They’ve had their hands on some passes here and there through the course of organized team activity practices, but on Monday Buffalo’s defense logged the most pass breakups thus far. Jim Schwartz’s unit thwarted nine attempted passes by Bills quarterbacks and turned three of them into interceptions.
The first interception was logged by third-round pick Preston Brown, who is showing up more and more with each passing week. EJ Manuel tried to stick a pass into Chris Hogan coming over the middle, but Brown anticipated the throw, stepped into the void and wrestled the ball away from Hogan and took off up the field.
Later in practice fellow linebacker Ty Powell jumped to snare a pass over his head that was intended for Chris Gragg down the seam for another INT. It was a good showing for a linebacking corps that had been hearing about not coming up with takeaways despite batting down a good number of passes.
“(Linebackers coach Fred Pagac) has been getting on us,” said Brandon Spikes. “We’ve been getting our hands on (passes) but we haven’t been able to bring it in. Today we got two interceptions so that’s something to build off of and keep going and see if we can get some more balls.”
The other interception went to rookie cornerback Michael Carter on a deep pass down the left sideline intended for Robert Woods from Manuel. Carter had inside position and leaped and got to the ball first for the INT.
Carter also had a pass breakup as did fellow rookie Ross Cockrell broke up a pass from Jeff Tuel that had Caleb Holley targeted over the middle. Ron Brooks had two of the other pass breakups with one coming against Woods and the other against Sammy Watkins.
“It’s just trying to understand our defense better and learning what I can and can’t do in certain coverages and then a little of it is going out and knowing who I’m going against,” said Brooks of his anticipation Monday. “There are some of the guys that only run certain routes and I’m just tying all of that in together.”
Brooks has been starting outside at cornerback with the first unit opposite Corey Graham with Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin still working back slowly and steadily from offseason surgeries.
Gilmore workload on the rise?
Gilmore is hoping he can be sprinkled in for a little team work in practice next week at the mandatory minicamp.
“Maybe minicamp I’ll be in for more,” Gilmore said. “I can go out there and practice, but I’m being smart about it. I’m competitive, but when I get out there I want to go 100 percent every snap, so that’s why I’m being smart about it. I want to practice, but I’m getting ready to have a great season so that’s what I want to be smart about.”
Gilmore realizes September is still a long ways off and pushing a quick return is not the best course of action he wants his 2014 season to be much different than his injury-shortened 2013. With most of the same terminology in Jim Schwartz’s defense, Gilmore feels he has time to get enough reps and feel comfortable in the new scheme.
Run game looked good
Monday may have been the most consistent day for the Bills run game. C.J. Spiller looked very elusive as he was cutting sharply through holes and accelerated into the secondary on a handful of between the tackles carries. It’s clear that Spiller feels healthy after last year’s persistent ankle injury.
The other back who looked both elusive and explosive was Bryce Brown. With Anthony Dixon not in attendance Monday, Brown was afforded the most reps he’s seen in one practice and he took advantage of them.
Brown had a few solid runs including one where he cut three times to avoid penetrating defenders behind the line of scrimmage and ultimately reached the defensive backfield on a carry. He also had a 60-yard catch and run for a touchdown on a throw from Thad Lewis as he beat the coverage linebacker on the play to the middle of the field and was off to the races from there.
The holes also looked bigger and appeared to be sustained longer by Buffalo’s offensive linemen Monday.
More shuffling at guard
When Chris Williams was not at OTA practices late last week the offensive coaches did some experimentation lining up Chris Hairston at starting left tackle and kicking Cordy Glenn into the starting left guard job. The two then flipped with Hairston working at left guard and Glenn back out at his familiar tackle position. It was Hairston’s first work ever at guard, but it apparently convinced the coaching staff to take a longer look.
Hairston rotated in Monday at the starting right guard spot with incumbent starter Kraig Urbik. Hairston also ran with the second team at right guard.
“It was just something to start cross training depending on injury and who we have available,” said Hairston. “The more you can do, in this league that’s what it’s about.”
Another player who was working at tackle, but has more recently been in at guard is Antoine McClain. He had been working at right tackle the first week of OTAs, but has since shifted inside. On Monday he was working at left guard with the second unit, which bumped rookie Cyril Richardson to third team. We’ll see if the shuffling continues as the offensive staff continues to experiment with line combinations.
One other line note, Cyrus Kouandjio got a handful of reps at right tackle with the first team, but it was largely Erik Pears in the team portions of practice.
Third-round pick Preston Brown might be a rookie, but he has a believer in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Brown was lining up in the first team nickel package Monday alongside Kiko Alonso and did not look out of place. Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers were rotated in to replace the duo.
Aaron Williams continues to get a few more looks in the 7-on-7 team setting coming off an offseason rehab from a procedure. Williams looks to be moving well, but is clearly on a pitch count when it comes to snaps. Williams worked with Da’Norris Searcy as the starting safety tandem Monday with Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks being the second team combination.
One special teams note, after not appearing as one of the kick return candidates last week in practice, Marquise Goodwin was taking returns on Monday. Goodwin was the Bills primary kick returner last season.
New notables not in attendance Monday were Dixon, Mike Williams, Doug Legursky and Kyle Williams.
The Bills are back on the practice field Tuesday at 10:30 am.