Thursday was the day most fans of the Buffalo Bills were waiting for. With a second-year quarterback taking all the first-team snaps, many were hoping the light would go on for EJ Manuel, and that as soon as he started to play well enough that he would turn the corner and become the player that some are holding out hope for.
The fans of the team, although most were unable to attend due to the joint practice between Buffalo and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, had to read all the rave reviews about Manuel and crack a bit of a smile. What made Manuel’s day so good, and who else stood out? Here are some observations from the second day at Saint Vincent College:
EJ’s earmarked day
- All throughout training camp, daily practices have been a struggle for EJ Manuel. While he has had his moments in camp at St. John Fisher College, Manuel has lacked the overall consistency and accuracy that many clamor for. For two-and-a-half hours at least, Manuel looked like he had taken a step forward for how he picked apart the Steelers’ first-team defensive unit. Throughout practice, Manuel finished the day completing 17-of-23 passes for 216 (unofficial) yards, which both serve as a massive improvement from the previous day of work against the Steelers. Manuel was sacked three times throughout the day but the collapsing pocket didn’t seem to rattle him at all. In fact, the Bills quarterback dropped all the way back and looked for whichever target had already won, or was in the process of winning, and delivered his passes with confidence. Thursday was undoubtedly the most comfortable he has appeared in the pocket during a practice, which led the way to Manuel’s poise and accuracy to take a step up from where it had been even a day ago. None of his incompletions were mistakes that the Steelers’ defense were ready to pounce on. As Manuel said after the practice, he still needs to work on finding the right level of consistency so that way the ups and downs of training camp won’t have as large a disparity as it has. By all means, though, not only was that Manuel’s best practice of 2014, but it also could be the best he has shown at practice since entering the NFL.
Nearly 30-percent of Manuel’s passes went to…
- The Buffalo Bills addressed the wide receiver group with a few bold moves, jettisoning one longterm player and replenishing with the top wide receiver in the draft, Sammy Watkins, and also trading for the previously troubled Mike Williams to help contribute to the team. Manuel now has one of the shiniest of shiny toys in his arsenal, and he’s taking advantage on daily basis. Of his 17 completions, five of Manuel’s passes were thrown Watkins’ way, who collected five receptions and 61 yards, far more than any other player. The quarterback also targeted Watkins two other times but the throw on both of those plays was either too far out in front or it was lacking touch on the deep pass down the field. The pairing of Manuel and Watkins is likely to be one that will demand attention for much of the season, but the two seem to be on the same page quite a bit going up against a different opponent.
Bryce Brown’s struggles
- On three separate occasions Thursday, third-string running back Bryce Brown lacked the defining characteristic that made EJ Manuel’s day such a good one: Brown lacked an overall decisiveness and it led to the demise of two other plays as well. It started off with the running back taking in what looked to be a harmless pitch play that took the runner to the offense’s right side, and it even looked like the running back had caught it well enough to tuck it away. Brown took two more steps and the ball popped up and out of his hands which allowed the Steelers defense to pounce on it. Later in the day, Brown also dropped a swing pass that was wide open to gain big yardage. All that, was followed up by the young running back trying to pull a C.J. Spiller and reverse fields because the original rushing lane was shut down by the defense. Not shockingly, he was held to just a minimal gain. Brown has done many positive things in both camp and the preseason games, but Thursday wasn’t his brightest evening.
Hogan experiment not over
- Sometimes in a training camp setting, head coaches will deliver messages to some of their more important players by giving their backups more time during practices and games just as an attempt to teach them a lesson. At first, that could have been the construed case for wide receiver Chris Hogan and second-year wideout Robert Woods. The latter has been thought of as a big part of the offensive attack for much of the offseason, but as of two weeks ago the Bills haven’t been using Woods with the first-team nearly as much as many were expecting. Instead, Hogan has been getting the majority of repetitions at slot receiver with the first team. Initially, Hogan’s rise could have just been to rile up Woods. However, Hogan just doesn’t want to seem to go away. His impressive play throughout training camp has him in a spot where he’s getting closer to lock territory for the 53-man roster. It will be especially safe if he continues to supplant Woods with the first-team offense.
Bills’ Day 17 MVP: QB EJ Manuel
- This is the day many have been waiting for. Manuel truly had his first great practice of 2014, dispersing the ball to the open man and almost always hitting that player in the perfect position and in stride. One practice doesn’t mean a player has made the next step in their career, regardless of the position. Manuel will simply look to build off the positivity he has helped create for himself on the second day in Latrobe.
Bills’ Day 17 LVP: HB Bryce Brown
- The trio of aforementioned negative plays was enough to earn him these honors for the day. Don’t look too deeply into it, though. Brown will still figure in with the team once they define his role. It may not even happen in 2014 if both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson get through the entire season. If something does happen to one of those two, Brown will be part of the new duo of runners.
Injury Update: K Dustin Hopkins (groin), S Jonathan Meeks (neck), LB Ty Powell (medical), G Chris Williams (lower back), TE Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and WR Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) all could not participate in the practice due to their injuries.
Up Next: The Bills get Friday off and then prepare for their third preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night at 7:30 pm.