year's leading pass catcher for Buffalo, Chandler had to leave practice in the first hour and did not return at any point. The team announced that the tight end had suffered a groin injury, but any timetable for his return is not immediately clear.

With the third injury to the group, the Bills are now down to two healthy tight ends on their roster in Lee Smith and Dominique Jones, who was just signed by the team on Saturday. Marrone hinted that the team may use some players already on the roster to help out at the spot in the interim, rather than going out and signing another free agent.

One player that could fit into the mold is current fullback Evan Rodriguez, who played tight end both during his college career and at the beginning of his professional career. He has been used exclusively in the backfield as a blocker and receiving option for the team, and is in a battle for that starting position with Frank Summers. Rodriguez is listed as 6-foot-2 and 239-pounds on the team's official roster.

The Bills incurred one other injury during their Sunday practice, having lost wide receiver Kevin Elliott to concussion-like symptoms following a snap during team drills. Elliott ran a post route to the end zone and was wide open, but missed the easy catch. He immediately took his helmet off, walked through the back of the end zone and crouched down as trainers ran over to him.

There could have been some residual effects from the play prior to that one, in which safety Jonathan Meeks laid perhaps the biggest hit of the day on Elliott as he was trying to make a play for the offense. The wideout is battling for one of the final spots available to that position along with the likes of T.J. Graham, Marcus Easley and others.

In addition to Chandler, Moeaki, Gragg and Elliott the Bills also practiced without safety Kenny Ladler, who like Moeaki, suffered a hamstring injury two days ago and hasn't practiced since. Cornerback Leodis McKelvin hasn't taken any snaps during team drills for the past three practices, to which Marrone replied that they were being "smart" with him.

McKelvin had offseason hip surgery and was placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list ahead of the start of training camp, which is the reason for the team limiting his snap count during camp. He has since been removed from the PUP list and participated in full through the first four practices of training camp.

The Bills did get the return of one key contributor back to practice. Following a lower body injury sustained on Friday night, running back Fred Jackson was able to get back on the field and took normal repetitions with the team.

The team will get back on the practice field on Monday evening at 6 o'clock. Once again, the session is open to the general public but fans do not need a ticket for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Bills training camp observations: Day 6
For the first time during the 2014 version of training camp, the Buffalo Bills gave their players their first taste of real football. Before the practice, head coach Doug Marrone announced that the Bills would be going “live” under the lights at St. John Fisher College.

The players dressed in full pads, they got themselves mentally prepared and full contact (except for the quarterbacks, of course) was on for the first time since last December. Who stood out during the real hitting session?

Here’s a recap of Day 6 for the Bills:

Issues at right tackle
- Despite the overwhelming thought that the competition between Erik Pears and Cyrus Kouandjio would be one of the key things to watch in camp, it hasn’t really gotten too competitive just yet. Kouandjio has struggled to stand out while Pears has been solid to this point in Pittsford, NY. On Saturday night, Pears left the door wide open for Kouandjio to steal some reps with the first unit in the near future but the rookie turned in an even worse performance than his competition. The play of both right tackles was downright dreadful during 11-on-11 work, leading to multiple sacks throughout the practice and a frustrating night for Doug Marrone, Nathaniel Hackett and EJ Manuel. Kouandjio has not been the player the team was expecting when they selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In fact, he has been outplayed by seventh-round selection Seantrel Henderson, who has spent the first week of practice as the first-team left tackle.

8 sacks in 17 plays
- It wasn’t only the fault of the right tackle position on Saturday: during one portion of non-contact team drills, the defense came away with the aforementioned statistics. Do the Bills have a solid defensive line? They absolutely do. However, it wasn’t just the first unit that was working their way into the pocket at will. Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Xavius Boyd, Bobby Felder and a pair of others were the gentlemen that came away with the sack tallies -- and a reminder: Boyd and Felder were just signed this past week. Thad Lewis and the third team trotted out for their reps, but a bobbled snap was all Marrone needed to see. He stopped that period of work and had the team take a five-minute break to try and get what was easily the worst offensive showing of training camp, thus far, out of their minds.

Henderson showing ability
- If you removed the biographies and watched rookie tackles Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio side-by-side on Saturday, you would think their actual draft positions were reversed. The Bills have been without Cordy Glenn throughout training camp due to an undisclosed illness, which has given Henderson all the reps with the first unit at left tackle. He’s had his rookie moments throughout, but he was one of the stronger offensive linemen during the night practice. His best moment came during one-on-one drills up against Mario Williams, the highest paid defensive player in league history, with no one else to help him out. Henderson displayed quick feet, pushed Williams out wide and didn’t surrender any territory to the Pro Bowl defensive end. The rookie was called for a hands to the face penalty, but from a technique perspective, he was solid all throughout the rep.

The 'live' highlights
- The entire tone of practice was set early on when the players partook in a full-contact period, and it was there that the defense started showing that Saturday night would be theirs — and in a big way. Out of the 19 plays (unofficial), the offense came away with a good play only three times. One was a 22-yard pass from EJ Manuel to Lee Smith in which the tight end broke some tackles, another a Jeff Tuel read-option keeper and the third was a jump ball deep down the right sideline roped in by Mike Williams. Other than that, it was all defense. Marcell Dareus and Brandon Spikes both flashed against the run when they were on the field. Safety Jonathan Meeks provided the biggest hit of the day, on a Ronnie Wingo rush attempt. Even rookie cornerback Ross Cockrell got a big hit in on wide receiver Kevin Elliott as he attempted to catch a pass along the sidelines, which as you could guess, wound up incomplete. The physicality was there throughout for the defense, and they dominated the live session.

Don’t sleep on the Schwartz blitz
- Saturday night was yet another reminder that new defensive coordinator isn’t shy to call a blitz, or two, or five. In fact, he did it in bunches and the offense couldn’t recover during team drills. He was sending linebackers, safeties, boundary corners, nickel corners, running stunts to confuse the offensive line in their assignments. It was a wildly successful evening for him but it’s likely to be expected with such a talent gap between the first-team defensive line in comparison to the first-team offensive line. However, it’s what he did with the second and third units that was equally as impressive.

Day 6 MVP: DE Manny Lawson
- Asked to switch back to his position from college, Manny Lawson was a bit slow out of the gates but erupted for a big practice on Saturday night. Lawson found his way into the backfield during one-on-one drills and team drills alike. He also chipped in as a stout edge defender, which is one of his biggest strengths, to bring down a ball carrier quickly on a third-and-long rush attempt. His most impressive pass rushing rep came against rookie Cyrus Kouandjio in the one-on-one drills. Kouandjio started backpedaling and looked stiff and too upright all throughout the rep. Lawson recognized it, used his long arms to push Kouandjio up near his shoulder pads and it sent the right tackle stumbling backwards, allowing the defensive end to walk in for the sack. It was Lawson’s best day by a wide margin.

Day 7 LVP: OT Cyrus Kouandjio
- If you’ve read the recap all the way to this point, you know why.

Injury Update: Leodis McKelvin was dressed for practice but didn’t take team drills for the second straight day. Despite that, the team said the starting cornerback is not on the injury report. Running back Fred Jackson, safety Kenny Ladler, tight end Tony Moeaki and tight end Chris Gragg all did not participate in practice.

Up Next: The Bills resume practice on Sunday at St. John Fisher College for the seventh session of training camp. It begins at 2 pm and is open to the general public.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
With Moeaki out a while, Bills sign tight end to roster
Injuries will always be a part of training camp for a team in the National Football League, and sometimes they come in bunches to effect one position in particular. The Buffalo Bills are no exception to that rule, having suffered two separate injuries to their tight end group in the first week of camp.

Following the release of Mike Caussin earlier in the week, the Bills lost both Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg to injury which left them with only two tight ends on the roster. Moeaki will be out with a hamstring injury for "a significant amount of time" according to head coach Doug Marrone. The head coach clarified that "significant" could mean missing three, or four days of work, and with that reasoning, he did not give a timetable for the tight end's return.

In Gragg's case, he had to be hospitalized a few days ago due to heat cramps and hasn't been able to practice since. Marrone said they're hoping to have him back sometime next week.

With those two unavailable for practice the Bills only had two players (Scott Chandler and Lee Smith) at the position that could practice, which led to the signing of Dominique Jones as an unrestricted free agent. A 6-foot-3, 270-pound tight end out of Shepherd, Jones first entered the league in 2012 as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts. He also spent some time with the Kansas City Chiefs and has appeared in 12 games over the past two years.

To make room for Jones, the Bills have released offensive lineman Mark Asper from the roster.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia
 




 
Bills training camp observations: Day 5
With their first day off while at training camp now behind them, the Buffalo Bills took the field Friday night with a familiar, and quite welcomed face to help lead the defense in their 2014 efforts. Despite his current legal predicaments, that player is vital to the success of the team in the upcoming season.

Following his successful conditioning test on Thursday, Marcell Dareus was back on the field practicing with the Bills on Friday night. The stud defensive tackle did not take long to make his presence felt during team drills, earning some praise just barely an hour into practice.

Disruptive Dareus
- Despite missing the first four practices at St. John Fisher College, Marcell Dareus was brought back into the fray as though he never missed any time. When the Bills started up team drills for the first time on Friday, Dareus trotted out on to the field and took reps alongside Kyle Williams with the first-team defense. On his first day back Dareus didn’t disappoint, looking light on his feet and getting through the offensive line on a few occasions. On one play, Dareus ripped right tackle Erik Pears aside and made solid contact with EJ Manuel as the quarterback was surveying the field in the pocket. He didn’t take all the first-team reps, but received many more than maybe some were expecting considering his six-day conditioning problem.

Hughes continues sterling camp
- Last year’s training camp showed that defensive end Jerry Hughes had a definite ability in rushing the passer, often beating his opponent on the offensive line to get into the backfield. That trend has continued into 2014, with seventh-round rookie left tackle Seantrel Henderson taking the brunt of the Hughes-led punishment. Hughes made Henderson look silly on a couple of plays during team drills, with one outside-in move that looked effortless on the defensive end’s part. Of course, he is going up against a rookie in practice so there’s no use in projecting a bigger season than last year just yet, but Hughes has been a consistent, disruptive force for the defense thus far.

Pair of young CBs flash
- One of the more intense portions of practice on Friday night occurred with the wide receivers and defensive backs going up against one another during one-on-ones. Fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell and the recently signed Kamaal McIlwain were the two cornerbacks that really stood out in that portion of practice, and then extended the positive play into team drills. Cockrell has struggled throughout offseason practices and the first few days of training camp, but he was strong both at the line of scrimmage and in sticking to his receiver on Friday. He was assigned the unenviable task of covering Sammy Watkins during team drills at one point, EJ Manuel looked for his wideout and thought he completed a pass over the middle of the field for about 15 yards. Cockrell was right in Watkins’ hip pocket, extended as the wideout tried to make the hands catch and knocked the ball loose for an incompletion. McIlwain consistently played physically against his assignment and only allowed easy yards in front of him. He also showed awareness, reacting to a tipped pass and leaping up for the interception. This isn’t the first day McIlwain has looked impressive, but it’s been his best day thus far. If he continues this stretch of play, he could be in the mix for the final cornerback spot.

Linebacker carousel
- For the most part in the first four days, the Bills’ base defense featured the same three linebackers: Brandon Spikes was at middle linebacker, Keith Rivers at strongside with Nigel Bradham manning the weakside. Having a day off from practice, the team must have decided to get more players in the mix and started a rotation of five different players. Spikes, Rivers, Bradham, rookie Preston Brown and the recently signed Stevenson Sylvester rotated through with the first defensive unit. The fascinating thing, though, was that none of them were locked into a specific position besides Spikes. The Bills are clearly training most of their linebackers to know each of the three positions, and getting them time there on the top unit is a good first step. The peculiar addition to the rotation is Sylvester, who hasn’t even been with the team for more than two weeks. The team must have seen something they liked from him on their off day and he was rewarded with additional time on the field.

Backup QB contenders fail to impress
- When head coach Doug Marrone declared that the backup quarterback job was up for grabs between Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel, the expectation is that one would grab the reins and make up the coach’s mind for him. If one were to only watch Friday night’s practice and be pressed to make a decision on one of them, most would likely take whatever is behind mystery door number three. With that written one must also consider this: it’s only the fifth day of practice, meaning there is still a lot of time for improvement. However, both were scattershot during team drills and the red zone 7-on-7 period at the end of practice. Passes were sailing a good four-to-five yards away from their intended targets and a couple of interceptions were thrown along the way. Through the first five days, Tuel has been average but is playing with a lot more confidence than he did last year. Lewis on the other hand has more zip on his passes but has struggled mightily with accuracy since getting to Pittsford, NY. The duo will resume their battle on Saturday.

Day 5 MVP: WR Robert Woods
- Woods is as smooth as they come and for the first time since camp has begun he and EJ Manuel started connecting in the way that they did throughout training camp last year. He provided a sustainable target throughout the evening and brought in anything that was close.

Day 5 LVP: CB Michael Carter
- One of the last players added to the roster ahead of the offseason workouts, Carter didn’t only have the problem of getting beat by receivers often during Friday’s session. In fact, he made the problem exponentially worse by holding on to the jersey of the receiver after he got beat in a one-on-one setting. Carter was flagged for it three separate times, leading to a lot of long looks from defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson.

Up Next: The Bills are back on the field Saturday night for their second straight practice under the lights. The session starts at 6 pm and is open to the public, but one must have a ticket in order to gain entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Fred Jackson injured at Bills practice Friday
The return of one of the Buffalo Bills' best players to the practice field on Friday was also coupled with the injury to one of their most popular and well-respected members of the roster. Running back Fred Jackson had to leave the practice prematurely due to an injury and did not return for the rest of the evening.

The Bills were participating in team drills and Jackson received a hand-off that ran him to the right side of the line of scrimmage. He ran hard through the hole, cut up field and ran into a defender in what seemed like a mostly harmless collision. As Jackson got up from the play, he immediately started limping over to the sideline and spun the football away from him in frustration.

The team's training staff examined him for roughly 10 minutes and then eventually walked him back to the locker room. Jackson, who was walking under his own power, suffered what the team is calling a lower leg injury. There is no initial timetable for Jackson at this point in time.

In addition to Jackson, the Bills also lost two others to injury during the Friday night practice at St. John Fisher College. Tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Kenny Ladler each left the session with an injury to their hamstring and had to go to the locker room for further examination.

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin did not take any reps during 11-on-11s Friday, paving the way for free agent acquisition Corey Graham to get time with the first-team defense. McKelvin was limited, while tight end Chris Gragg (heat cramps) and linebacker Randell Johnson (lower body injury) could not participate in practice in any capacity.

The Bills will resume practice on Saturday night, their second straight day with a session under the lights of Growney Stadium. The team will take the field at 6 pm and it will be open to the public, but a ticket is required for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Dareus gets back on the field for Bills
For the first time since they’ve been back at training camp, the Buffalo Bills had one of their best defensive players on the field and participating in practice. Following his clearance by the medical staff on Thursday, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus was back in action for the Bills on Friday night.

Dareus may not have gotten the full amount of repetitions throughout the practice, but he did start out with the first-team defense as he attempted to get back into the swing of things. Following all the off-field issues, his teammates were just happy to have him back on the field.

“It's good,” defensive tackle Kyle Williams said after the practice. “With him to come back out here and to start working back and getting ready for the year is a big thing for us. So we're excited to have him and we're gonna work him back into it.”

Dareus had to wait until Thursday to pass his conditioning test, having been placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list since Saturday. With a brief excursion down to Alabama for a court date (in which he was excused by head coach Doug Marrone), the defensive tackle did some work with trainers on Wednesday and then passed the running test on Thursday.

Marrone didn’t seem over the moon about Dareus’ return, but did say they were going to work him back into the mix.

“I take it day by day,” said the head coach. “I’m happy to have him back.”

Facing felony counts in Alabama and misdemeanor charges in Hamburg, New York, Dareus has had his share of troubles off the field. Now that the team is in training camp and he’s with his teammates and coaching staff for most of the time, at least one teammate believes this will quiet things down for a while.

“At this point in time, I think this will probably be the end of it I would think. He's back out here on the field, he passed his conditioning test, we're ready to go,” Williams said. “We'll see how everything pans out with all the off field stuff, I'm sure there will be a day for that. But, right now, the good thing about it is he's in pads, we're practicing and he's ready to go.”

Both Dareus and defensive tackle Alan Branch passed their conditioning tests on Thursday and were back on the field for practice Friday. The Bills get back on the field for another day of work on Saturday at 6 pm.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 
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Bills activate LB Johnson, sign a CB
For the second straight day, the Buffalo Bills have made moves on their roster. On Thursday the team brought in a reserve offensive lineman to help out in camp while releasing cornerback Brandon Smith. Just hours before their Friday evening practice, the Bills replenished the cornerback position.

The team announced that they've come to terms with free agent cornerback Bobby Felder. A former undrafted free agent out of Nicholls State in 2012, Felder spent the past two seasons on a practice squad. During his rookie season, he was with the Minnesota Vikings practice unit. He then signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the same role in 2013.

To make room for Felder on the roster, the Bills released defensive tackle Colby Way from the team. An undrafted free agent out of the University at Buffalo, Way signed with the team shortly after the 2014 NFL Draft. He was likely made expendable with the signing of defensive tackle Landon Cohen earlier in the week.

The Bills removed one more off their non-participation list for training camp. Seventh-round pick and rookie linebacker Randell Johnson started camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list but has now been cleared by the medical staff and will resume practice with his teammates.

All that remains on the team's non-participation lists are left tackle Cordy Glenn (Active/Non-Football Illness) and linebacker Kiko Alonso (Active/Non-Football Injury). The Bills resume practice Friday night at 6 pm at St. John Fisher College.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP​
 
 




 
Bills training camp observations: Day 4
Before their first day off from the 2014 version of training camp, the Buffalo Bills got on the field one more time to help improve on their efforts from Tuesday. The offense struggled mightily just a day ago and the Bills entered the field at St. John Fisher College Wednesday with the goal of shaking off any lingering rust.

For the second straight day the team participated in the session in full pads, and the players were a little more physical this time around. Most of the physicality occurred during the first round of one-on-one’s between the offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s where we’ll start.

OL vs DL
- The defense clearly got the better of the offensive line on Tuesday, but the offense more than held their own in this drill Wednesday. The best offensive lineman of the exercise, believe it or not, was right tackle Erik Pears. He took two reps and didn’t look distressed in the least bit in thwarting Manny Lawson’s attempts to get to the quarterback. Left guard Chris Williams also won both of his attempts, standing up Kyle Williams and then keeping Ikponmwosa Igbinosun at bay. From the defensive perspective, Stefan Charles used a speed move to get by right guard Chris Hairston and then used power to push third-string center Macky MacPherson back into the pocket. Backup left guard Antoine McClain and rookie Cyrus Kouandjio also won both of their matchups.

Pears stiff arms Kouandjio for the time being
- Early on during Organized Team Activities, second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio was getting first-team repetitions at right tackle in addition to Erik Pears. That slowly drifted away, and now Pears has taken every snap with the first unit since training camp started four days ago.
 
“Erik really feels healthy. He's coming off an injury I guess last year. He's really performed well. It's still going on, nothing is locked in stone yet. It wouldn't be smart of me to sit here right now and say, 'Hey, this is locked in stone, this is locked in stone.' Everyone has to go out there and prove that they can do it and we'll see how it goes as camp goes on. But Erik has done a very good job so far.” - Doug Marrone

It appears Kouandjio will either have to step up his game or wait for Pears to falter at some point in camp or the preseason.

Spikes getting a nickel look
- Without Kiko Alonso in the lineup the Bills are mixing and matching personnel with the first unit to see what the best combination is of linebackers in nickel coverage. Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were all expected to get looks in that respect, but middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was always thought to be the one that would come off the field in that scenario. Noted as a solid run defender and also someone that has had struggles in coverage in the past, the nickel isn’t a fit for him — at least not on paper. For a few plays during team drills though, Spikes was in the nickel look as one of the two linebackers on the field. His athleticism wasn’t tested in these looks, but the Bills are weighing all their options.

Hogan has down day
- Over the past two years in offseason workouts and training camps, one consistent throughout has been the steady play of wide receiver Chris Hogan. He always finds a way to get open and he usually makes at least one tough catch per day. On Wednesday, however, Hogan couldn’t seem to perform like he normally does. He was still getting open but had at least two drops on the day, including one that should have been a huge gain down the field. On that specific play, Hogan snuck behind the coverage on a post and the ball was delivered right into his hands, only for him to bobble and eventually drop it. Normally he stands out for the right reasons, but that wasn’t the case Wednesday.

Local linebacker stands out
- As the Bills continue their quest to build the best 53-man roster for September, it’s fair to note some of the younger, less-heralded players that make solid contributions during practices. One of those on Wednesday was Buffalo native, Canisius High School graduate and undrafted free agent Jimmy Gaines. Getting a solid amount of reps during practice, Gaines especially stood out on a sweep to the right with Anthony Dixon. Gaines didn’t hesitate one bit, recognizing the play and weaving his way through traffic to get a tackle for loss. While still likely a longshot to make the team outright, at least he’s showing signs of playmaking ability that could help him get on to the practice squad.

Branch in same boat as Dareus
- The Bills made an announcement on Wednesday before training camp started that several players had been put on non-participation lists, and among them was defensive tackle Alan Branch. He, along with Cordy Glenn, was listed on the Active/Non-Football Illness list. However, when Branch came up in conversation with Marrone today, it was revealed that he had failed his conditioning test and that was the reason why he was still on the list. The only peculiar thing was that like Branch, Marcell Dareus failed his conditioning test, but unlike Branch, Dareus was placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list. The Bills explained that the difference in listings were a mere technicality, and something for Branch was initially flagged and tested for an illness ahead of the conditioning workout, but it was later found to be nothing at all. Basically, Branch and Dareus just have to get themselves in good enough shape to pass their conditioning test.

Day 4 MVP: WR Sammy Watkins
- By now, everyone has seen the catch in the early portion of practice. Watkins continued to dazzle through the day, even burning top cornerback Stephon Gilmore quite easily on a few occasions. So far, so good for the rookie and fourth overall selection.

Day 4 LVP: DE Manny Lawson
- Lawson gets the distinction because he was a non-factor in the one-on-one’s conducted between the offensive and defensive linemen. Lawson was no match for Pears and then lost a third time against third-string right tackle Mark Asper. At defensive end, Lawson is a fish out of water as a pass rusher. If Mario Williams or Jerry Hughes go down with an injury, they may need to blitz a bit more to provide consistent pressure. Either that, or they need to sign someone that can provide some better pass rushing depth. It’s just not Lawson’s strong suit.

Injury Update: CB Brandon Smith missed practice due to a lower body injury. FB Evan Rodriguez and TE Chris Gragg were both held out for the second straight day due to heat cramps which resulted in both being hospitalized. Rodriguez was released on Wednesday, but Gragg remained there.

Up Next: The Bills have Thursday off from practice, then get back on the field Friday for their second night practice of training camp. It starts at 6 pm and is open to the public, but fans need a ticket for entry.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of The Associated Press
 




 
Bills' Marrone: Right guard is up for grabs
The Buffalo Bills made a concerted effort in the offseason to upgrade the offensive line and now, only four days into training camp, it sounds as though they aren't done after addressing both the left guard and right tackle starting positions. The only other spot in question this offseason is now officially a competition. Kraig Urbik's hold on the starting right guard job is going to require him to tighten his grip a bit.

Head coach Doug Marrone once again explained the the backup quarterback job is an open competition well, and that opened up the questioning for other positions. At right guard, Urbik has been splitting first-team snaps with Chris Hairston, making many wonder if Urbik's job was in trouble.

Asked if right guard was "up for grabs," Marrone's answer was simple: Yes.

Hairston has been getting time as an interior offensive linemen through three of the first four days of camp (the lone exception was when Seantrel Henderson could not practice and Hairston played left tackle), as well as through the duration of the three-day mandatory minicamp in June. A former offensive tackle at Clemson and then later on with the Bills, the fourth-year player is making his first legitimate move to the inside.

Urbik, 28, is signed through the next three seasons and has cap hits of $3.375 million in 2014, $3.675 million in 2015 and then $4 million in 2016. He has served as the Bills starting right guard for each of the past three seasons, but lost a few snaps to the young J.J. 'Unga late in the season.

Hairston, on the other hand, is signed only through this year. He missed all of last season with an undisclosed illness and is attempting to make a comeback and secure a starting job.

The two will likely continue to get reps with the first unit as the team continues to try and determine a winner for the job. The team has a day off scheduled for Thursday and then resume practicing on Friday evening.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP
 
 
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