The highly anticipated first practice of the year has come and gone as the Buffalo Bills kicked off training camp at St. John Fisher College on Sunday night.
In front of a charged up crowd inside Growney Stadium, the Bills went through their first of two mandatory padless practices to ramp up for the remainder of camp. Just because there were no pads worn, the tempo of the practice certainly didn't dip from where it was during spring workouts.
After going through individual drills and stretching, the Bills opened up the second hour of practice by going after the defensive backs. One by one, each wide receiver ran a fly route down the sideline with either Kevin Kolb, EJ Manuel or Jeff Tuel tossing them the ball. It got the fans in attendance vocally involved and the players were showing some emotion during the drills as well.
Starting from that point, there were some players that stood out for both good and bad reasons. Here are some quick hits from the first night of practice:
QB EJ Manuel
- When the quarterbacks and wide receivers were going with an all-out assault on the defensive backs to start the second hour of practice, EJ Manuel was the main writer of the burn book. You could tell the rookie was feeling it during that portion of the practice, hitting most of his targets in stride on whatever route was called. T.J. Graham even revealed Manuel called him off a shorter route in favor of a fly, and the two converted for a touchdown. The rest of the practice did not provide as much positivity as that drill did. On one play in particular during 11-on-11's, Manuel stared down his receiver coming open over the middle of the field when matched up with a safety. The only problem, the free safety dropping back on the play read Manuel's eyes the entire way and easily cut in front of the ball for an interception. That player, Mana Silva, then returned it for a touchdown. An up and down day for the rookie, but the type of evening fans should come to expect from a young quarterback. However, you can see the natural arm talent when the ball is released -- it's something the Bills haven't seen in quite some time. Whether or not it translates to the regular season though is the lingering concern.
QB Kevin Kolb
- Getting all the first team reps during the first practice, Kolb was merely average. He correctly diagnosed some plays for short gains, was able to escape the pocket and throw the ball away when other plays broke down, but also threw two interceptions throughout the practice. He also had T.J. Graham on a perfect 15-yard slant over the middle and waited too long to pull the trigger. It ended up behind Graham and falling to the ground for an incompletion. Kolb is clearly the less talented of the two, but can still win this job as long as he doesn't make as many errors as he did on Sunday.
OLB Mario Williams
- Coming out in his helmet, jersey and shorts, Mario Williams didn't do much past the individual and stretching portion of the practice. Head Coach Doug Marrone revealed after that Williams had come to them and said he had a sore foot. The Bills chose to hold him out of practice on Sunday. Williams declined to comment after the practice, instead just deferring to the head coach. It doesn't sound very serious from the start, but something clearly to monitor in the coming days.
WR T.J. Graham
- It was quite the day for T.J. Graham. Outside of a couple of drops which he admitted to when speaking with reporters, Graham had an impressive practice. He burned down the right sideline twice catching a fly route for a touchdown on each repetition. Graham is also being trusted by the coaching staff, getting time with the first team opposite Stevie Johnson.
CB Justin Rogers
- In fact, Graham's biggest victim of the day was Justin Rogers. Rogers was burned down the sideline for both of the touchdowns where it wasn't even really that close. He saved the day for himself later on by forcing a fumble following a Marcus Easley catch on a slant route. If it wasn't for that, he would have been in strong consideration for LVP honors.
LG Colin Brown
- In the much less publicized battle at left guard, Colin Brown took all the first-team repetitions on Sunday night and flourished. Both in the 1-on-1's and team drills, Brown was consistently thwarting his opponent's efforts. In 1-on-1's especially, Brown had two showdowns where he completely dominated. The first was against Jay Ross and then later on versus Corbin Bryant. With his size and arm length in comparison to Doug Legursky, more days like that could wrap up the job pretty easily.
Offensive Line's three units
- Speaking of the offensive line, with the additions and subtractions over the past couple of days, here are how the top first, second and third-team units shook out on Sunday:
*From left tackle to right tackle
1st Team: Cordy Glenn, Colin Brown, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, Erik Pears
2nd Team: Thomas Welch, Doug Legursky, David Snow, Keith Williams, Sam Young
3rd Team: Zebrie Sanders, Zack Chibane, Ryan Turnley, Antoine Caldwell, Tony Hills/Hutch Eckerson
Marcell Dareus / D-Line
- On the defensive side of the trenches, one notable name was only taking every third set of plays during team drills. Perhaps former third overall pick Marcell Dareus was limited, but he only took part in that many 11-on-11's, and only did took a single 1-on-1 rep. Doug Marrone was not asked about Dareus and did not address it on his own, so we'll have to see what the story is on Monday.
Day 1 MVP: LB Marcus Dowtin
- The opening day Most Valuable Player honors goes to Marcus Dowtin, who fans will get very acclimated with this season. With the way he's been used throughout the spring and through the first day, the Bills have a very versatile role for him lined up. Dowtin lined up at both outside and inside linebacker during different 11-on-11 drills Sunday, constantly finding himself around the play. He tore Hutch Eckerson to shreds in 1-on-1's and had the play of the day during team drills as well. A deflected Kevin Kolb pass looked like it was out of reach for everyone, but Dowtin tracked it down and made a diving grab along the sidelines for an interception. He may not start and he might not be the first defender you think of with this group, but fans will see plenty of Marcus Dowtin if the past few months have been any indication.
Day 1 LVP: OT Zebrie Sanders
- The second-year offensive tackle did not have the type of first training camp practice he would have liked to. Considering he basically redshirted during his rookie season, Sanders struggled out of the gates to start camp in 2013. Going against Manny Lawson twice during 1-on-1's Sanders was blown out of the water on his first attempt, and then had to grab a good portion of Lawson's jersey just to minimally slow him down on the second. For someone people had hopes for this season, it was a rough start.
The Bills hit the practice field for their second day of workouts on Monday at 2 pm. The session is open to the public.