After just a few periods of individual drills, approximately the last hour of practice was spent in either seven-on-seven or eleven-on-eleven drills. Coaches are now more interested in seeing which players are able to grasp the schemes that they are teaching and translate it to impact plays on the field.
One player that hasn’t been able to show his ability in full team drills has been Kiko Alonso. The second year player has been held back due to an offseason hip procedure. He has been able to participate in the individual drills, but was sidelined for most of the second half of practice while the rest of the linebackers rotated into Jim Schwartz’s new defense.
“It’s been a little bit frustrating,” Alonso said about not being able to go full-speed. “[My goals have been] to just get stronger, faster, and learn the defense.”
Keith Rivers has not only been adjusting to a new defense, but a new team. This being his seventh year in the league, he is hoping to bring some leadership to the position. Along with Brandon Spikes, he has been seen making pre-snap calls and adjustments for the rest of the defense.
“Hopefully I will just take some of the stuff that I’ve learned throughout my seven years in the league and bring it to kind of a young team,” Rivers said. “We’re just trying to learn to play with each other and learn the scheme.”
With Sammy Watkins out in Los Angeles for the Rookie Premiere, EJ Manuel was able to shift his focus to a wider variety of pass catchers.
Chris Hogan might have been the biggest beneficiary. He was lining up in the slot for much of the day, moving around the formations via pre-snap motions and getting open underneath. He also got behind the defense during seven-on-seven on a skinny post route for a touchdown.
“They’re playing a lot of cover two, a lot of zones—they have a learning progression too, a whole new defense,” Hogan said. “A lot of the reads are inside and then out, so I might be the number one read on a lot of plays. Which is good. I’m getting a good knack and feel for EJ and we’re building that chemistry going into the season and into camp.”
Meanwhile, Mike Williams and Robert Woods were primarily lined up on the outside catching passes from Manuel. Kevin Elliot and Marquise Goodwin worked in as well, grabbing some passes from both Manuel and Thad Lewis.
“The competition is high but that’s the way you want it out here going into these practices and going into camp, you want guys competing and trying to fight for a spot,” Hogan said.
Offensive Line Coming Together
The offensive line groupings appear to have been somewhat more solidified, with Cordy Glenn, Chris Williams, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, and Erik Pears getting the bulk of the work with the first team. Chris Hairston, Cyril Richardson, Doug Legursky, Edawn Coughman, and Cyrus Kouandjio were the secondary unit protecting Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel.
Williams and Glenn seemed to continue developing chemistry on the left side of the line during eleven-on-eleven drills, flawlessly picking up a stunt by the defensive line in one play, then getting out to the flats and blocking for Anthony Dixon on a screen play.
Defensive Back Standouts
During a stop in the action, Doug Marrone noticed Duke Williams walking along the sideline and asked the second year player if he had made a play yet today. “I made two!” Williams said.
One of those plays was on a go route to Kevin Elliot when he came over the top to break up the pass along with Nickell Robey. The other happened during seven-on-seven drills when he stepped in to break up a quick hitch route thrown by Jeff Tuel.
“We’re out there battling right now for a job,” Williams said on the John Murphy Show. “It’s just great to be out there and compete. I love the competition.”
Rookie Ross Cockrell also had an impressive day in the defensive backfield. He did not seem to get beat in the seven-on-seven drills and jumped a curl route to negate a potential 10-yard gain. He also stuck close to Robert Woods during eleven-on-elevens, limiting the second-year receiver to very little targets when they were matched up. For now, he has just been rotating in when the defense is lined up with a nickel package, but based on his performance today we may be seeing him more in base sets.
OTAs will continue next week, with the team having three more practices Tuesday through Thursday.