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.