BBD Contributor: Glenn Gifford
Tuesday’s training camp practice for the Buffalo Bills looked eerily similar to Monday’s practice, the only difference being the addition of pads. Some nice plays were made by a handful of players but on the whole, the Bills offense looked horribly out of sync.
While still very early in the whole training camp process, there were a few things I noticed over my two days at St. John Fisher College that should give Bills fans pause for concern. With U2′s classic song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as our theme this time, here are my observations from Tuesday’s practice.
What I Found
Stephon Gilmore: Gilmore looks great at camp. Last year he was performing similarly well before he was bitten by the injury bug, but he is having another productive camp and looks, if he can stay healthy, to be the shutdown cornerback the Bills expect him to be. He had several pass breakups Tuesday and his consistent coverage against Bills receivers led Buffalo QB’s to drop and run frequently. Gilmore Island? The Bills hope so.
Ross Cockrell: A fourth-round selection in this year’s draft from Duke, Cockrell proved himself to be a quality football player Tuesday. The cornerback made several plays that showed he has really good ball skills. He made a diving save on special teams that prevented a punt from going into the end zone, an effort by the outstretched cornerback which would have pinned the offense on the two yard line, and which brought loud cheers from the special teams players and those on the sidelines.
Watching Cockrell closely Tuesday made it look as though Ron Brooks really has his work cut out for him to make the team. Cockrell should be a solid contributor, especially on special teams.
Jerry Hughes: Hughes was once again a major irritant to all of Buffalo’s quarterbacks. Either the defensive end is growing into an accomplished pass-rusher, or left tackle Seantrel Henderson is far worse than initially thought (probably a little of both). Hughes was in the backfield all day Tuesday and was again able to use his speed to confuse Bills tackles on both inside and outside moves.
Sammy Watkins: The Buffalo Bills paid a steep price for Watkins. It looks worth every penny. He is a freak athlete with elite speed. He can draw double coverages which will allow Buffalo’s other talented receivers—Robert Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin—to make defenses pay.
Running Backs: The additions of Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown to a running back depth chart that already included C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson gives Buffalo one of the most talented backfields in the NFL. Both Brown and Dixon immediately upgrade the Bills’ running back stable from last year. Dixon’s versatility to play fullback and catch passes out of the backfield makes Frank Summers expendable.
The Jim Schwartz Defense: The Bills defense will indeed blitz under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Specifically, the safety blitz gave the Buffalo offense trouble Tuesday. Both projected starter Da’Norris Searcy and undrafted rookie Kenny Ladler got through Tuesday on the safety blitz and made plays. While many fans expressed worry about yet another defensive scheme change following Mike Pettine’s departure to be Cleveland Browns head coach, Buffalo’s defense is looking capable at this early juncture.
What I’m Looking For
Cordy Glenn: The Buffalo Bills desperately need left tackle Cordy Glenn to be healthy. Without Glenn manning the left tackle position, the Buffalo offense has looked completely scrambled. Seantrel Henderson, Glenn’s replacement, is struggling mightily and has been a turnstile versus Jerry Hughes. Chris Hairston, another option at left tackle, has worked mostly at guard.
The Bills need Cordy Glenn in their lineup to be successful. While losing Kiko Alonso on defense was a big blow, losing Glenn on the offensive line would be an even bigger loss.
Duke Williams: Opportunity is knocking for safety Duke Williams. Where is he? Da’Norris Searcy has received all of the first-team reps at strong safety for the past two days, which leaves me wondering why Williams has not stepped up to contribute. Ladler, a first-year UDFA from Vanderbilt, has made a much bigger impact at practice over the past two days. Williams, a hard-hitting second-year player from Nevada, was expected by many to take over for Searcy, who seems to help with the run but struggles in coverage. So far, Williams has done nothing noteworthy.
Effective Use of Tight Ends: This might have more to do with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett than the Bills’ tight end. Buffalo has shown little to no use of its tight ends in 11-on-11 work in each of the past two days.
I was critical of Tony Moeaki Monday. Nothing I saw from him Tuesday changed my mind. Second-year tight end Chris Gragg was not suited up Tuesday. For Gragg, missed time is missed opportunity. In all likelihood, Scott Chandler will win the tight end job by default and have another average year. In a league where the role of the tight end has changed to “pass catcher,” the Bills seem fixed on mediocrity at the tight end position, starting a player in Chandler who explored the free-agent market but ended up back in Buffalo for less money.
Marcell Dareus: Dareus, who made the Pro Bowl after a great year at nose tackle last season, needs to get his head on straight. By coming to training camp and failing his conditioning test after an offseason that included two arrests, it’s easy to wonder about Dareus and his commitment to being a professional football player.
EJ Manuel: Manuel needs to be better. It is early, but he has looked shaky thus far. This might be partially due to the fact that he has consistently been under duress from the defense due to poor protection up front.
Manuel needs to take a big step forward this year. He has all the tools to do so, but has struggled with timing and ball location thus far in training camp. Once the offensive line situation becomes clear, I think his game will improve. It is not yet time for Bills fans to panic but let’s be honest, without an improvement in Manuel’s game this year, Buffalo will struggle regardless of the weapons he is surrounded with.
My first recommendation to all Bills fans is to set your expectations for the Hall of Fame game very low. Expect the offense to struggle mightily. Seantrel Henderson is not the answer, so the Bills will struggle if Glenn is unable to play.
The defense will blitz and fans will see a unit that is stingy against the run. Dareus needs to get himself straightened out and in shape, but the Bills should have a solid foundation on defense despite the loss of Alonso.
If a Glenn-led offensive line has some time to work together, the Bills should make a step forward this year. Ultimately, however, Manuel’s development needs to be significant for the Bills to become relevant this year.
Tags: 2014 Training Camp, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Cordy Glenn, Duke Williams, EJ Manuel, Jerry Hughes, Jim Schwartz, Marcell Dareus, Ross Cockrell, Sammy Watkins, Seantrel Henderson, St. John Fisher College, Stephon Gilmore, Training Camp, Training Camp Observations