It was a pretty high effort practice to begin with on Wednesday at One Bills Drive, but when the first team offense went against the first team defense in the two-minute drill period the competitive level of play took a noticeable step up.
After three straight completions by EJ Manuel including a 20-yarder to Robert Woods over the middle, Manuel spiked the ball to stop the clock with 58 seconds remaining at the defense’s 28-yard line. Fred Jackson got out of bounds on a short throw on the ensuing play and Woods followed with a reception on the next play good for first down yardage while getting out of bounds to stop the clock.
That however, was followed by a Jerry Hughes sack forcing the offense to use their last timeout. From there it appeared as though Hughes had ‘would be’ sacks on each of the next two plays as he came off the edge on the right side. On the first the official ruled that EJ Manuel escaped the pocket and scrambled to the 16-yard line.
Hughes was not happy shouting at the official and to anyone else that would listen that the play resulted in a sack. With pass rushers not able to make contact with the quarterback other than tapping them on the waist it’s sometimes tough to discern whether such a play would’ve been made.
A much cooler Hughes had a more diplomatic answer about him appearing to be unblockable.
“It’s kind of hard to do anything without actually having pads on and be able to bang heads,” said Hughes. “Right now it’s pretty much 7-on-7 football where we just work our craft and try to get better.”
On the second play Hughes appeared to be there as well, but again the official ruled the ball was away. Manuel’s pass fell incomplete leading to a fourth down play from the 16 with two seconds left. On the ensuing snap Manuel tried to connect with Woods in the back left corner of the end zone, but Nickell Robey went up the ladder to make an acrobatic interception to thwart the threat.
“The two minute drill is a true test,” said Eric Wood. “A lot of times we’re not moving the ball and it’s kind of hard to tell how well an offense or defense truly is when the ball is spotted in the same place every play. The offense executed well and the defense made a play at the end in the end zone and credit Robey he made a pick and he tends to do that in game situations so it’s not an unrealistic thing.”
Even though the drive did not end the way the offense wanted offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett liked the plays that were made to get into scoring territory.
“This last two minute, it was much better today,” said Hackett. “They were on the same page, they were winning routes, EJ was delivering the ball and there was a lot of good stuff.”
Naturally the defense was happy to come up with the takeaway to finish the series off.
“I think when you have a situation like that everybody knows what’s at stake,” said defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “It’s not like a play inside a practice. You put a time limit on a play in a game situation and everybody competitive juices start flowing and that’s coaches and players. You want to do well and you want the players to do well. We’ve seen that in our red zone periods in our offseason program as well where they’ve been very competitive. But the players have done a good job of not crossing the line and not confusing competitive with combative and I’ve been real proud of them that way.”
For the second straight day the Chris Hairston experiment at guard continued. He got the lion’s share of the reps with the first unit on Wednesday, with Kraig Urbik rotating in. Hackett sees a nice competition brewing there for training camp.
“Any time we have any players, we want to get them in there, we want to see how they fit,” Hackett said. “We always want competition. Everybody. Everybody wants competition. That brings the best out of everybody. The more people we can put in there, the people we can see, the better everybody’s going to be and it’s going to put the pressure on everybody across that line.”
With Cordy Glenn still not fully recovered from an illness, rookie Seantrel Henderson manned the starting left tackle position. It was a role manned by fellow rookie Cyrus Kouandjio on Tuesday. For Henderson it was a bit of being thrown into the fire after he missed Tuesday’s practice due to travel issues. He had his hands full facing the likes of Hughes and Manny Lawson.
“We have a lot of talented O-linemen right now and we’re going to have some competition,” said Eric Wood. “It’s been exciting having guys moving in and out of the lineup to try some guys here and there. Give the vets a few plays off and see what a young guy can do going against the starting D-line, which carries three Pro Bowlers and a guy that had 10 sacks last year in Jerry Hughes. So no small task and the guys we’ve thrown in there have really stepped up.”
Hairston has taken to the guard position pretty well knowing he’s never played it at any level of football before this spring.
Outside of the two minute drill work Chris Gragg made a handful of plays in the absence of Scott Chandler (excused for family reasons). His best came on a great read by Jeff Tuel, who hit him down the seam for a 25-yard pass play.
Mike Caussin also had a reception down the seam on a throw from Tuel as the reserve quarterback was working the middle of the field well in the pass game.
Robert Woods and EJ Manuel connected on a few pass plays with the best being a 15-yard play on the left side of the field to beat the blitz.
C.J. Spiller had a sharp cutting run to the right side with the first team offensive line opening up a nice hole.
Defensively, Ty Powell broke up a pass over the middle that was thrown by Manuel to force an incompletion.
Brandon Spikes stuffed a Ronnie Wingo run play inside during 11-on-11.
Mario Butler registered an interception on a Manuel pass intended for Sammy Watkins.
Nigel Bradham made a good tap-out tackle on Bryce Brown on a screen play.
And defensive linemen Stefan Charles and Ikponmwosa Igbinosun teamed up for a sack on Jeff Tuel in 11-on-11.
Mario Williams saw his first team snaps in minicamp as he got two series worth of work in 11-on-11 working at left defensive end.
Preston Brown was again getting some prime time reps in the first team nickel package as he was teamed with Kiko Alonso as the linebacker tandem. Brandon Spikes was rotated in with both Keith Rivers and Nigel Bradham afterwards.
The slot corner role in the nickel package looks to be Nickell Robey’s to lose. He got the reps inside with both the first and second nickel units. Rookie fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell also saw some time inside.
The top safety pairing was against Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy. The second pairing was Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks. Meeks had a prime opportunity for an interception during the second two-minute drill, as he made a great read on a Thad Lewis pass over the middle, but he couldn’t hang onto it.
The Bills have their final minicamp practice on Thursday afternoon.