AFC East: EJ Manuel

Watkins plays through pain for first TD

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins, practice was one thing. The fourth overall pick dazzled in training camp with multiple awe-inspiring catches caught on video.

Translating that over to a game came slowly. Watkins injured his ribs in the preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers before returning for the preseason finale and leaving again with a similar injury. Last week, three catches in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears were the extent of his production in an overtime win.

That all changed Sunday when Watkins broke through with an eight-catch, 117 yard performance in a 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins.

Watkins was targeted 11 times, while all other Bills receivers totaled 15 targets. Watkins' 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter was the Bills' lone passing touchdown of the game and the first career score for the first receiver taken in May's draft.

"It was amazing," Watkins said. "Just to see how the fans got involved and to have my first TD [at] the Ralph was amazing."

Watkins continues to play through pain. He came off the field twice Sunday, including on the first drive after taking hits from defenders. In one case, he was hunched over on the sideline as the offense was on the field.

But in both cases, he was checked out by trainers and returned to action.

"I feel great," Watkins said of his health. "We got the win, and that's the ultimate goal. We just have to keep working."

Given his apparent discomfort, the Bills will need to be careful how much they work Watkins moving forward. He remains an important part of their offense and a rib injury in September that lingers into November would be a problem.

For now, Watkins has shown an ability to play through the pain and after a slow start, that's exactly what the Bills need from him.

"It happened that a lot of calls and progressions had him getting the ball and coming open," quarterback EJ Manuel said. "I'm very proud of him."

Rapid Reaction: Buffalo Bills

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Buffalo Bills' 29-10 win over the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

What it means: Don't look now, but the Bills are 2-0 and can be alone atop the AFC East with a New York Jets loss later Sunday. The surprising Bills have played sound defense, received strong special-teams contributions and limited their mistakes on offense to win their first two games. On an emotional afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium -- when the former owner was remembered in a speech from Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly -- the Bills' sellout crowd helped drive the team's first division win of the young season. EJ Manuel went 16-for-26 passing for 202 yards, playing the type of controlled game the Bills need from their second-year quarterback.

Stock watch: CB Corey Graham, up. Coming off a strong performance in the opener -- when he snagged the Bills' first interception of the season -- Graham received the start over Leodis McKelvin and continued to prove he deserves the role. While the Bills rotated Graham, McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore at points in Sunday's game, Graham has consistently played the best of the three. He added a team-high three passes defended against Miami.

Watkins plays through pain: After managing three catches in the season opener, rookie Sammy Watkins led the Bills with eight catches for 117 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter -- his first career score. Watkins played through pain, coming off the field twice after taking hits from defenders. Trainers examined his rib area on the sideline both times, but the No. 4 overall pick came back into the game in each instance. He is clearly not 100 percent, making his performance more impressive.

Game ball: RB C.J. Spiller. The Bills decided to swap out speedster Marquise Goodwin for Spiller on kickoffs this season, leading to questions about risking injury to an offensive weapon like Spiller by using him on special teams. Spiller was banged up on the opening kickoff and left for the locker room, but he returned and made his mark on a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter. He later broke a 47-yard run, causing Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes to miss in the open field.

What's next: The Bills will remain at home next Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. Excitement is high in Western New York as the Bills seek their first 3-0 start since 2011.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- An examination of what the Buffalo Bills must do after their 23-20 overtime win over the Chicago Bears:

For the Bills, let's pinpoint the offense's performance on third down. With a 33 percent conversion rate, the Bills are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for 17th in the NFL through Sunday's games.

Of the 10 teams with a worse third-down conversion rate during opening weekend, only the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings came away with wins.

In other words, the Bills will need to get better in that phase if they want to win consistently.

Sunday's third-down rate was a two-pronged problem. First, the running game was largely ineffective early on, outside of Anthony Dixon's 47-yard run in the second quarter. C.J. Spiller saw a heavier workload early and averaged 1.6 yards on his first eight carries, putting the offense in longer third-down situations.

Second, the Bills weren't coming through when there were 7 or more yards to go on third downs. They went 0-for-6 in those situations.

Here is a breakdown:
  • Third-and-11, first quarter: EJ Manuel scrambles for 7 yards.
  • Third-and-9, second quarter: Manuel completes to Fred Jackson for 3 yards (caught 5 yards behind line of scrimmage; 8 yards gained after catch).
  • Third-and-21, second quarter: Manuel completes to Spiller for 3 yards (caught at line of scrimmage).
  • Third-and-8, third quarter: Manuel incomplete to Robert Woods (thrown 18 yards downfield; holding penalty on Erik Pears declined).
  • Third-and-11, fourth quarter: Manuel scrambles for 8 yards.
  • Third-and-10, fourth quarter: Manuel complete to Jackson for 5 yards (caught at line of scrimmage).

The trend is clear: Of the six plays, Manuel threw one pass beyond the line of scrimmage, and it was incomplete. Otherwise, it was scrambles or checkdowns and screens to running backs.

That's what we saw throughout training camp and the preseason, so if the Bills want to improve their third-down offense, Manuel will need to drive the ball downfield.
CHICAGO -- Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone sensed a "different" feeling from his team prior to Sunday's 23-20 overtime win over the Chicago Bears.

Now we may know one reason why.

According to several players in the locker room, second-year quarterback EJ Manuel stopped an offensive meeting at the Bills' team hotel Saturday evening and gave a speech -- considered by one teammate to be out of character for Manuel -- that aimed to rally an offense that has been the subject of criticism in recent weeks.

It started when coordinator Nate Hackett was speaking to his group, one that finished near the bottom of the league in several statistical categories this preseason.

"He told Hackett, 'Hold on, I got something to say,'" wide receiver Robert Woods said of Manuel. "And he stood up in front of the whole offense. Had everyone's ears about five minutes. Shut the whole meeting down pretty much. There was nothing else that needed to be said after he spoke."

Players said Manuel wanted the offense to hold together even as it faced more and more scrutiny.

"He was just letting us know that it was pretty much us against the world, that we were the underdogs," running back Anthony Dixon said. "I know they had [the Bears] picked [as the] favorite. He was just saying that we [are] all we got. Basically we [are] all we need. We know we can win. We know we can compete against the best teams."

"We were fired up. We've taken a lot of heat lately. I think it all culminated in the past couple days," center Eric Wood said. "I think we were kind of fed up with everybody talking about us as poorly as they were."

"[He] just released what he felt about this offense and what we could do, all these weapons," Woods added.

It was the first time that Dixon, who arrived as a free agent in the spring, has seen that side of Manuel's personality.

"We fed off that," Dixon said. "I'm looking forward to seeing that same person all the time now."

"That just carried over today. He spoke to the team again," Woods said. "The same energy, confident. He has everyone in this room believing in him, rocking with him."

Manuel went 16-for-22 passing for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He didn't light up the box score, but Manuel had the sort of managed, controlled performance that the Bills needed as they endured a second-half rally from the Bears to send the game into overtime.

After all, hanging tough was part of Manuel's message Saturday night.

"He just wanted us to know that we need to stick together no matter what happened," Dixon said. "No matter what type of adversity hit when we get out there. We need to stick together and just keep grinding, just keep fighting."
It was the ballad of the Buffalo Bills during the preseason: We're holding a lot back, so wait and see what our offense will show you in the regular season.

Now we've reached that point, and it's time for the Bills to show they offered more than empty promises.

Throughout an abysmal preseason for EJ Manuel and the Bills' offense, the tune was the same. From Manuel to coach Doug Marrone, there were constant reminders from players and coaches that their scheme was vanilla and their play-calling bland -- and that their careful construction of a regular-season game plan would prove August to be a fluke.

All that talk reached a crescendo after the Bills' shutout loss to the Detroit Lions last week.

"We really haven’t put a lot in, as far as trying to game plan and everything like that," Marrone said. "I hate to lean on that as an excuse for [the offense's performance], but we really showed absolutely nothing."

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
AP Photo/Bill WippertEJ Manuel is excited about the Bills' game plan against the Bears.
It could very well be an accurate statement. After all, the Bills offense was pitiful in the preseason. Here is where it ranked among other NFL teams:

Points per game: 12.6 (32nd)
Yards per game: 284.4 (25th)
Yards per play: 4.3 (30th)
Third-down conversions: 33 percent (27th)
Completion percentage: 57.4 (26th)
Passing touchdowns: 3 (tied-30th)
Quarterback rating: 57.5 (32nd)
Interceptions: 9 (most in NFL)
Sacks allowed: 18 (most in NFL)

The Bills' lack of game-planning and simplified playbook in the preseason came up again and again as a reason for the troubles. Marrone and Manuel both said they weren't trying to use those points as an excuse, but it had the effect of one.

Ignored in the process is that virtually every other team across the NFL takes the same approach. Having the chance to catch up with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on Wednesday, I asked him how much he game-planned for preseason opponents.

"Minimal," Cutler said. "The first two games, you're looking at [the opponent] for maybe a day-and-a-half. At the end of the day, training camp is to try to get your team better, take a look at some new guys, maybe try out some new concepts offensively and defensively, and see how it goes."

Somehow, Cutler and the Bears were able to move the ball and score points in the preseason. In three games, he completed 67 percent of his passes, threw two touchdowns, and posted a 95.0 quarterback rating. Overall, the Bears' offense scored over 18 points per game with "minimal" preparation.

That's why Manuel and Marrone didn't come off well when they harped on their lack of preparation for most of the preseason. Every NFL team is in the same situation -- including the opposing defenses that weren't studying up on the Bills' offense -- and yet somehow more than three-quarters of the league finished better in most offensive statistics.

The problem with lowering expectations all preseason is that the Bills have now built anticipation for the regular season. The more the Bills talked about "holding back" on offense, the more fans grew to expect on Sunday in Chicago.

"I'm feeling very good, very positive about this Chicago week. I like our game plan going in to what they do offensively. I'm excited about it," Manuel said Wednesday. "[The game plan] is quite different [from the preseason]. I think there's a bunch of formations and different gadgets that we've added in going into this game.

"That's why I'm excited to get into this game, because it's a true game-plan week. We really put in a lot of work. Coach [Nate] Hackett has a great plan for these guys. I think it's just a matter of us offensively executing what he has for us."

Fair enough. If the Bills offense has held all that back for their five preseason games, it had better come out with spectacular success against the Bears' defense.

Anything else would be a letdown.
Should EJ Manuel be a team's captain? Does he need to be one? Are captains even significant?

The Buffalo Bills' announcement Monday of six captains -- none of which were Manuel -- became a hot-button issue as the second-year quarterback feels some late-summer heat.

One argument is that Manuel, as the quarterback, should be a captain. The rebuttal, from some, is that he is too inexperienced to be a captain.

I'm not buying that.

Think of it this way: If Manuel had gone 10-0 as a starter last season and was named a captain this week, would anyone be saying he was too green for the gig? No way.

He'd be praised for his leadership abilities at the ripe age of 24. His hypothetical success last season, even with such a small sample size, would be used as justification for the distinction. On Monday, we would've heard effusive praise from coach Doug Marrone and Manuel's teammates in the locker room about their newest captain.

Instead, Manuel went 4-6 as a starter last season and the questions about his standing as the franchise quarterback continue into this fall.

As a result, Marrone and players had to tip-toe around the subject of Manuel's captaincy Monday.

"If you look at it, it’s mostly veteran guys that have been around," Marrone said of his six captains, which included two newcomers to the team. "I think that [quarterback] position has leadership qualities in it just by the position itself."

"He's a great leader. He breaks down the offense and things like that all the time. Gives us knowledge," running back Fred Jackson said. "It's just one of those things, when we have a lot of veteran leadership on the team. In time, he'll definitely be named a captain at some point."

I think the issues of Manuel's captaincy and his standing as the starting quarterback are linked.

Manuel hasn't earned the 'C' on his chest. It's not something that should be forced. The six players who were elected should be the six players best suited to lead the team.

Likewise, Manuel hasn't earned the long-term title of franchise quarterback. That honor should go to the best player suited for that job. Manuel hasn't proved it yet.

Right now, Manuel has more time to prove he's the solution at quarterback. If he does, then he'll have earned the 'C' on his chest in the process. If he doesn't prove himself, then the Bills should look elsewhere.

At that point, whether or not Manuel is a captain won't matter.

Spikes, Graham among Bills' captains

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
The Buffalo Bills announced six team captains Monday for the upcoming season.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Corey Graham were both named captains. Defensive end Mario Williams is also a first-time captain.

The three remaining captains are the same from last season: running back Fred Jackson, center Eric Wood and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

A notable absence among the captains? Quarterback EJ Manuel, who enters his second season.

Captains are selected by voting among teammates.

Following up on Orton, Bills' moves

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
The Buffalo Bills got a head start on trimming their roster to 53 players, making 13 roster moves Friday.

Yet it's the one they haven't yet announced -- agreeing to terms with quarterback Kyle Orton -- that could have the biggest effect.

Here are some thoughts on that move and where the Bills stand entering Saturday's cut-down deadline at 4 p.m. ET:

Best backup QB available: For the time being, Orton was the best backup option on the open market. Like the Bills' hire of Jim Schwartz this offseason, when Schwartz was the best available defensive coordinator, it's a move that should be applauded. It took the Bills longer than it should have, but their backup quarterback situation is better than it was earlier this summer. It would have been more ideal if Orton was in Buffalo sooner and could have learned the playbook, but at 31, he's more experienced and a better bet if EJ Manuel suffers an injury.

Spotlight still on Manuel: Unless the Bills change their tune down the road, Orton isn't going to challenge Manuel for the starting job. So while they have one of the NFL's better backup quarterbacks, the Bills' overall quarterback situation still isn't where it needs to be. A few days ago, it was the worst in the NFL. Now it's in the bottom-third. It's hard to place the Bills' quarterback group any higher than that until Manuel proves in the regular season some of his preseason woes were a fluke or the product of a "vanilla" offense.

Punting situation problematic: The Bills cut veteran punter Brian Moorman after he ended the preseason with two sub-par performances. While the team claimed punter/kicker Jordan Gay off waivers, he only punted once in Thursday's game. The Bills didn't feel as though he was "ready" to punt yet and wanted to evaluate him more as a kickoff specialist. Whether that changes in the next eight days is not known. One way or the other, the Bills will need a punter for their opener in Chicago. Expect them to keep an eye on the waiver wire and try some players out. They had a similar situation at kicker around this time last season and struck gold with Dan Carpenter.

Parting with Cohen: Of the Bills' 13 roster moves Friday, the most surprising may have been the release of defensive tackle Landon Cohen. He quickly earned praised after signing early in training camp, proving to be a disruptive player in some of the Bills' preseason games. There are a few important factors to remember with Cohen: (1) He played mostly against lesser competition later in games, (2) He's a seventh-year, journeyman veteran who remained a free agent most of this offseason and should be available if needed during the regular season, and (3) The Bills likely only need two backups at defensive tackle and those roles were filled by Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant. Cohen was a nice story during the preseason but he wouldn't have seen much, if any, playing time in the regular season.

Urbik on block? The Bills have already placed wide receiver T.J. Graham on the trade block, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan, but he may not be the only player. Guard Kraig Urbik, who started 16 games last season, could also be available, according to a tweet from CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. The Bills seemingly tried everything they could do to push Urbik out of the starting lineup this preseason, shuffling players in and out of his right guard spot. Eventually the return of Cordy Glenn at left tackle had the trickle-down effect of moving Erik Pears to right guard. That could be the final blow to Urbik.

Previewing Bills-Lions

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Welcome to Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Buffalo Bills conclude their preseason against the Detroit Lions (7 p.m. ET).

Weather conditions: Can we copy and paste this weather for the rest of the year? It's a great afternoon in Western New York, with temperatures around 70 degrees and mostly sunny skies. Temperatures will fall into the low-60s during the game with very low humidity.

Television blackout: The Bills were unable to sell out tonight's game by Monday's deadline, so the game is not being shown on local television. That means only the fans in the stands will get to see the game live. That may not be a bad thing: in this finale last season, Bills quarterback Matt Leinart and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford both posted 0.0 QB ratings.

Offensive starters expected to play: The Bills are expected to play some of their offensive starters, including quarterback EJ Manuel, in this game. It's unclear if Sammy Watkins (ribs) will suit up. The defense has shown well this preseason, but it's the offense that needs to step up its game.

Live tweets: We’ll be tweeting before, during, and after the game. Those will appear in our Bills live feed.

Triplette gets the call: Jeff Triplette is tonight's official.

Bills Camp Report: Day 32

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Another day, another practice where receiver Sammy Watkins suited up but wasn't a full participant. Watkins was in full pads, taking part in warm-up drills and stretching before watching the rest of the practice from the sideline. Coach Doug Marrone said the Bills' medical staff hasn't made a decision on Watkins' status for Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At this point, it doesn't make sense to play Watkins unless he's completely healthy. The opener in Chicago is most important.
  • Tempers flared for some of the players who did practice. The highlight (lowlight?) of practice was a brawl in the end zone during a goal-line drill. Center Eric Wood, a team captain, and defensive end Bryan Johnson, an undrafted rookie, were at the center of it initially before it spilled off to the side. At one point, tight end Scott Chandler had to be restrained from Johnson. The language used between some of the players wasn't too family-friendly.
  • Cornerback Leodis McKelvin had just seemed to ramp his participation up to normal levels this week when he left Wednesday's practice with a groin injury. It's unclear if McKelvin will be available for Saturday's game. It has to be frustrating for McKelvin, who has taken several months to recover from offseason hip surgery and also dealt with a hamstring injury early last season. However, the Bills have some depth at cornerback to withstand any long-term blow.
  • It was another sharp day for quarterback EJ Manuel, who has been running against the scout team defense this week in practice. He went 11-for-15 in full-team drills, delivering his passes on-time and accurately on mostly shorter routes.
  • After Jeff Tuel received 26 snaps and Thad Lewis saw nine reps Tuesday, the two backup quarterbacks switched Wednesday. Lewis was the first to replace Manuel and finished practice with 25 snaps (compared to 33 for Manuel). Tuel had nine. Coaches are still giving both players a chance to win the backup job, but Tuel appears to be the front-runner. It wouldn't be surprising if he saw more reps Thursday.
  • Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (torn patella) was placed on injured reserve, and cornerbacks Mario Butler (ankle) and Bobby Felder (groin), as well as safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) were held out of practice. Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring) continues to be limited; he spent team drills working with trainers on a side field.
  • The Bills will wrap up training camp at St. John Fisher College with a practice Thursday afternoon. They are off Friday before playing the Buccaneers on Saturday.

Bills Camp Report: Day 31

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Sammy Watkins returned to practice in pads, although his participation was very limited. He took part in warm-up drills and stretching and then watched the remainder of practice from the sidelines. Watkins said afterwards that he could have practiced and could play in a game, but coach Doug Marrone took a more cautious route when speaking about Watkins' status for Saturday. The key is having Watkins healthy for the season opener, not the remainder of the preseason.
  • Marrone and quarterback EJ Manuel said after practice that it was more of a regular season-style practice. While there isn't likely much game planning for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bills' first-team offense ran against a "scout team" defense that included mostly third-team defensive backs. It wasn't too surprising, then, that Manuel went 15-for-15 in full-team drills. Here's how his completions broke down: Marquise Goodwin (4), Scott Chandler (3), Robert Woods (2), Mike Williams (2), Fred Jackson (2), C.J. Spiller (1), and T.J. Graham (1). His second-to-last throw was a deep ball down the left sideline to Graham, while one of his completions to Goodwin and both of Williams' catches were more downfield throws. The rest were flares, hooks, and shorter crossing patterns.
  • Given it was a "regular season" practice, it wasn't surprising that Manuel took the first 11 snaps of team drills, followed by eight snaps from Jeff Tuel. That's an indication that Tuel could be the first backup after Manuel comes off the field Saturday. Overall, Manuel took 29 snaps, Tuel took 26, and Thad Lewis took one set of nine. After Lewis' rocky outing last weekend, it's not a stretch to say he's fallen behind Tuel in the race to be the No. 2 quarterback, which could put his roster spot on uneven footing.
  • Couple of roster moves from the Bills on Tuesday, as they waived wide receiver Kevin Elliott and offensive lineman Edawn Coughman to bring their roster to 88 players. It's likely the case of the Bills wanting to give both players a chance to hook on with another team before the end of the preseason. They were a notch above the inexperienced players on the bottom of the roster but not within range of making the 53-man roster.
  • Not practicing Tuesday: linebacker Stevenson Sylvester (knee), Mario Butler (ankle), Jonathan Meeks (neck), and Bobby Felder (groin). In addition, tight end Tony Moeaki seemed to be limited in team drills as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
  • The Bills will practice again Wednesday morning before wrapping up training camp Thursday afternoon.

Bills Camp Report: Day 30

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Day 30? Wow. The NFL's longest training camp rolled on with a night practice Monday. The biggest news was the absence of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who rode an exercise bike at one point during practice and watched from the sidelines later. Before practice, Bills coach Doug Marrone did not reveal the results of X-rays on Watkins' ribs and declined to give a timetable on his return. While the team officially said Watkins had a "rib contusion" after Saturday's game, they are now simply calling it a "rib injury."
  • There was plenty of shifting on the offensive line as left tackle Cordy Glenn returned to team drills for the first time. That had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the line, with Seantrel Henderson moving to first-team right tackle and Erik Pears moving to right guard. In our view, that puts the Bills' best five offensive linemen on the field. Kraig Urbik, who started at right guard last season, was the second-team center, flanked by Doug Legursky and Cyril Richardson at guard. That could lead to a battle between Urbik and Legursky to crack the 53-man roster.
  • More shifting came in the secondary. Leodis McKelvin participated in team drills, lining up across from Stephon Gilmore in what will be the Bills' opening-day look. Nickell Robey remained the slot cornerback, with Corey Graham moving to safety. The Bills tried different combinations at safety, mixing Aaron Williams with Graham, Duke Williams, and Da'Norris Searcy. The Bills said in the spring that Graham could see time at safety and it may finally be coming to fruition.
  • Marcell Dareus did not take part in team drills Monday. In his place, the Bills used a combination of Landon Cohen, Corbin Bryant, and Stefan Charles. They're likely looking for the best options to back up Dareus and Kyle Williams. It's possible that the Bills keep all three of those reserve options on the roster, although they could choose two of the three and move on from the third. As for Dareus, Marrone briefly came over to the sideline later in practice to talk to Dareus, prodding at his left elbow as if it were injured. Something to monitor.
  • On the heels of his 77 percent completion rate in Thursday's practice, EJ Manuel topped it with an 81 percent night Monday. He went 17-for-21 in team drills, completing four passes to Fred Jackson, four to Robert Woods, three to C.J. Spiller, and one to Mike Williams. Nothing was too deep -- it was a heavy dose of short hooks and flare passes to the running backs -- but his accuracy was on point and he didn't throw any interceptions. It was a good night of practice for Manuel, without Watkins.
  • The Bills will be back on the practice field Tuesday afternoon. They'll practice again Wednesday and Thursday before breaking camp.

Bills Camp Report: Day 26

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Given the circumstances -- being in enemy territory and at the end of their fourth, long week of training camp -- this was probably the best the Bills' offense has looked this summer. The operation in 11-on-11 moved more quickly than Wednesday. Coaches were vocal about players getting in and out of the huddle, and when the ball was snapped, EJ Manuel was quick and accurate as a passer. There was only one penalty -- an apparent false start on tight end Scott Chandler. Very crisp.
  • While there were several scuffles in Wednesday's practice, especially early, things cooled down Thursday. There was less talking from the Steelers' defense and less extracurricular hitting after plays, at least in 11-on-11s between the Bills' offense and Steelers' defense. On the other practice field, the Bills' defense and Steelers' offense had a sideline-clearing incident at one point, although it was tough to see who was at the center of the action.
  • All eyes were on Manuel after Doug Marrone was defensive about Manuel's performance Wednesday in his pre-practice news conference. Marrone said he charted Wednesday's practice as Manuel's best to that point in camp, citing a 60 percent completion rate and a 56 percent "accuracy rate." A 60-percent completion rate would have ranked 26th in the NFL last season, so in a sense, it wasn't a glowing endorsement of Manuel's practices prior to Wednesday. In this view, a 60-percent completion rate isn't anything the Bills should celebrate, but Manuel's 77-percent rate Thursday is deserving of praise.
  • The Bills have been cycling through receivers with their first-team offense. Thursday was no different. Mike Williams and Sammy Watkins were the first pairing, but we also saw Watkins, Robert Woods, and Chris Hogan, as well as T.J. Graham mixing in. Part of that could be tied to the absence of Marquise Goodwin, but perhaps it's too early to count out Graham. He's seen more reps since the start of camp.
  • Second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio has struggled for much of training camp and by all accounts had a rough afternoon Wednesday in one-on-one pass-rush drills. That changed Thursday when Kouandjio had some quality reps in that same drill. Coming back from his final rep, he got a fist bump and a pat on the back from coach Doug Marrone. It's a sign of progress.
  • The same players who were held out of practice Wednesday did not participate Thursday, a group including Goodwin, tight end Tony Moeaki, and guard Chris Williams.
  • The Bills are off Friday before meeting the Steelers for a preseason game at Heinz Field on Saturday night.

Bills Camp Report: Day 25

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13

LATROBE, Pa. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:

  • This was without a doubt the Bills' most physical practice of training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers "welcomed" the Bills to their training camp home at St. Vincent College by laying some hard hits early in an 11-on-11 live tackling drill. That quickly led to scuffling between the two teams, although players generally showed restraint; we didn't see any punches thrown. After practice, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin commended the teams for their "professionalism" during the practice.
  • With that said, there was plenty of chirping from the Steelers' secondary -- led by safety Mike Mitchell -- throughout the practice. At times, the frustration among Bills receivers boiled over and they exchanged words with the Pittsburgh defensive backs. After the session, Robert Woods talked about avoiding the distractions of the "other stuff" during the practice, likely in reference to some of the trash-talking on the field.
  • During 11-on-11 drills, when each team's offense is simultaneously running plays against the other team's defense at opposite ends of the field, our focus was on the offense, where EJ Manuel and Sammy Watkins remain the top stories of camp. Watkins dropped his first pass from Manuel -- it appeared that he pulled up against an oncoming Steelers safety -- but then got into a groove with Manuel. Watkins caught his next three passes from Manuel, although none were beyond 10 or 12 yards. Manuel overthrew Watkins on his final two targets of the afternoon.
  • Manuel has a knack for downplaying some of his negative plays when speaking to reporters after practices, so we have to question him when he said after practice Wednesday that the Bills were "very good on third down." By our tracking, the Bills converted 4 of 14 plays on third down in practice. Two were short sideline patterns to Watkins, while the two others were crossing patterns to Chris Hogan and Lee Smith. Otherwise, it wasn't good, nevermind "very good." He was sacked or scrambled three times, overthrew Woods twice, threw behind T.J. Graham on a crossing pattern, threw too far in front of Hogan on a crossing pattern, and also under-threw Woods -- all incompletions.
  • Kicker Dustin Hopkins (groin) was added to the injury list before practice. Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (hamstring), guard Chris Williams (lower back), linebacker Ty Powell (medical), and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) were the others not practicing.
  • The Bills and Steelers will meet again for another joint practice at 5 p.m. Thursday.

LATROBE, Pa. -- After an hour bus ride to St. Vincent College, the Buffalo Bills got hit by a truck early in Wednesday's joint practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Convening on a single practice field for simultaneous 11-on-11 sessions, the Buffalo Bills' offense was knocked around early in a spirited series of reps that featured live tackling.

EJ Manuel's first pass was caught by Robert Woods, but the ball was stripped and recovered by Steelers defensive backs, who were flying around early in the practice. On the next play, C.J. Spiller fought back, butting helmets with linebacker Jason Worilds after a run up the middle.

Then came Manuel's next pass, over the middle to Sammy Watkins. In a rare moment for the rookie, he pulled up as he anticipated contact from a safety, with the ball careening off his hands.

Later, with the second-team offense on the field, fullback Evan Rodriguez got into a large scuffle with several Steelers after a play. That was quickly followed by a Steelers defender delivering a hard hit on fullback Frank Summers after a catch in the flat.

The intensity in that first period set the tone for what was by far the Bills' most physical practice of training camp. Manuel and the Bills' offense seemed rattled for the rest of the day.

Some of Manuel's throws came in early to receivers, and about a half-dozen others were overthrown or underthrown. On his passes that were accurate, Manuel didn't always get help from his receivers.

On his next target after his early fumble, Woods tried to catch a Manuel pass on a short pattern with one hand. It didn't work. Two plays later, Mike Williams couldn't corral a well-thrown pass over the middle. Since that period of practice didn't feature live tacking, Steelers defensive backs heckled Williams for the drop, reminding him that they "weren't going to hit" him.

The chirping from the Steelers secondary continued throughout the practice, with some Bills receivers butting heads with safety Mike Mitchell and others. At one point, Woods dove forward but couldn't catch an underthrown Manuel pass and was serenaded by the Steelers' defensive backs as he returned to the opposite sideline.

Manuel had particular trouble connecting with Woods. We counted six targets to Woods from Manuel, all incomplete except for his fumble on the first play. A few passes were underthrown or overthrown, and Woods was dragged down by a Steelers defender (no penalty flag) on another.

The Bills offense punched back later in practice when Manuel connected with tight end Scott Chandler down the middle of the field for a big gain. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, 76, who was vocal throughout practice, particularly chided his defense for allowing that play.

Chandler's catch was one of the few offensive highlights from a practice that should serve as a wake-up call for the Bills. In some ways, this was part of the plan for the Bills: Enter hostile territory and if you get pushed around, push back.

The Bills will have their chance to respond Thursday evening when the teams meet again.




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