With their first day off while at training camp now behind them, the Buffalo Bills took the field Friday night with a familiar, and quite welcomed face to help lead the defense in their 2014 efforts. Despite his current legal predicaments, that player is vital to the success of the team in the upcoming season.
Following his successful conditioning test on Thursday, Marcell Dareus was back on the field practicing with the Bills on Friday night. The stud defensive tackle did not take long to make his presence felt during team drills, earning some praise just barely an hour into practice.
- Despite missing the first four practices at St. John Fisher College, Marcell Dareus was brought back into the fray as though he never missed any time. When the Bills started up team drills for the first time on Friday, Dareus trotted out on to the field and took reps alongside Kyle Williams with the first-team defense. On his first day back Dareus didn’t disappoint, looking light on his feet and getting through the offensive line on a few occasions. On one play, Dareus ripped right tackle Erik Pears aside and made solid contact with EJ Manuel as the quarterback was surveying the field in the pocket. He didn’t take all the first-team reps, but received many more than maybe some were expecting considering his six-day conditioning problem.
Hughes continues sterling camp
- Last year’s training camp showed that defensive end Jerry Hughes had a definite ability in rushing the passer, often beating his opponent on the offensive line to get into the backfield. That trend has continued into 2014, with seventh-round rookie left tackle Seantrel Henderson taking the brunt of the Hughes-led punishment. Hughes made Henderson look silly on a couple of plays during team drills, with one outside-in move that looked effortless on the defensive end’s part. Of course, he is going up against a rookie in practice so there’s no use in projecting a bigger season than last year just yet, but Hughes has been a consistent, disruptive force for the defense thus far.
Pair of young CBs flash
- One of the more intense portions of practice on Friday night occurred with the wide receivers and defensive backs going up against one another during one-on-ones. Fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell and the recently signed Kamaal McIlwain were the two cornerbacks that really stood out in that portion of practice, and then extended the positive play into team drills. Cockrell has struggled throughout offseason practices and the first few days of training camp, but he was strong both at the line of scrimmage and in sticking to his receiver on Friday. He was assigned the unenviable task of covering Sammy Watkins during team drills at one point, EJ Manuel looked for his wideout and thought he completed a pass over the middle of the field for about 15 yards. Cockrell was right in Watkins’ hip pocket, extended as the wideout tried to make the hands catch and knocked the ball loose for an incompletion. McIlwain consistently played physically against his assignment and only allowed easy yards in front of him. He also showed awareness, reacting to a tipped pass and leaping up for the interception. This isn’t the first day McIlwain has looked impressive, but it’s been his best day thus far. If he continues this stretch of play, he could be in the mix for the final cornerback spot.
- For the most part in the first four days, the Bills’ base defense featured the same three linebackers: Brandon Spikes was at middle linebacker, Keith Rivers at strongside with Nigel Bradham manning the weakside. Having a day off from practice, the team must have decided to get more players in the mix and started a rotation of five different players. Spikes, Rivers, Bradham, rookie Preston Brown and the recently signed Stevenson Sylvester rotated through with the first defensive unit. The fascinating thing, though, was that none of them were locked into a specific position besides Spikes. The Bills are clearly training most of their linebackers to know each of the three positions, and getting them time there on the top unit is a good first step. The peculiar addition to the rotation is Sylvester, who hasn’t even been with the team for more than two weeks. The team must have seen something they liked from him on their off day and he was rewarded with additional time on the field.
Backup QB contenders fail to impress
- When head coach Doug Marrone declared that the backup quarterback job was up for grabs between Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel, the expectation is that one would grab the reins and make up the coach’s mind for him. If one were to only watch Friday night’s practice and be pressed to make a decision on one of them, most would likely take whatever is behind mystery door number three. With that written one must also consider this: it’s only the fifth day of practice, meaning there is still a lot of time for improvement. However, both were scattershot during team drills and the red zone 7-on-7 period at the end of practice. Passes were sailing a good four-to-five yards away from their intended targets and a couple of interceptions were thrown along the way. Through the first five days, Tuel has been average but is playing with a lot more confidence than he did last year. Lewis on the other hand has more zip on his passes but has struggled mightily with accuracy since getting to Pittsford, NY. The duo will resume their battle on Saturday.
Day 5 MVP: WR Robert Woods
- Woods is as smooth as they come and for the first time since camp has begun he and EJ Manuel started connecting in the way that they did throughout training camp last year. He provided a sustainable target throughout the evening and brought in anything that was close.
Day 5 LVP: CB Michael Carter
- One of the last players added to the roster ahead of the offseason workouts, Carter didn’t only have the problem of getting beat by receivers often during Friday’s session. In fact, he made the problem exponentially worse by holding on to the jersey of the receiver after he got beat in a one-on-one setting. Carter was flagged for it three separate times, leading to a lot of long looks from defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson.
Up Next: The Bills are back on the field Saturday night for their second straight practice under the lights. The session starts at 6 pm and is open to the public, but one must have a ticket in order to gain entry.