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4 things to take from Tuesday’s practice

Posted Aug 19, 2014

Bills practice was capped on Tuesday by a team wide ALS ice bucket challenge led by President and CEO Russ Brandon, but there were a lot of other goings on during the two-plus hour session.

No huddle

There has been very little of the offense’s no huddle, up tempo approach in training camp. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has had the offense huddle more often than not during team portions of practice in this training camp. On Tuesday there would be no huddling.

Buffalo’s offense was working at a breakneck pace, at times in a muddle huddle before the next play and other times they just got right back to the line and ran the next play. Wide receiver T.J. Graham said it was as much for their stamina and endurance as it was for outpacing the defense.

“It’s different in conditioning because that no huddle you’ve got to get back to that line of scrimmage and get flying again,” he said. “At the same time the defense is on its heels the whole time. Giving them time to rest with the huddle they have time to recover so you have to run a little bit harder, but no huddle they’re on their heels and you can run just enough to get by them. If we’re more conditioned than they are it benefits us.”

“I think that’s something we can turn off and on when we want to and we’re in shape to do it,” said EJ Manuel. “I think we had one of the more grueling training camps as far as the tempo that we practiced at and the reps that we get, especially the first group since we get a lot of reps so we’re definitely in shape. I’m happy Coach [Nathaniel] Hackett kind of let us loose and go out here and do some of the little stuff we have to work on.”

For teams that are not used to running at a faster tempo the increased speed can lead to more miscues pre-snap or post-snap, but Buffalo’s offensive unit performed close to error free Tuesday.

Regular season mode

Another change in practice Tuesday was it didn’t look anything like a training camp practice. The practice had the look and feel of a regular season session, with second and third string players running scout team looks for the other side of the ball.

“I would say it was (like) an in season Wednesday practice for us,” said Manuel. “It went great going against a ‘scout team’. We did a great job. I don’t think we had the ball on the ground at all throughout the team period and the 7-on-7’s. We had all completions so I’m very excited about that and obviously want to keep that going.”

The Bills scout teams were running plays that Tampa runs on offense and defense as this will be the most extensive preparation the team will do for a preseason opponent.

“This is the first week that we did a game plan for Tampa and coming out here having a little different tempo and not going against our defense as much as we usually do,” said Graham. “They have cards and they’re doing the Tampa Bay defense. It was a different tempo.”

While there was preparation for the Buccaneers, who the Bills face on Saturday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, head coach Doug Marrone cautioned that it’s still not quite to the level they take it in the regular season.

“We’re still not game planning as much as you would for a normal game, but what we’re trying to get the players used to is what the normal week during the season is like,” said Marrone. “(Tuesday) was our first day of cards and we’re just trying to run the practice like we would normally during the year.”

Sammy limited

Bills’ top draft choice Sammy Watkins was back on the practice field and had his helmet and shoulder pads on, but he was limited to individual position drills Tuesday. In fact even in those drills he was moving at about half speed.

He did not even run routes on air (no defenders) during the quarterback receiver period of individual drills.

“Obviously, he wasn’t fully cleared (Tuesday),” said Marrone. “I’m going to watch the tape and see what we see. I think we’ll go from there. That’s normally what we do for anyone.”

Marrone is not sure about Watkins’ availability for Saturday’s preseason game.

Marrone’s O-line philosophy

Bills head coach Doug Marrone prides himself on not simply accepting the common thinking that can sometimes permeate the NFL in certain areas. One of those is the importance of continuity on the offensive line. The commonly held belief is that you want to get your front five set sooner rather than later, and the longer you wait the greater risk you expose your offense to error and lack of execution.

Marrone and the offensive staff have been unable to get their five best linemen on the field for much of training camp due to circumstance more than anything else. Cordy Glenn’s medical condition and Chris Williams’ back injury delayed the process. Now that both are back in the lineup Marrone made wholesale changes on the right side of the line, flipping rookie Seantrel Henderson to right tackle and moving Erik Pears in to right guard.

“We’re just trying to find the best five players,” said Marrone. “I think Erik’s [Pears] a guy that has played multiple positions. He came into the league as a guard, so he can play that. Seantrel [Henderson] had been a right tackle (in college). We moved him to left when he came here. He did a hell of a job, but now he’s back in his spot. He’s played really well, and then Cordy [Glenn] having the ability to come back at left tackle [contributed].”

Marrone’s view is not to just blindly go with the five players who have spent the most time on the field together. He’d rather make use of the five best linemen regardless of position and find a combination that he feels holds a lot more potential.

“What I don’t want to do is have my fifth best lineman be a backup because one guy doesn’t play a position,” he said. “I want to make sure we can get the best five players out there. These moves probably would’ve happened sooner had Cordy not been injured.”

With three weeks before the opener some outside observers might wonder if there’s enough time to tie the line together so they can effectively function as a group. Again Marrone is not concerned about the time remaining before the regular season opener believing the reps during other portions of practice will have them all in sync.

“Those guys work a lot together in combinations during individual drills and stuff,” he said. “We have a system on how we call things. They know what they’re doing. The continuity thing that people kind of harp on… the question is would you rather have continuity and not play as well or would you rather have your best five out there and give them a shot and continuity will be created as we play. My philosophy has always been the best five.”