Pittsford, NY (WGR 550) -- Before the rain clouds moved in on St. John Fisher College, fans in attendance were greeted by a sun-splashed morning with the Buffalo Bills out on the field for practice. While the actual play on the field didn't become the main story of the day, the team's best offensive performance in training camp thus far took place on Friday.
For the first time, it seemed as though the defense were the ones being caught off-guard by their teammates on the opposite side of the ball. While it wasn't a giant leap forward for the unit, it's still a day the offense can look to and build from.
Here are some observations from Friday's activities:
EJ's first first
- On Friday, first-round quarterback EJ Manuel checked off another item on the to-do list of "things a rookie quarterback has to do to start by Week 1." Manuel got some first-team repetitions on Wednesday, but that was after Kevin Kolb already had the initial run with the one's. On Friday during a later 11-on-11 period of practice, Manuel marched out on to the field with the first team to lead off the drill. It might not read like a huge deal, but the symbolic nature of being the guy to get the first snap in a drill looms large. Both quarterbacks had their best practices of camp thus far, getting the ball to the young wideouts that consume the Bills' roster. Kolb had an impressive touch throw to T.J. Graham in the back middle of the end zone for a score, to which he jumped up to chest bump offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. To end the practice on a simulated 4th-and-8 situation, Manuel hit rookie Marquis Goodwin on a fly route for a 60-plus yard touchdown. The entire offense, including Hackett, bolted down the field to celebrate the big play.
Carrington quietly coming on
- Many fans have been critical of the Bills' 2010 draft class, but if all goes well for one man along the defensive line, it could dramatically improve the way people may look back on it. Former third-round pick Alex Carrington has slowly but surely worked his way from being inactive on game day early in his career, to special teams contributor, then to rotational defensive lineman and now in to a potential starter. The former college defensive end has been moved all along the defensive line, but never really found a home. The Bills and new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could have a rather prominent role in line for him. As a defensive end in Pettine's 3-4 base scheme, Carrington will be looked to continue his pass-rushing prowess from the interior. He's gotten first-team repetitions over a free agent signing that many believed would walk right in and get a starting job. That hasn't been the case so far, and Carrington is a name to watch in 2013.
Branch quiet altogether
- Speaking of that very free agent, defensive lineman Alan Branch has not done much to discern himself from the rest of the crowd fighting for playing time. He succeeded in Seattle's front last season, but hasn't quite flashed through the first five days of training camp. It could be a case of getting familiarized with one's surroundings, but Branch has run with the second-team the majority of the time and was dominated in a 1-on-1 attempt against undrafted rookie Zack Chibane on Friday. Being only on a one-year deal, is the veteran's safety actually guaranteed on this roster? With a signing bonus of $1.45 million this off-season, the answer is still probably yes. If he doesn't start to show up with solid play during training camp or the preseason, further doubt could start to creep in.
- Taking a rest day on Wednesday might have been the best thing for tight end Scott Chandler. After having to go on the exercise bike for the remainder of Tuesday's practice, Chandler simply worked on the side with trainers Wednesday and of course had the day off (like the rest of the team) on Thursday. Despite the rehab process still going, Chandler got back on the field Friday and had a bit of a spring in his step. He was going with full force and even got back in to taking reps during the 11-on-11 portions of practice. A day off every here or there will be the likely play moving forward with Chandler.
Legursky leaps up
- On Wednesday, Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone called out his left guard position. He's not happy with the production there so far into training camp and made a change from one practice to the next. Colin Brown took the first team repetitions at left guard through the first four days, which left the head coach unsatisfied. On Friday, it was Doug Legursky's turn. After practice, Marrone said that unless one of the two steps it up, there will continue to be a rotation for that job. He then conceded however that they're going to try and get them as many reps as possible, because at this point the most viable option to start is likely between those two players.
Second scuffle of summer
- While the skill position players took part in 7-on-7's, the offensive and defensive linemen got ready for another day of 1-on-1 drills. It's one of the most competitive parts about any football practice, and things got a tad heated between two players on Friday. Third string right tackle Hutch Eckerson stood up outside linebacker Jerry Hughes on an attempt to get to the quarterback. After the play, the two kept staring at each other and eventually Hughes gave a shove to Eckerson. The two engaged and spilled over to where some of the defensive linemen were standing. An assistant coach immediately ran over to break it up, but not before they almost ran in to a shoulder-padless Mario Williams who was innocently standing by. Those wondering who won, it was a draw between the two.
- Only the second time throughout camp that the Bills dedicated their special teams time to the kicking competition, it was not a strong day for either veteran Rian Lindell or rookie Dustin Hopkins. Counting all attempts, even the one's that had no rush coming at them, both Lindell and Hopkins went 12-of-18 on the day. It's been a fairly even competition to this point. Through the two days of kicking, Hopkins is only slightly ahead hitting 26-of-35 attempts. Lindell is 25-of-36 attempts. Just like the quarterback position, the tie will likely go to the rookie so the veteran needs to string together big days coming up.
- The one thing that was switched up in the kicking competition Friday is each kicker had a new holder. Lindell had punter Brian Stahovich, while incumbent punter Shawn Powell joined Hopkins for an all Florida State operation. While the primary focus is on the kickers, the punters have to be secure in catching and placing the ball down for Lindell and Hopkins. Now in both days that the Bills worked on field goal kicking, Stahovich has botched one catch-and-hold per day. If he's the better punter, he can work that out perhaps. If it's an even competition though, all things -- including holding -- need to be considered.
Day 5 MVP: WR Robert Woods
- Already working with the first team, second-round rookie Robert Woods stood out for all the right reasons on Friday. He caught two touchdown passes, showing effortless precision in his route running. Most rookie wide receivers need some buffer time in training camp to show that type of savvy, but Woods is showing he could be ready to contribute right now. Likely without Stevie Johnson now in practice, Woods has a huge opportunity to become a big-time target of their offense.
Day 5 LVP: CB Crezdon Butler
- The cornerback play in general hasn't been the best for the Bills in training camp. With Butler though, he got beat clean by his assignment on a few separate occasions and could have been called for penalties a few different times. Heading in to camp as a potential sleeper for the starting job, Butler has failed to work his way up the depth chart to this point due to inconsistency at the position.
The Bills resume practice on Saturday at 8 am. The session is open to the public and fans do not need a ticket to enter.