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4 things to take from Thursday’s practice

Posted Jul 31, 2014

The Bills dodged rainy weather to get their work in on the turf field at training camp on Thursday.

It was a practice that was on the move. A rainy morning forced the Bills to initially move the 8 a.m. practice to 2 p.m., but that was later amended to 1 p.m. as threatening weather was again moving into the area late in the afternoon. The team was able to dodge the weather and get their work in. Here now are the four things to take from Thursday’s session.

Internal clock is ticking

For the second straight day EJ Manuel showed a newfound comfort in the pocket as his protection was again far more sound than it was in the first week of practices. That enabled the Bills quarterback to better survey the field and make decisive choices. As a result Manuel’s internal clock is effectively telling him when to get the ball out on every drop back.

“I think it’s just from working more with the O-line,” said Manuel. “Those guys have a done a great job especially this week picking up the defensive blitzes. We’ve been communicating very well at the line of scrimmage and that allows us to really pick it up. For me as a quarterback when you know you’re protected you can just sit back there and pick the defense apart and distribute the ball to those receivers.”

Manuel is spreading the ball around to more of his receivers so it’s not just top draft choice Sammy Watkins turning in giant plays. That being said, Watkins did have the longest offensive play of the day catching a 40-yard pass from Manuel down the left sideline and running the remaining 59 for a touchdown.

“I just dropped back and threw it and he ran a great route and he ran that against (Stephon) Gilmore and that says a lot,” Manuel said. “Being backed up that’s kind of your dream as a QB to have a chance at a 99-yard touchdown reception. Sammy did a good job of stacking him and it was a huge play for us.”

Hogan slotting himself

Some NFL coaches say it’s the players who slot themselves on the depth chart based on their performance in training camp and the preseason games. Buffalo is quickly witnessing one such example in Chris Hogan.

After a strong spring Hogan was widely viewed by outside observers as the team’s fifth wideout. After two weeks of training camp the receiver is still on the ascent. Next to Sammy Watkins it’s very likely that Hogan has the next most receptions. Lining up as the primary slot receiver of late, Robert Woods has been spending more time on the boundary opposite Watkins.

Hogan had a handful of catches Thursday as he was gaining consistent separation from coverage and looks at home in the slot. Just two weeks into camp however, Hogan is not taking any role he’s been afforded for granted.

“It’s a talented room that we’ve got. We see it every day,” Hogan said. “Sammy, Woody, Marquise, Mike they’re all making plays from top to bottom. When those opportunities are out there on the field you have to make them to prove to the coaches and the quarterbacks that you can be a guy who can trusted on the field.”

It’s readily apparent that his quarterback trusts him as Manuel has gone to him early and often on third downs.

“Chris has done a great job,” said Manuel. “He’s a guy who I would consider an ‘every dayer.’ He comes to work ready to go and very assignment oriented and he’s made some huge catches for us on these third down conversions.”

On guard!

It’s not quite the way the French spell it when fencing, but it’s probably what offensive line coach Pat Morris was shouting after starting left guard Chris Williams left practice early with a toe injury. Already without Chris Hairston, who left practice the day prior with a back injury, Buffalo thrust fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson into the starting lineup between fellow rookie Seantrel Henderson and veteran Eric Wood.

Richardson, who had a tough go of it at times in the first week of camp, is coming around now. So much so, that his performance with the first unit Thursday wasn’t bad at all.

“Cyril did a great job coming in filling in for a guy,” said Manuel. “So I’m very happy and especially those young guys the more reps they get the more it’s going to help those guys later in the season for us.”

By no means does Richardson feel he has his full game operating at peak efficiency yet, but he understands his whole rookie season is going to be a learning process.

“It’s a lot and that’s how it is with some things,” said Richardson. “It’s a different scheme, a different atmosphere and I just have to adjust. I’m just glad I was able to go against those guys like (Marcell) Dareus and Kyle (Williams). Those guys are great technicians and it’s great working against them.

Richardson wasn’t the only reserve who stepped in at the starting left guard spot. J.J. ‘Unga rotated in for a series as well as Antoine McClain, who has largely manned that role with the second unit.

Making names

Some of other younger players are working to get themselves noticed. On Wednesday it was CB Kamaal McIlwain, who made a couple of plays on the ball. On Thursday it was rookie free agent CB Bobby Felder. He registered a pair of interceptions in the afternoon practice. His second INT was his best as he jumped a route in the flat and took Thad Lewis’ intended pass the other way.

LB Ty Powell reached up to pick off a pass late in practice in 7-on-7 red zone that was intended for Chris Gragg. Instead Thad Lewis’ pass went 100 yards the other way for a score.

WR T.J. Graham put together a pretty good day as well registering four catches. His two best came on a deep in during 7-on-7. Later in practice he pulled in a touchdown catch despite some tight coverage in 7-on-7 red zone.

WR Chris Summers also came down with a grab on a nicely thrown pass by Dennis Dixon who dropped it over a closing safety and outside of the cornerback who had inside position.