Pittsford, NY (WGR550) -- With only a few days to go before the Buffalo Bills get their preseason schedule started in Indianapolis, the team once again took to the practice field on the campus of St. John Fisher College.
For the first time during training camp, the injuries became fairly noticeable. The team started off without 13 players practicing, and two more had to end their days early due to injury. Quarterback Kevin Kolb, wide receiver Stevie Johnson, cornerback Leodis McKelvin, cornerback Justin Rogers, wide receiver Kevin Elliott, outside linebacker Keith Pough, tight end Mike Caussin, defensive lineman Corbin Bryant, running back Zach Brown and defensive lineman Aaron Tipoti all either were not visible at practice or they were to the side in just a jersey and a pair of shorts.
Two other players, outside linebacker Kourtnei Brown and defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert, "dressed for the day" in full pads but immediately went to go work with trainers after the team's stretching period. Running back Kendall Gaskins and wide receiver Brad Smith each had to stop practicing before the day was over. Gaskins was walked back to the locker room with trainers, and Smith had his leg wrapped and took off his shoulder pads still with time to go in practice.
There were plenty of takeaways from Thursday morning's session, including the quarterback position continuing on for the fourth straight day without Kolb at practice.
Manuel marching towards possible preseason start
- It hasn't been officially proclaimed just yet by Head Coach Doug Marrone, but with so little practice time for Kevin Kolb over the past week, one would have to assume rookie EJ Manuel is a good bet to start the team's opening preseason game on Sunday. He's taken over 100 more reps in practice than Kevin Kolb to this point, and the veteran is still trying to overcome a knee injury. Manuel took a step forward from where he had been the prior three practices. The rookie's timing on passes over the middle with some of his receivers was very good, and he even found T.J. Graham on a fly route down the left sideline. All in all, it was a positive day for Manuel.
Brooks beat deep
- The player that was beat deep by the speedy T.J. Graham was the man starting opposite Stephon Gilmore for the day due to a pair of injuries. Second-year player Ron Brooks got time on the field, and was beat deep very early on by the Manuel-to-Graham combination. The good thing about Brooks was that he didn't let the earlier play affect him through the rest of practice. Brooks and Nickell Robey chipped in to swat away a deep shot down the middle of the field to Marcus Easley. Brooks needs to keep his confidence up because he will likely have a big role with the team this year in nickel situations at least. If Leodis McKelvin struggles, he could be the first call to the outside as well.
Hughes huge again
- Throughout every training camp, there are a few jersey numbers you write down time and time again for positive plays. In 2013, outside linebacker Jerry Hughes is one of those players. Throughout practices, he's proved to be a nuisance to both left tackle Cordy Glenn and right tackle Erik Pears. On Thursday, Hughes got the better of Pears on a wide rush during 11-on-11 drills. He's such a quick-twitch athlete that offensive tackles that don't have quick enough feet will struggle to stay with him. If Hughes can play in the season as well as he has in the past few months, the Bills will have won that trade with Indianapolis by a wide margin.
Mental lapses for WRs with big-time potential
- Heading into training camp, one of the biggest selling points for fans was about undrafted wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers. Before getting kicked out of Tennessee, Rogers was thought to be a potential first-round pick. As everyone knows now, much has happened in the meantime with off-the-field concerns in addition to other things. Both he and fellow bubble wideout Marcus Easley have great size for the position, but they're holding themselves back with moments of weakness in the mental side of the game. Rogers looked to corral a ball in tight coverage, took one step and it flew out of his hands without a defender putting a finger on him. With Easley, he had a chance to make a big play with Jumal Rolle and Jonathan Meeks draped all over him. Easley had a good chance at catching the ball with two hands and instead let it drop to the turf. Those haven't been the first examples of these types of plays for the duo, which allows for other players at the position to get more time on the field.
- This round goes to the rookie. Sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins had his best performance at training camp thus far by going perfect in his field goal attempts Thursday. Hopkins put all 12 tries through the uprights, including a 50-yard attempt. It's a day the rookie needed considering last time around in practice he went 5-of-11. For the veteran Rian Lindell, he had his usual type of performance. Lindell made 10-of-13 field goals, missing from 39, 43 and 51 yards out. The front office and coaching staff had to be very happy to see Hopkins have that kind of day and not have any residual from his last attempts in a practice. The 50-plus yard kick during the scrimmage that would have been good from 60 couldn't have hurt his causes for getting over the poor day, either.
Blatnick continues strong training camp
- The way outside linebacker Jamie Blatnick has at times dominated his competition on the field during training camp, it's going to be very hard for the Bills to not include him on the 53-man roster. Blatnick won a pair of attempts during one-on-one's against the offensive line quite easily. On his first try he whipped around left tackle Thomas Welch with a speed rush, even making the big tackle fall to the ground in trying to catch up to him. On a later attempt, Blatnick made third-team left tackle Zebrie Sanders look foolish as well.
Full circle at left guard
- The starting left guard position is turning into a bit of a carousel. Colin Brown was once again back with the first team on Thursday. Cordy Glenn shifted back over to left tackle, and Doug Legursky took the backseat and got reps with the second team at left guard. Neither player has really stood out for positive play to this point, but Head Coach Doug Marrone was much more complimentary towards the duo than he had been in past press conferences. Even still, it should and will be looked at as the biggest weakness of the offensive line unless one of the two can step up to a higher level and win the job.
Mawae taking extra time to tutor
- A member of the Bills' coaching staff for training camp, long-time starting center Kevin Mawae is trying to learn the ropes of teaching the younger players. After practice, Mawae took extra time to work personally with second-team center David Snow. Being so successful at the position for so long, Snow likely jumped at the opportunity to work with someone as well thought of as Mawae is. He'll need a strong preseason and final eight days of training camp to try and make the team, but at this point he's likely on the outside looking in.
Day 10 MVP: WR Chris Hogan
- As far as receivers go, Chris Hogan might be jack-of-all-trades but a master at none just as the old adage says. Hogan is quite fast, but not the fastest. He's strong, but not nearly the strongest. All he really does is stay consistent in his breakdowns and provides a good throwing window for whatever quarterback is attempting to get him the ball. Over halfway through camp, Hogan has been the best receiver between himself, Da'Rick Rogers and Marcus Easley. Whether or not he actually makes the team though is another story entirely. With as much interest as he got after the draft, the thought that they could sneak Rogers to the practice squad might be a foolish one. It's more likely that Hogan is the easier player to get to the practice squad, which may inevitably do Hogan in. However, the former 'Hard Knocks' star has been the best of those three day in and day out.
Day 10 LVP: CB Don Unamba
- Newly signed to the Bills, Unamba was likely getting some of his first action during 11-on-11s over the course of the past few days. On Thursday though, Unamba couldn't buy a play during one stretch in particular. First, the cornerback lost his rather shifty assignment (Marquise Goodwin) and the wideout had a perfect strike thrown to him from Jeff Tuel. It wasn't over there for Unamba. Trying to catch up with a full head of steam, he ended up colliding with fellow rookie Duke Williams. The very next play, the Bills went right after Unamba again, and the cornerback bit hard on a fake on the play. Wide receiver DeMarco Sampson zoomed by the cornerback and had a good five steps on him in coverage. Had it not been for a poorly thrown pass by Tuel, Unamba wouldn't even have had a shot at it. Unamba will likely be one of the first cuts when the team has to get down to 75 players on August 27.
The Bills have one more practice before they get on the road for their first preseason game. Practice is set for Friday night from 6 to 9. Fans hoping to attend need a ticket to get in.