BBD Staff Writer: Glenn Gifford
At Buffalo Bills training camp Saturday, I was able to witness first-hand one of the most unusual injuries I have ever seen. Quarterback Kevin Kolb, on a routine jog over to the main field at St. John Fisher College, slipped on a rubber mat and spilled out onto the concrete, sustaining a left knee injury.
This was the last thing that the oft-injured quarterback needed. A very upset Kolb snapped off his shoulder pads and angrily walked to the training room. He was visibly upset and made no effort to hide his frustration.
As if on cue, rookie quarterback EJ Manuel stepped in with the first-team offense and did not disappoint. Manuel seized the opportunity that he was given and made several impressive runs and throws in the face of increased defensive pressure.
Manuel was able to run the read option with success and made some real heads-up plays. I’m not signaling the anointing of Manuel as Bills starter yet, but Saturday was not a good day for Kolb to slip. Kolb supporters beware: when opportunity knocks, Manuel answers.
Head coach Doug Marrone again spent a good amount of time during individual positional drills with the offensive line. His most animated moment, however, came when the offensive line jumped offsides in 11-on-11 work: his frustration was audible from the top of the bleachers. I also heard him calling out the O-line when the defense made three consecutive stops on designed runs.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s well-documented enthusiasm was on full display again. While I did not see him jumping or side bumping his quarterbacks, he does get animated often and his enthusiasm seems contagious for his offense.
At one point, the offense faced a third down and three yards to go in 11-on-11. Quarterback Jeff Tuel made a three-yard throw and running back Zach Brown gained just more than the required yardage. Hackett erupted in joy in the backfield, pleased that the offense was able to execute the play properly.
I will go on record saying that the special teams unit is going to be a worry for me. I have been impressed with rookie placekicker Dustin Hopkins, but the punting unit as well as the kickoff unit has several new faces. I will wait until a few preseason games to pass judgement, but the unit as a whole seems less organized and less enthusiastic about practice.
I also place this special teams concern under coaching, as current Bills special teams coordinator Danny Crossman has never had a unit ranked in the top half of NFL categories statistically. Nothing that I see in practice leads me to believe that the special teams will be anything more than average at best this season.
Goal Line Drill
One of the highlights of practice Saturday was full-contact goal line work between both sets of first team starters. The offense won the majority of the battles during these high-intensity plays. Fred Jackson, Kendall Gaskins and Zach Brown all ran hard and scored touchdowns.
The goal-line session was highlighted by two touchdown passes to offensive linemen. The best part about this was the screams and yells that were coming from many of the offensive players on the sidelines. When Thomas Welch caught a pass in the back of the end zone, the entire offense (both on and off the field) rushed into the end zone and swarmed Welch.
Later in practice, Hackett may have wanted to capitalize on the goal line success by running during the final 11-on-11 session. The offense was not successful in the last set of downs to end practice. The defense, still stinging from the goal line drill, asserted itself and shut down the Bills’ rushing attack. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus looked like a beast during this stretch.
Players of the Day: Offense
Manuel – I will try to temper my enthusiasm but I will say that watching Manuel run with the first-team offense excites me. I understand what people have been saying about him having the “it” factor. He remained poised under increased amounts of pressure Saturday. He makes plays with his feet and has a cannon for an arm.
Manuel stepped in Saturday and took full advantage of his opportunity. He had several nice throws in the intermediate range to Robert Woods, T.J. Graham and Da’Rick Rogers. He also hit Marcus Easley for a 60-yard touchdown. He made a great play avoiding the rush and hitting a wide open Da’Rick Rogers for a sure touchdown, but sadly, Rogers dropped the ball.
Rookie Receivers—Woods, Rogers and Marquise Goodwin are all quality football players. The Bills really struggled at the wide receiver position last year, but this year it appears that the wide receiver position may be a strength.
Woods really is a polished route runner. Goodwin plays much bigger than he is and I have been impressed with his physical play. Rogers is big, fast and has great hands, and has a good shot to start on this team. While they are all rookies, they have great potential and are showing very well.
Third-String Running Backs — Both Zack Brown and Kendall Gaskins looked very good in practice Saturday. I would be happy with either of them replacing Tashard Choice on the roster right now, though I do not think this will happen. There is a good shot one or both of these players could stick on the team’s practice squad.
Players of the Day: Defense
Dareus – BEAST! He was a stud Saturday and will dominate this year.
Stephon Gilmore – Gilmore has been on lockdown mode each day that I have seen him. In my opinion, he has been the best defensive player at camp thus far. I can’t wait to see him during the regular season. His growth and dedication to his craft is evident.
Arthur Moats – Moats is fighting for his job and it shows. He was working his tail off and played well Saturday. The only downside is that he is a liability in coverage. He is likely to make the team, but I also feel that Alonso and Bradham are the starters on the inside.
For those players that did not show too well Saturday, here is my version of the C’Mon Man segment made famous by ESPN.
Brandon Kaufman – While good hands will get you to camp, a wide receiver needs to block. Kaufman did not block a soul Saturday. He will not be a special teams contributor if he cannot block, and needs to work on all aspects of his game.
Doug Legursky and Colin Brown – The two men competing for the starting left guard job need to play bigger than they are. I was unimpressed with either of them at practice Saturday. What free agent guards are still available?
Mike Caussin – The oft-injured Caussin was out with injury Saturday. Getting hurt again really hurts his chances to make this team.
Crezdon Butler – Mr. Butler was toasted by receivers on a few plays and responded by getting into a fight with wide receiver Chris Hogan. Butler’s nose was bloodied but his pride was hurt even more. He needs to pick up his game.
Brad Smith – While Brad is a leader with the Bills’ young receivers, he is being outplayed by them. Brad will contribute on special teams but will struggle to find a place on the offense. He has to improve as a receiver or he will only be a specialist on special teams, assuming he makes the roster.
Dorin Dickerson – Where are you, Dorin? Why are you not doing anything in practice? I would like him to be doing and/or showing more in practice. He is not jumping off of the field and making any plays. He is by no means a sure thing to make the team.
Overall, there were several positives to take from Bills practice Saturday. We may have seen the emergence of the Bills new starting quarterback. The offense was productive on the goal line and Manuel made some nice intermediate throws to his rookie receivers.
The defense appeared to shore up their coverage and looked stout versus the run toward the end of practice. Buffalo has several rookies and undrafted free agents that will not only make the team but will contribute.
As mentioned, the hope I have with Manuel at the helm has made me excited for the first preseason game versus Indianapolis on Aug. 11. My greatest concern moving forward is the special teams unit. With so many new faces and a coach in Danny Crossman whose special teams units have been historically average, there is reason for concern with what I have seen over two practices.
If you have the opportunity, head over to St. John Fisher College and check out Bills training camp. It really is a great venue to watch practice! Remember, @VPGIFF got all the scoops to you first.
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