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Bills Beat Blog

By Joe Buscaglia
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Bills OTA observations: Day 4

Into the second week of work they go, the Buffalo Bills got back on the field for the fourth time during the voluntary Organized Team Activities portion of the offseason.

One of the biggest stories was the absence of Marcell Dareus, who we later learned came to a mutual decision with head coach Doug Marrone to stay away from OTAs. However, there were many other story lines throughout the day that tie completely into both performance on the field and depth charts.

What were some notable things from Tuesday’s session? Here is a brief rundown:

1) Different defensive variations with 1st team
- With so many different starters not being able to participate in team drills, many players got some first-team experience throughout the first week. Still without Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Kiko Alonso, some other players got some time on the field with the first unit. While Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams made up the first duo of safeties through the first three days, Searcy had a new partner on Tuesday: 2013 fifth-round pick Jonathan Meeks. He wasn’t the only change to the secondary either, with cornerback Mario Butler getting some time on the first team. Butler even made a great play on a throw to Sammy Watkins along the sideline to force an incompletion. It was the first time those two got some notable reps to start drills.

2) Manuel making progress?
- Recognition down the field. It’s something EJ Manuel knows he needs to get better at from his season in 2013, and one of the aspects of his game that he’s working on most heartily. While it’s still a practice session, Manuel has shown the ability to not only recognize chances down the field, but to also take some risk in tighter windows. He was slow to do both during his rookie season. While he still had a lapse in footwork on a throw over the middle of the field and then again when under duress on a different play that almost led to an interception, Manuel made some good reads and solid passes to go along with them. A complete bust in coverage left Chris Hogan wide open down the sideline and Manuel hit him with ease. All in all, it was a good day for Manuel.

3) Hughes, despite the circumstances had a good day
- While the off-the-field stuff wasn’t ideal for Jerry Hughes, his on-field performance during team drills was quite noticeable. He used an outstanding speed rush where he bent around the edge and got past rookie Seantrel Henderson quite easily from the right side of the defense. He also showed off a spin move that was able to get in the backfield and flush the quarterback from the pocket. The defensive end is in his contract year and knows a big season is mandatory to get paid likely as much as he wants to. He also needs to figure out everything else after the most recent developments on his involvement in Marcell Dareus’ latest fiasco.

4) Two rookies continue to struggle
- Once teams start to get to the fourth round and beyond, the players they select are ones that might qualify as more long-term projects than anything. Four days in to OTAs, fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell and seventh-round pick Randell Johnson each have showed struggles along the way. Both defensive players, each have struggled with the same part of the game despite playing different positions. The cornerback Cockrell and the linebacker Johnson haven’t been able to grasp the coverage aspect of their games just yet. Cockrell has gotten beaten badly a few different times since the start of the rookie minicamp in May. As for Johnson, although he’s an outstanding athlete, he’s slow to recognize routes and gets beat for both small and long yardage during OTAs. It is only four days into these voluntary workouts so mistakes will be made by young players like these two. However, as time goes on they need to start showing improvement in that specific area… Johnson especially.

5) New long snapping options?
- Garrison Sanborn has been the long-term option at long snapper for the Bills. Up until training camp last year, Sanborn was an absolute rock for the team and never wavered when called upon. Last year in training camp, he wasn’t as accurate as he would have liked which led the Bills to bring in two tryout players during training camp in 2013. While it’s unclear whether or not to take the following seriously, but two players took reps at long snapper during the special teams portion of practice. Tight end Lee Smith and recently signed center Macky MacPherson each took reps along with Sanborn. The exercise was on punt team and the entire unit ran down the field in coverage, so perhaps it was done to keep Sanborn fresh. However, they have looked for other options in the past, so maybe they’re trying to turn over every stone in house just for the sake of completeness.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

**Photo courtesy of the AP​

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People : Aaron WilliamsChris HoganDoug MarroneDuke WilliamsJerry HughesJonathan MeeksKiko AlonsoLee SmithLeodis McKelvinMarcell DareusMario ButlerNorris SearcyRandell JohnsonRoss CockrellSammy WatkinsStephon Gilmore

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