BBD Staff Writer: Ryan Talbot
Remember Heads Up, Seven Up? Of course you do. Everyone played this guessing game growing up in elementary school. I use the term guessing lightly, because let’s be honest, a lot of kids peeked and watched who tapped their thumbs.
On Tuesday, I felt like one of those students who peeked, so to speak. During the Buffalo Bills’ morning practice, I saw a glimpse of how the rookies and veterans are performing, players who should stay as depth and which Bills players are on the verge of emerging as superstars. Based on Tuesday’s practice, here are seven players whose stock is going up.
Place cornerback Stephon Gilmore into the emerging superstar category. On Tuesday, Gilmore shut down everyone who lined up against him.
Bills defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson knows how special Gilmore is and can become. On Tuesday morning, Henderson was chirping to the offense that they wouldn’t dare throw at Gilmore and that the ball would be going towards the other defensive back. Henderson was right more times than not.
Early in team drills, E.J. Manuel tossed a ball to the right sideline that Gilmore sniffed out for an interception. Later in the practice, Gilmore broke up a pass intended for Robert Woods. Occasional completions will be made on Gilmore, but he’s always in the play. That’s all you can ask of your top cornerback.
Please take a deep breath, Bills fans. I’m not campaigning for Kolb to start, but I do believe the team should keep Kolb around for veteran depth. Truth be told, this is one year that I’d be fine with Buffalo carrying three quarterbacks.
On Tuesday, Kolb was the best quarterback on the field. Kolb’s release was faster, his throws were more accurate and he showed better mobility on his recently-injured knee.
Kolb threw two deep passes right on the money on Tuesday, one to speedster Marquise Goodwin and the other to Da’Rick Rogers. Both receivers slipped past the secondary and Kolb hit them in stride. In the short to intermediate range, Kolb was also accurate with plenty of zip on his passes. While I’ve only been at camp for two days, I’m confident in saying that Tuesday was one of his best practices.
Last year, I felt that Derek Hagan was a lock for a roster spot at wide receiver. I was wrong. Chris Hogan will hope I don’t go 0-for-2 with my lock statements, because he looks like a lock to make the team at this point.
On Tuesday, Hogan received first-team repetitions with T.J. Graham nursing a groin injury, and Hogan made many catches. It’s apparent that the quarterbacks on this roster feel confident throwing Hogan the ball, as he was the recipient of quite a few receptions on Tuesday.
Buffalo even added a few new wrinkles for Hogan on Tuesday, when he carried the ball on end-around runs. Hogan looks like he is comfortably among Buffalo’s top five wide receivers.
“Flash” has lived up to his nickname in training camp and showed off his speed again on Tuesday. Goodwin caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Kolb during practice while also showing the ability to run solid routes on intermediate patterns.
Goodwin received high praise from a fellow player or coach on Tuesday. I didn’t see exactly which coach or player said it, as they were grouped together, but the person simply said, “If I had to cover Goodwin, I’d just run straight back to the pylon.” Everyone has noticed Goodwin’s exceptional speed.
This one is very vague, but the entire offensive line impressed me on Tuesday. The line did a nice job of picking up blitzes as well as providing a push up the middle on runs.
The Bills also practiced quite a few tackle-eligible plays, where the offensive tackle was the intended receiver on a passing play. It was great to see the offensive tackles having so much fun running routes. Don’t be surprised if the Bills throw a few touchdowns this season to offensive linemen.
Powell became a big winner of this training camp Tuesday when he was declared the victor of the punting competition. The Bills announced early Tuesday that Brian Stahovich, his competition at punter, had been cut.
Powell didn’t let up in the wake of this news Tuesday as he boomed several punts longer than 50 yards. If the Bills get buried deep in their own territory this season, Powell’s leg strength should help make sure that the opposing team’s field isn’t too short.
The one area where Powell needs work is on directional punting. He is punting the ball into the end zone for touchbacks too often. If he can improve that aspect of his game, he has the ability to be Buffalo’s punter for a long time.
Gragg stood out when Buffalo’s quarterbacks were doing passing drills with the team’s tight ends. Running side-by-side with the likes of Scott Chandler and Nick Provo, Gragg’s speed was on display. He clearly has the speed of a wide receiver.
At 6’3″ and 244 pounds, Gragg has below-average size for a tight end, but he looks the part on the field and blocks surprisingly well. Most of all, Gragg has sure hands. If the ball is delivered in an area where Gragg can catch the ball, he most likely will.
I’m not sitting here saying Gragg will be a major contributor in 2013, but his ability to create mismatches should benefit the team from time to time this season.