BBD Contributor: Glenn Gifford
During a few hours of extreme humidity at St. John Fisher College on Monday afternoon, I had the opportunity to take in the Buffalo Bills’ second practice of their 2014 training camp.
The team has many new faces and despite the injury to middle linebacker Kiko Alonso, defensive tackle Marcel Dareus’ off-field issues and Cordy Glenn’s mystery ailment, hope still springs eternal for the Bills’ embattled fan base.
Like the classic Clint Eastwood film, the theme of Monday’s training camp observations are The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Sammy Watkins: I am really trying to temper my enthusiasm with common sense when talking about Sammy Watkins. I cannot do it. The wide receiver looks like a complete based. He made several catches Monday that made him look well worth the steep price the Bills paid to move up to the No. 4 overall pick and select him in this year’s draft.
Watkins has fluid hips and great speed. His ability to run after the catch was evident Monday. He made one incredible catch in triple coverage that drew a variety of ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd. He is a special player who appears to come as advertised. It appears the Bills hit a home run with Watkins, who should be expected to come in and make instant and significant contributions on their offense.
The Running Backs: The ramblings and trash talk of Tashard Choice from last year’s camp are gone. Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon are major upgrades at running back.
Brown looked very good Monday and showed very quick feet. His jump cut and vision are excellent. I think he will establish himself as a valuable member of the Bills offense; the question that remains is how the Bills coaching staff will share the load with a strong stable of running backs that also includes C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Dixon.
Dixon is a big body but has more speed than running back/fullback Frank Summers. Buffalo might not need to carry a true fullback this season if “Boobie” Dixon can carry the mail at that spot. Summers is a capable blocker who caught a few passes last year, but Dixon is better. His skill was evident on Monday.
Spiller and Jackson shared carries Monday and displayed the skills we have come to expect from both of them. After a disappointing 2013 season, Spiller looked as quick as ever Monday. The Bills can check the box at the running back position, where they seem to be all set.
Jerry Hughes: Hughes was explosive Monday. The defensive end individually thwarted four consecutive plays versus the first-team offense. He was lightning quick off the snap and was able to easily beat Seantrel Henderson, who filled in for Glenn at left tackle, both outside and inside.
Hughes was considered to be a bit of a bust after three seasons in Indianapolis, but it seems that he has found a home in Buffalo. They say speed kills; Hughes’ speed killed Henderson on Monday. After a strong first season in Buffalo under then-defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Hughes appears set for another big year under new coordinator Jim Schwartz. It seems as though the Bills fleeced in Colts in last offseason’s trade that sent inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to Indianapolis for Hughes.
Kenny Ladler: Ladler made two great plays Monday in an overall impressive performance. The Bills have question marks at the strong safety position, where Da’Norris Searcy is competing with Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks; could Ladler be a factor? I was shocked when Ladler wasn’t drafted, but he’s a seemingly strong addition for the Bills.
Stefan Charles: Charles stepped in for Marcell Dareus as the Bills’ first-team nose tackle Monday and did a great job. He was a disruptive force in the middle. He and Corbin Bryant should both stick on Buffalo’s roster in some capacity.
Seantrel Henderson: I sure hope the much-maligned Henderson was still smarting from a hip injury he sustained Sunday night because Jerry Hughes made him look like a high school player Monday. Despite his off-field issues, Henderson showed talent on his game tape at Miami. However, it was clear Monday that he needs to be coached up because he was beaten with speed both inside and outside.
He had difficulty getting his hands out and maintaining any kind of separation. I will be curious to see how he looks tomorrow, but the Bills could have a long road ahead if Glenn is not healthy.
Chris Williams: Williams wasn’t a huge signing for the Bills this offseason, but he was expected to address a position of need at left guard. After Monday, I’m not sure if Williams is an upgrade at guard or just another body. Buffalo’s quarterbacks were under pressure as Williams struggled as a pass blocker.
Tony Moeaki: Bills general manager Doug Whaley has been talking up Tony Moeaki for the better part of the offseason, but I don’t get it. He dropped several passes Sunday and struggled with both his speed and his routes on Monday, making him easy to cover. Chandler is bigger and faster. Yes, Chandler is faster.
The Bills opted not to draft a tight end this year. Betting on Moeaki seems to be a risk. I was much more impressed with Chris Gragg, who looks noticeably bigger this year and should be Buffalo’s No. 2 tight end.
Execution: Monday’s practice was sloppy for the Bills offense. It had four false starts and did not look crisp at all. That is to be expected early in camp but it just did not look good today. The defense seemed to be leaps and bounds ahead of the offense at every level.
Special Teams: Practice comes to a standstill when the Bills are doing special teams drills. You cannot have full-out special teams workouts at practice but it is an uninspiring portion of the camp. The horn sounds, special teams coordinator Danny Crossman comes out and practice seems to stop for seven minutes. I feel Buffalo will continue to struggle on special teams as long as Crossman is at the helm.
Woods vs. Searcy: The first scuffle of training camp broke out during Monday’s final session of 11-on-11. Wide receiver Robert Woods and safety Da’Norris Searcy got into it after a little contact when Woods came over the middle. Searcy attempted a Kurt Angle belly-to-back suplex that did not work.
Woods, who was ejected from last year’s Bills home game against the Miami Dolphins for throwing a punch, seems to play with an edge.
Who Makes the Cut at Receiver? Even after trading Stevie Johnson, Buffalo will have to make some tough decisions at the wide receiver position this offseason. Watkins, Woods, Mike Williams and Marquise Goodwin should be locks to make the team. Chris Hogan, Marcus Easley, T.J. Graham and Kevin Elliott are among the other receivers who will be battling for a roster spot. The Bills did release one receiver Monday, Ramses Barden (along with linebacker Nathan Williams), but brought back another wideout in University at Buffalo alumnus Naaman Roosevelt (along with defensive tackle Landon Cohen).
Defensive Scheme: Coach Schwartz threw in a few blitz packages Monday, but the defense was primary in a 4-3 look and I did not see much of the “Wide 9″ scheme. Hughes looks to be Buffalo’s defensive end opposite Mario Williams, but there is reason for concern with the linebackers behind them. With that in mind, the defense looked very good Monday.
It is important for the Bills to work out the kinks. On Monday they looked like they just woke up, but it is early and expectations are low for the first couple practices. They still have nearly two weeks until they open the preseason in the Hall of Fame Game against the New York Giants on Aug. 3.
Want more coverage of Bills training camp? Check back Tuesday for a report on Tuesday’s morning practice, and follow along for live coverage of the practice, which begins at 8 a.m. ET, @VPGIFF on Twitter.
Tags: 2014 Training Camp, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Buffalo Bills, Chris Williams, Da'Norris Searcy, Jerry Hughes, Jim Schwartz, Kenny Ladler, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins, Seantrel Henderson, Stefan Charles, Tony Moeaki, Training Camp, Training Camp Observations