The voluntary portion of the offseason is officially over. In fact, all that separates the offseason from being completed is just two more practices and about a month of downtime before we get back into full swing with the start of training camp.
The Buffalo Bills took the field, mandatorily, for the first time in 2014. It’s the first of a three-day mandatory minicamp in which all players must be in attendance unless they are excused by the coaching staff.
Did the offense improve from their less than stellar end to Organized Team Activities? Or did the defense continue to get the best of them?
Here are some notes from the opening day of minicamp:
1) EJ See-Saw
- Throughout the afternoon we got a taste of both good EJ and bad EJ. On the positive side, he looked poised throwing it to his tight end regardless if it was Lee Smith or Tony Moeaki on the receiving end. It wasn’t just little dump-off passes either. One throw hit Moeaki in stride deep down the left hash for a big gain. He looked poised on those throws and displayed some patience in other instances throughout the 11-on-11 portion of practice. However, bad EJ reared his ugly head at times during the session as well. He got caught staring down his receiver running a flag route to the right sideline, allowing the safety to read him the whole way. Undrafted rookie Deon Broomfield read Manuel’s eyes, broke on the ball and jumped in front of the receiver for an easy interception. That was coupled with some deep misfires and a pair of plays that ended up in fumbles in the backfield. It’s only June, and there are many practices to get things back in order. However, Manuel needs to get more consistent through his practice habits which will, in theory, prepare him to do it in a regular season game setting. Rome wasn’t built in a day, though.
2) Goodwin goes deep
- The offensive play of the day involved the combination of wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and backup quarterback Thad Lewis. Goodwin was up against cornerback Corey Graham in man-to-man coverage, and the speedy second-year receiver blew right by him. Lewis immediately saw the step, reared back and threw his entire body into the throw, hitting Goodwin perfectly in stride and for a theoretical touchdown. Many of Goodwin’s receiver teammates, including Robert Woods, Kevin Elliott, Ramses Barden and Marcus Easley all ran over to Goodwin along the sideline to congratulate him on the big play. They also gave some guff to Graham for not being able to keep up with the speedster. Graham didn’t say a word and just kept walking along.
3) Hairston in play for right guard?
- The Bills and head coach Doug Marrone are clearly not happy with their right guard situation, because they are trying a lot of different combinations throughout the first few weeks of offseason workouts. This time around, a normal offensive tackle got some reps with the first team at right guard in place of the incumbent Kraig Urbik. Chris Hairston, who got some backup reps at guard last week, split first-team duties with Urbik throughout the practice on Tuesday. It’s clear that the Bills are looking to upgrade both positions on the right side of the offensive line, but they’re just seeing if they can unearth any gems on their roster before settling on the Urbik and Erik Pears duo once again. Pears will face competition from rookie Cyrus Kouandjio, but Urbik’s main competition has yet to be distinguished. Once training camp comes around it will start to discern itself a bit, but as for now, Marrone is just seeing what everyone can do.
4) Searcy getting first-team reps
- With the start of mandatory minicamp, the top safety on the Bills’ roster got back to work during team drills. Aaron Williams, who makes the cosmetic switch from ‘strong’ to ‘free’ safety, got his fair share of reps with the first team on Tuesday. Standing beside him on all of those reps? Fourth-year player Da’Norris Searcy. Searcy is in a clear battle with second-year player Duke Williams to be the starter alongside the other Williams that plays safety. While this isn’t a clear indication of who the coaching staff might favor, it appears that Searcy at least got the first crack at it due to his experience in actual game settings. It would be a surprise if Duke Williams didn’t get ample opportunity to show what he can do alongside Aaron Williams throughout the summer.
5) Lawson, Branch, Dareus all return
- As the practices shift from ‘voluntary’ to ‘mandatory,’ the Bills welcomed back three players that were notably absent for different reasons. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has had a couple of problems with the law this offseason, and both he and Marrone felt it was best for the player to stay away from the remainder of OTAs. Defensive tackle Alan Branch and defensive end Manny Lawson, each who are veterans that skipped OTAs in 2013, resumed their stances and did not show up to practice throughout the offseason. All three were back in action on Tuesday, with Dareus getting first-team reps alongside Kyle Williams. Branch and Lawson, much like last year, were worked in slowly to team drills mostly with the second and third units. They’ll get back up to full speed by the time training camp rolls around in July.
- The Bills had 100-percent attendance, outside of the three players that were excused from practice: left tackle Cordy Glenn (illness), tight end Scott Chandler (personal) and offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson (travel) all could not be at practice. The other 87 players were there.
- A few players worked along the sidelines with the training staff. Wide receiver Marcus Easley, cornerback Darius Robinson, defensive end Bryan Johnson and wide receiver Cordell Roberson all couldn’t go through the full paces of the practice.
- The Bills welcomed in three tryout players for the duration of their three-day minicamp: wide receiver Tori Gurley, cornerback Sam Miller and cornerback Kamaal McIlwain are all getting a look from the coaching staff this week.