Pittsford, NY (WGR 550) -- With a day off on the horizon, the Buffalo Bills went through their fourth practice at St. John Fisher College with some notable changes and different looks throughout the lineup during 11-on-11 drills.
The Bills once again worked on running and stopping the run early on in the practice, before finally getting to the team drills that dominated the later part of the session. There were also plenty of injuries to report from Head Coach Doug Marrone, so make sure you're up to date and who's missing some time.
On the field, some players made some strides and even got more time than they have before. Here are some notes from Wednesday's practice:
Manuel wins Wednesday
- For the third straight day, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was clearly the better on the field between he and veteran Kevin Kolb. It would be awfully tough for Manuel to be worse than Kolb over the past three days, though. The veteran just has never looked comfortable in the pocket, often rolling off to the side in the face of all the pressure the Bills defense sends. On the other hand Manuel does a much better job of trying to sidestep the pressure, or at least trying to unload the ball quickly when he sees a blitzing opponent coming free. Perhaps a step forward for the rookie, Manuel took a set of first-team repetitions during a stretch of no huddle 11-on-11's. Kolb took the first set, followed by Manuel trotting out with the second team. Instead of switching again, Manuel stayed behind center when it was the first team's turn. Someone shouldn't win an open competition in only four days, but the evidence is suggesting that Manuel may not be that far away from taking it. The rookie's record to this point has been 3-0-1 against Kolb.
McKelvin moving up?
- With Justin Rogers on the sidelines during team drills on Tuesday it was a bit of a shock that T.J. Heath, and not the freshly re-signed Leodis McKelvin, was the man taking the first-team reps at left corner. On Wednesday, that was adjusted once again with Rogers on the sideline with a hamstring injury. McKelvin had all the first-team work at left cornerback as he still continues to come back from off-season surgery. In his first day back with the first unit, McKelvin was so-so. It was the message of him getting back to where many felt he would be at the start of camp that should be taken as what's important.
- Whether it was against the run or in coverage, safety Mana Silva had a rough time of it on Wednesday. Once the Bills got through their normal hour of positional work, they then started to work on the running game. Playing to a thud (contact without tackling), Silva was working with the third unit alongside draft pick Jonathan Meeks. Undrafted rookie running back Kendall Gaskins invoked the former Madden video game feature aptly titled "truck stick," and walloped Silva to the ground upon initial contact. Silva clearly wasn't ready for it and got knocked straight to the grass. Later on in the practice, perhaps still in a bit of a fog, the safety clearly was a step too late to rush up field and get to his man in coverage. The pass was completed and went for about a 15-yard gain, to which Silva threw up his arms in frustration walking back to the defensive backfield.
Da'Rick in demand?
- When speaking about Da'Rick Rogers at the post-practice press conference Wednesday, Head Coach Doug Marrone started off with something that will be welcomed whole-heartedly by fans excited about the wide receiver's prospects. Marrone said Rogers has really "stepped it up" in training camp from where he was during spring workouts, and that he is in very good physical shape. Those expecting a big impact from Rogers may not want to read the next part of his quote, which could throw water on the fire. The head coach concluded that Rogers will be competing for a roster spot. Not a starting job, just a roster spot. Rogers did get a few reps with the first-team on Wednesday, but nothing to write home about. Plenty of players are getting some time with the one's early on in training camp.
- During the install portion of practice, the defense showed an interesting look that some (including your author) thought could be on the way with the personnel that they have. Both Aaron Williams and Da'Norris Searcy, the current starting safeties, were on the field like normal. However, they were also joined by fourth-round rookie Duke Williams who posted up on the line of scrimmage as to be in coverage. Searcy also shifted down to the box, leaving a single-high safety look with Aaron Williams patrolling the field. It's clear they like Duke Williams, and there will be attempts to get him on the field in different ways.
Brown bears watching
- With Mario Williams not participating in team drills for the fourth straight day, one name that has consistently impressed is not the one everyone thought would step up at outside linebacker. While Jerry Hughes and Jamie Blatnick have been good in spots, it's been the play of the former tryout player Kourtnei Brown that has stood out -- not just to the media watching practice, but to the coaches as well. After finding himself getting second-team reps the past couple of practices, Brown even was on the field with the first-team on Wednesday. It's early, but he's shown quite strongly at St. John Fisher College.
- In what many consider to be a make-or-break season for third-year defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, there was some initial concern over his lack of repetitions throughout the first three days of practice. Being who he is, the former third overall pick of the Bills in 2011, Dareus being just a rotational player would be a huge story. However, there is an explanation behind it all seeing as how on Wednesday the defensive tackle got more looks with the first-team than he had through the first three days. Catching up with Dareus after practice, the defensive tackle revealed he was getting over a viral illness in the first couple of days at camp. He concluded that it's now in the past and that he's through the ailment. Sometimes it's the simplest of explanations that never get considered. However, it's still worthy of watching to see if his rep count stays the same as it was Wednesday.
New look for first-team WRs
- The constant through the first few practices have been Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham as the outside receivers with the first-team. Both were still a part of the first-team, but when they went to a three wide receiver look, there was a bit of a difference. Graham remained on the outside, while second-round rookie Robert Woods stood on the opposite side of the field. Standing in the slot was the Bills' top receiver, Stevie Johnson. Johnson and Woods have such similar skill-sets that they could be viewed as interchangeable, so getting each player ready for any role is very important moving forward. It's clear that the duo are the most talented receivers on the team, and the Bills must keep them on the field as much as possible.
Day 4 MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- For the second straight day, the Most Valuable Player goes to the top cornerback on the roster. Gilmore displayed toughness, a nose for the football and gave nothing easy to the receivers he was assigned to. He was flagged for a pass interference call, but really that was one of only two lapses on the whole day. You can tell Gilmore is getting very comfortable with his physicality at the line of scrimmage. On the play he was flagged for interference, wide receiver Kevin Elliott had to make an incredible diving catch just to avoid Gilmore's coverage. Head Coach Doug Marrone is very excited about Gilmore, and for good reason. He's really starting to come into his own.
Day 4 LVP: LGs Colin Brown and Doug Legursky
- It wasn't so much what happened on the field for both players battling to be the starting left guard this season. No, it was their head coach calling them out after practice to reporters, knowing they'd all write about it. If it was indeed a calculated move by Marrone, which very well could be the case, it was a smart one to try and light a fire in one of the two. The head coach concluded that he has not liked what he's seen out of Brown and Legursky, and was considering his options of trying someone else at left guard. After hearing or reading about that quote, one could assume both players will look a bit more motivated on Friday after their day off.
The Bills have Thursday off from practice and meetings, and will reconvene for another session the field on Friday at 8 am. Friday's practice will be open to the public without a ticket.