The second day of practice is in the books for the 2014 version of Organized Team Activities at One Bills Drive. The Buffalo Bills shook off the rust on Wednesday and got a bit more into things during Thursday’s session.
The day saw the return of some veteran players to at least a limited amount of work during team drills. It also provided more opportunities for some of the lesser known players to make their mark and impress the coaching staff.
What were some takeaways from the second of 10 sessions? Here’s a brief rundown:
1) First-team defensive layout, minus five starters
- With the return of both Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes to some 11-on-11 work, more clarity was found with the first-team defense. Keep in mind, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, linebacker Kiko Alonso, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin and safety Aaron Williams did not participate on Thursday. On the defensive line, Mario Williams was the left defensive end with Jerry Hughes on the right side. Between them was the defensive tackle duo of Kyle Williams and Stefan Charles. The linebackers (Nigel Bradham, Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers), cornerbacks (Corey Graham, Ron Brooks) and safeties (Duke Williams, Da’Norris Searcy) were all the same as Wednesday. When the team went to nickel, however, Spikes came out of the lineup and rookie Ross Cockrell lined up as an outside cornerback, shifting Brooks to the slot. That formation, in particular, raises one very interesting question.
2) Where is Robey?
- One of the most pleasant surprises from the 2013 season was the success of undrafted cornerback Nickell Robey as the team’s primary nickel corner for Mike Pettine. Healthy enough to take reps throughout the day, his absence in that formation was notable. The thought behind it could be many different things. The Bills might want to see exactly what Brooks brings to the table while he’s on the bubble to make the roster. Or, perhaps Robey primary skill set just isn’t a fit in Jim Schwartz’s scheme. During Thursday’s practice, he stood out on one play by blowing up a C.J. Spiller screen against the first-team offense. He made plays like that all throughout OTAs in 2013, and he’ll have to continue the same trend to secure his role once more.
3) EJ Manuel showing both progress and old tendencies
- Following the first practice of 2014, EJ Manuel hit the right notes in his press conference by admitting that he had some work to do in trusting what he is seeing on the field and allowing routes to develop a tad longer before making a decision. He exhibited that once more in the recognition of a busted coverage deep down the right sideline. Both cornerback Michael Carter and safety Jajuan Harley got their signals crossed, and wide receiver Chris Hogan was wide open on a fly route. Manuel recognized it, let it rip and hit Hogan in stride. For that positive play there was also a negative one that he must clean up. Marquise Goodwin came open about 15 yards down the field over the middle. Manuel did well to recognize him and throw to him, but the necessary footwork wasn’t there and the pass went incomplete because it was behind the right-to-left dragging Goodwin. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett immediately went to Manuel and stressed stepping all the way into the throw to increase the accuracy. All in all, Manuel had both good and bad moments to the second practice of the year.
4) Kevin Elliott with the catch of the day
- A name that not many are thinking about when it comes to who might make the roster at the bottom of the wide receiver depth chart, Kevin Elliott is a taller target that the Bills like a lot. To go along with the positivity built throughout 2013’s training camp, Elliott made the catch of the day over Ron Brooks. Along the left sideline, a jump ball was thrown to Elliott. The 6-foot-3 wideout met the ball at it’s highest point, got one foot in and then fell on his opposite leg in bounds to secure the catch. Brooks could only look down in disbelief that Elliott made a play on the overthrow. He suffered a season-ending injury in training camp last year, but keep his name in mind for players that can figure in to the 53-man roster discussion.
5) Randell Johnson a little lost in coverage
- One of the most impressive players on the field from a looks perspective is the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Randell Johnsen. The seventh-round pick and linebacker out of Florida Atlantic looks the part and shows a lot of athleticism in positional drills. However, that’s where it seemed to end through the first couple of days at least. Johnson was partially responsible for the busted coverage on Manuel’s big throw to Tony Moeaki on Wednesday. Once again, he failed to recognize the tight end’s route on Thursday. The three-yard out towards the sideline turned into a 10-plus yard gain down the field. He has impressive tools to work with, but his recognition must get better. Then again, it is only his second day of actual practice with the team, so some slack needs to be given to a seventh-round pick just learning the defense.