As Wednesday came and went, the Buffalo Bills got their first practice in the books in 2014. The voluntary session had 88 out of 90 players in attendance, and it was also the first time that we got to see a look at some of the depth charts at certain positions.
It was the first of 10 voluntary practices before the team then shifts into the mandatory minicamp on June 17. As the session shifts into the second day of work on Thursday, first is a look at some of the individual performances and group observations from the first day of OTAs.
1) EJ’s second season starts
- A very important campaign for the most important player on the Bills roster started on Wednesday. EJ Manuel got to work with all of his receivers, officially, for the first time this year. It was just another ho-hum practice with a bit of a feeling out process early on in the session. Not only will it take more than a few practices to gain some chemistry with his new top targets (Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams), but it will also take him a bit to get acclimated with his targets from last year once again. Manuel made some nice, crisp passes to some of his targets, but also had a couple of wobblers to his name as well. He made an outstanding play in trusting his instincts to find Tony Moeaki wide open after a busted coverage about 30 yards down the field, but also had an interception on a poorly thrown comeback route. All in all, it was a standard first day on the job.
2) Offensive line combinations
- With some definitive ineptitudes on the offensive line in 2013, one of the more intriguing aspects to the first OTA session was the different combinations along the offensive line. The first unit was a predictable one. From left to right, it featured Cordy Glenn, Chris Williams, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik and Erik Pears. At right tackle though, it wasn’t only Pears getting all the first team reps. Second-round selection Cyrus Kouandjio got nearly half the first-team reps during 11-on-11s, likely signaling a wide-open competition between the two sides. Another position worthy of watching is right guard. Head coach Doug Marrone talked up J.J. ‘Unga among others at the start of the offseason, but it wasn’t him as the second-team right guard; it was fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson. The second unit from left to right had Chris Hairston, Edawn Coughman, Doug Legursky, Richardson and Kouandjio. The third unit featured Seantrel Henderson, Randy Colling, Mark Asper, ‘Unga and Antoine McClain. There will likely be fluidity between the second and third units as we move along during OTAs.
3) Starting defense without over half the starters
- It was an abbreviated defensive unit on Wednesday, most due to so many starters being sidelined after offseason procedures. Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin all did not participate in team drills, meaning we got an interesting first unit to chew on during the initial day of OTAs. At defensive end, there was a rotation of Jarius Wynn, Jacquies Smith and Ikponmwosa Igbinosun. Those players were bookends to the predictable defensive tackle duo of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus. At linebacker, Nigel Bradham filled in on the weakside with free agent acquisitions Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers at the middle and strongside respectively. Corey Graham and Ron Brooks made up the cornerbacks, while Duke Williams and Da’Norris Searcy were the first safety tandem. Keep in mind, both defensive end Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Alan Branch were not in attendance.
4) Gragg off to a slow start
- One player that some have been keeping an eye on since the Bills selected him in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft has been tight end Chris Gragg. He got a small amount of playing time on offense near the end of the season, but mostly was either inactive or used as a special teams player during games. On Wednesday, Gragg didn’t look the part as the athletic tight end that he’s been billed as. When he runs, there is some wasted movement and the breakdowns at the top of his routes aren’t as clean as you would like. He also dropped a few passes on the day. Many times, he would be on the field running a route at the same time as Tony Moeaki, and the latter looked like the superior athlete in all their movements.
5) Tuel hit the weight room
- One of the players with a bit of an improved physique since we last saw him is third-string quarterback Jeff Tuel. Anytime Tuel came up, both the front office and coaches said they’d like to see Tuel get bigger, but liked his potential as a long-term backup option. Well, Tuel looked like he took that criticism to heart and appeared in much better physical shape than he was last year. Even as he was leaving the weight room post-practice, trainers were having a fun back-and-forth with the new quarterback that resulted in him flexing a little bit. Then someone else commented how his shirt shrunk and he had a laugh about that as well. Tuel needed to get bigger, and it seems as though he has.