Mandatory minicamp began on a hot and sticky day at One Bills Drive at 2 pm and just about the entire roster was in the fold. Veterans Alan Branch and Manny Lawson were on hand for the first time this spring getting reps on Buffalo’s defensive line. For Lawson and the rest of the defensive unit it felt like very little changed despite the new scheme under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“It’s so much fun. It’s almost like we never lost a step,” Lawson said. “We still kid around and joke around and get after each other. We work hard and we have a good time doing it. We all have one goal in mind and that’s the way a team should be.”
Lawson, who is “shifting” from strong side linebacker to full time defensive end doesn’t see much of a transition for himself in the new system this season.
“Probably the only thing that’s going to change a lot for me now is I’m not going to drop as much,” Lawson said. “I will have my hand in the dirt more, but other than that the SAM linebacker and defensive end are relatively the same position except at SAM linebacker you have to drop more in your man to man coverage. So I don’t have to cover anybody man to man now, so it’s see ball, go get ball.”
Lawson rotated in and out with Jerry Hughes on the right side of Buffalo’s formation. Thought Mario Williams did not participate in any team work Tuesday it’s anticipated he’ll spend the majority of his time at left defensive end.
The only vets not on hand were Scott Chandler and Cordy Glenn. Chandler was excused for a family matter while Glenn was under the weather. Rookie Seantrel Henderson was also absent due to travel problems.
Practice tempo peaking
The practices are largely the same to those from the organized team activities, but just about all the veteran participating EJ Manuel noticed an uptick in the pace and competition level of practice.
“You definitely can feel it turned up a lot more, having big Marcell (Dareus) back, Kyle (Williams) back, Mario (Williams), (Manny) Lawson is back. As far as a defensive push, you felt a great push, and then you add in Brandon Spikes, they have a lot of good leaders on defense. So we’re getting a great look on offense every day.”
Even starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin were rotated in for team work with the first team. They only saw a handful of reps, but instead of just taking them in red zone they were out there defending 70 yards of field.
“It’s kind of based upon how we feel with me and Stephon,” said McKelvin. “They let us try it out and try to knock off a little rust.”
The offensive coaches began experimenting with Chris Hairston at guard in the last few practices of OTAs. They apparently liked what they saw from the former fourth-round pick. Hairston rotated in at the starting right guard spot and appeared to get more of the reps with the first team than incumbent starter Kraig Urbik. The two players rotated back and forth between first and second team for the whole practice.
Urbik also saw some time at center in the 9-v-9 team work. Buffalo only lines up three linemen and half a defensive line in those team periods. During that time Urbik was snapping to quarterbacks as the Bills linemen are always cross training.
With Cordy Glenn excused from practice due to illness, rookie second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio stepped in for the starting left tackle position. Kouandjio had spent the majority of his snaps at right tackle with the second unit in OTAs, but he was a left tackle for Alabama in college.
Seantrel Henderson’s absence bumped Edawn Coughman up to the second team left tackle while Mark Asper played his third different position Tuesday manning right tackle with the second unit.
With Mario Williams not participating in any team work (7-on-7 or 11-on-11) Jarius Wynn was the starting defensive end Tuesday alongside Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes.
Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy were the starting safety tandem with Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks the second team pairing.
Nickel linebacker pairings are still being mixed and matched in the minicamp setting. Keith Rivers worked with both Brandon Spikes and Kiko Alonso. Nigel Bradham lined up with Ty Powell and Alonso also worked with Preston Brown.
Among the better plays turned in on offense Chris Gragg pulled in a 20-yard pass down the seam on a pass from Jeff Tuel.
Thad Lewis hit Marquise Goodwin on a fly pattern down the right side for an 80-yard touchdown in 11-on-11.
EJ Manuel connected with Robert Woods on the left side for a 20-yard pickup and earlier hit Mike Williams on the same side of the field for a first down play.
Defensively, the defensive backs had their hands in the passing lanes. Ron Brooks knocked away an early Manuel pass intended for Sammy Watkins deep down the far sideline.
Mario Butler broke up a Manuel pass that had Marquise Goodwin targeted over the middle.
Marcell Dareus used a spin move to get around the edge and in for a would-be sack.
UB product Colby Way also got in the backfield for a would-be sack of Dennis Dixon.
DB JaJuan Harley broke up what looked like a completion on an over the shoulder pass from Thad Lewis to Chris Hogan. Hogan was pulling the ball in when Harley karate-chopped Hogan’s arms to knock the ball loose.
Undrafted rookie safety Deon Broomfield picked off a Jeff Tuel pass intended for Sammy Watkins deep down the right sideline.
Kyle Williams had a tackle for loss on a run play by Anthony Dixon as he beat his man on the line of scrimmage.
And UB product Derek Brim broke up a pass intended for Kevin Elliott from Lewis.
The Bills have a 3:15 practice scheduled for Wednesday.