The Buffalo Bills got through their second straight day of work on Tuesday and took another step in their preparation for the upcoming regular season. Practice had a bit of a different feel to it than what the Bills had been doing throughout the rest of their time at St. John Fisher College.
In addition to a change in operations, the team’s quarterback also had one of his better days since training camp started in late July. Here are some observations from Tuesday’s practice:
It’s game week!
- The second-to-last preseason game is often known as the dress rehearsal for teams ahead of the grand opening that is Week One of the NFL season. Starters typically play longer, with the hopes that the first units can simulate a regular season as much as they can before being removed at some point in the second half. The Bills are taking it a step farther with the idea of the “dress rehearsal” in clear view of their thought processes. Head coach Doug Marrone is having his team watch film on their upcoming opponents, putting together scout teams and preparing a scaled-back game plan for both the starting offense and defense to execute. Quarterback EJ Manuel said after the practice that Tuesday’s work on the field was quite similar to a typical Wednesday during the regular season. Wednesdays are usually known as the biggest installation day for teams as they prepare for their upcoming contests. If the usual regular season schedule comes into play for the rest of the week, the Bills might go through a scaled back practice on both Wednesday and Thursday. The team also tried to implement more tempo into the first-team offense, which means that could be a part of the attack against Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
EJ’s perfect day
- Going up against the scout team on Tuesday, Bills quarterback EJ Manuel had one of his most successful days of training camp to this point. Regardless of where they were thrown, Manuel finished the day completing all 14 of his pass attempts in team drills. He settled for some short throws early on in the practice, but became increasingly comfortable operating in the pocket and started to take some more chances down the field. Two throws highlighted his day and it just so happened that they were his final two throws of the day. First, Manuel spotted T.J. Graham in single coverage on a go route down the left sideline. Graham battled through a defensive holding penalty, established separation and welcomed in the well-thrown pass for a 55-yard touchdown. Just two plays later, Manuel dropped back and saw Marquise Goodwin open on a slant over the middle that had an extremely tight window. Manuel trusted what he saw, zipped it over the outstretched arms of linebacker Preston Brown and got the ball into the hands of the wideout for a 20-yard gain. It’s an encouraging sign that Manuel has put together a quality performance in two of his past four times on the field.
T.J. Graham creeping closer?
- The recipient of Manuel’s best pass of the day also happens to be in a fight for his roster life over the next two weeks. Former third-round selection T.J. Graham struggled with confidence in his hands over the first few weeks of training camp which severely hurt his chances of sticking around on the final 53-man roster. Graham has been locked in a battle with wideout Marcus Easley for the sixth and likely final spot on the roster at that position, and up until this week, it’s looked like an easy decision. Easley provides more in special teams coverage and has shown well on offensive plays during camp. However, over the past two days of practice Easley has dropped a few passes, which has indeed opened the door a little bit more for his main competition. Graham has looked much more confident over the past two days of practice and is playing as well as he has this summer. Don’t count out Graham just yet.
Bills cut benefits Kouandjio
- The team brought their active roster down to 88 players on Tuesday ahead of practice, releasing both wide receiver Kevin Elliott and offensive tackle Edawn Coughhman. While the Elliott release could be just the Bills trying to narrow down their rather large wide receiver contingent, it appears as though the Coughman release has a very specific reason for happening. On Monday, Coughman was moved over to right tackle on the third-team and took all the snaps that came along with it. Now with the third-team right tackle out of the way, the Bills can use Cyrus Kouandjio on both the second and third units, which helps get him more reps and helps the Bills try to develop their second-round pick a bit more. It’s temporary because the regular season is a little over two weeks away, but the more snaps the team can get Kouandjio will be for the betterment of his progress as a rookie.
- The Bills welcomed back their first-round pick to practice after he sat out one day with a rib injury. Upon his return, Watkins was extremely limited in how much he participated in practice. He went through some of the individual drills, but that was the extent of it. During routes versus air, 7-on-7s and in team drills, Watkins watched from the sidelines. It is likely just a precautionary move for their prized rookie receiver. The Bills know he is much more important to them on the field against the Chicago Bears in the regular season rather than in action against either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Detroit Lions in the final two games of the preseason. Watkins might get some more time in practice on Wednesday, but don’t expect the Bills to try and force him into the lineup for Saturday’s exhibition.
Day 19 MVP: DE Jerry Hughes
- After left tackle Cordy Glenn rendered Jerry Hughes ineffective on Monday, Hughes came back on Tuesday with a fury. The first-team defense worked mostly against the second-team offense and Hughes was constantly in the backfield for sacks and tackles for loss. A three sack day during team drills is quite the way to bounce back from his worst practice of training camp in 2014. He’s been an overwhelming presence for the majority of camp this year.
Day 19 LVP: OT Chris Hairston
- When the Bills tried Chris Hairston inside at guard, it was a quality decision on paper. Hairston doesn’t deal well with speed rushers off the edge, and when he’s on the interior of the line, he doesn’t have those concerns. The experiment with him at guard failed, and the Bills kicked him back out to tackle — most notably as the second-team left tackle. Hairston fell prey to Hughes on multiple occasions Tuesday, and despite him being a once promising right tackle prospect, Hairston could be on his way out the door in early September.
Injury Update: S Jonathan Meeks (neck), LB Stevenson Sylvester (knee), CB Mario Butler (ankle) and CB Bobby Felder (groin) did not participate in Tuesday’s practice. TE Tony Moeaki left the session early for undisclosed reasons, but he had been previously dealing with a hamstring injury.
Up Next: The Bills will participate in their second-to-last practice at St. John Fisher College on Wednesday at 8 am. The session is open to the general public. No ticket is required for entry.