Though the summer calendar turned to August Friday, it didn’t do much to change the peculiar weather blowing through training camp at St. John Fisher. Here now are the four things we took from Friday night’s session.
Another step for EJ
At the beginning of offseason work in the spring EJ Manuel said one of the hurdles he wanted to clear in his second NFL season was reading coverages and getting through his progressions quickly without rushing. With the offensive line providing improved protection this week in camp Manuel has shown an ability to do that.
It isn’t happening all the time, but it is happening. On Friday night the best instance came in 11-on-11 red zone. On his last snap of his second series Manuel’s first read was on his left, nothing there. He moved to his second read underneath and that was not available either. At the last moment before the pocket was collapsing he found Robert Woods behind his defender under the uprights and dropped the ball over the defender for a touchdown.
Would he have gotten the pass off before the rush arrived in a real game? Tough to say. What’s important is the step forward Manuel appears to be taking in reading defenses.
C.J. Spiller echoed what Manuel said earlier in the week. With better protection comes a greater opportunity for the quarterback to execute.
“We’ve kind of got a better understanding now going against our defense and the different looks they’ve been giving us the past couple of days are kind of hard to pick up, but now we’ve got good identification of what’s coming,” Spiller said. “Once we get that down we’ll pretty much just go in and block the guys. The last few days we struggled a bit, but I’d probably say the last day or so we’ve been better.”
Two minute drill
Near the end of practice the team ran a pair of two minute drives. The first featured the first team offense against the second team defense. After three incompletions started the drive, Manuel on fourth down hit Mike Williams who went up the ladder on a deep in route for a 20-yard pickup and first down.
Williams followed with another reception underneath. Following a Fred Jackson catch and run out of the backfield there were just 15 seconds left and the clock was running. Manuel hurried up to the line to spike the ball and stop the clock with seven seconds remaining.
Unfortunately for the offense on 3rd-and-6 from the defense’s 37 DE Jacquies Smith swooped in off the right end of the defense and tapped Manuel out for a sack to end the drive.
On the second series, Jeff Tuel led the second team offense against the first team defense. Tuel on 1st-and-10 did a great job of climbing the pocket before delivering a strike over the middle to T.J. Graham for 15 yards and a first down. Chris Gragg pulled in a pass in the right flat on the next play to bring up second down, but Tuel’s pass attempt was batted at the line. That brought up 3rd-and-10 at their own 37. Tuel tried to go downfield as he spotted Marcus Easley carrying Nickell Robey up the seam. But Robey has great inside position knowing he had safety help outside and stayed on Easley’s inside shoulder. Tuel’s pass wasn’t high enough to Easley and Robey snared it for an interception ending the drive.
Tuel locking in
Despite the fact that the two-minute drive led by Tuel did not have a good ending for the offense, on the whole Tuel has been pretty consistent with his play. He’s demonstrated an ability to get through his progressions, he’s decisive in delivering the ball and his arm looks stronger and his ball velocity seems better.
His best play Friday night was a well-timed hookup with rookie Caleb Holley during 11-on-11 red zone. Tuel quickly identified that Holley had beaten his defender off the line and hit him in stride over the middle for a touchdown.
The backup quarterback competition is far from over, and the preseason games figure to tell the most about how it will play out. Early on though Tuel has performed admirably in camp and the coaches are rewarding him with reps.
Fresh off a two interception practice on Thursday, CB Bobby Felder suddenly found himself running with the second unit at cornerback. Keep in mind that starters Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore have not done much team work at all this week, so Corey Graham and Ron Brooks have been working with the ones.
But Felder was working at right cornerback opposite Mario Butler. Felder has been around the ball and it was evident the coaches wanted to get a longer look at him. He also got snaps in the nickel package.
Chris Hairston was back at a more familiar position to him in practice Friday night. He lined up with the second unit at left tackle. That was the plan a couple of nights ago at practice according to head coach Doug Marrone, but Hairston strained his back before team work began.
Fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson, who saw some work with the first unit Thursday with the offensive line missing Hairston and Chris Williams, moved to right guard with the second unit Friday night. Chris Williams returned to his starting role from a toe injury.