There was lament and perhaps even a bit of concern when it was realized that the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles was going to keep top draft choice Sammy Watkins out of two days of OTA practices late last week. Upon Watkins’ return Tuesday the lost time on the field did not appear to have any effect.
In fact, Watkins was arguably the best player on the field during team drills as the second week of organized team activities began for the Bills in Orchard Park. Watkins made eight receptions during the practice session with a handful coming in entertaining fashion.
His biggest play came on a deep post that appeared to be a broken play, but EJ Manuel was able to get the ball out to him for what would’ve been a 70-yard touchdown. Manuel also hit Watkins on a deep crossing pattern for 25 yards, and on the next play connected with him deep on the left sideline for a 35-yard gain.
“I was very anxious because I thought I would be behind, but I went up there to LA and had a lot of fun, but still studied the playbook and overall it helped me coming out (Tuesday) and I was comfortable with the plays we were running,” Watkins told Buffalobills.com.
There were also a couple of other receptions in which Watkins reached outside his body frame to make plays demonstrating his large catch radius. The rookie receiver’s presence on the field clearly has a positive effect on EJ Manuel’s confidence.
“Sammy is a great route runner,” said Manuel. “He always gives you the true route so as long as you’re on point with your drop and your footwork and everything like that you just throw it to a spot and he’s going to catch it.”
The budding chemistry between the quarterback and receiver may still have some strides to make, but the early signs are more than encouraging.
“It feels good just to know we’re on the same page,” Watkins said. “He’s working and I’m working to build that trust. I’ve just got to keep working to get better. Everyday I’m going to get faster and quicker. Learning more, I’ve got a lot of mistakes to fix, but at the same time there are a lot of positives as well.”
Dialing up the blitz
During the team periods of practice defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had some new wrinkles in his defense. Schwartz unveiled an array of new blitz packages, which by and large caught Buffalo’s passing game by surprise.
“We installed a few more blitzes coming off the edge,” said Nickell Robey, who notched a would-be sack on a corner blitz in practice. “We’ve already got a few blitzes in there so we wanted to put a little heat on them and see how they respond to it and see how we are out there against it with new installations and everything. When he called it up it was good. I liked it.”
Jerry Hughes also had a sack when he beat his offensive tackle off the snap and was in the backfield quickly for another quarterback tap out. The defense had a handful of successful pressures by the end of the practice session.
In addition to the big plays turned in by Watkins there were several others turned in by both the offense and defense.
Ron Brooks had an early interception on a Thad Lewis pass intended for Ramses Barden along the left sideline.
Mario Butler broke up a pass intended for Watkins during 11-on-11 on a pass from Manuel.
Chris Hogan turned in a couple of more big plays catching a deep post from Jeff Tuel in 11-on-11, which was later followed by an 80-yard touchdown on a busted coverage from Manuel down the left sideline.
Mike Williams pulled in a 30-yard pass from Tuel on a double move route that allowed him to get behind his defender.
Manuel had a nice looking pass that he dropped over the linebacker and outside the safety to Chris Gragg down the seam for a 20-yard pickup.
Nickell Robey foiled a Manuel pass on a slant intended for Robert Woods for a pass break up.
Kevin Elliott had a 20-yard gain on a crossing route when Thad Lewis hit him in stride.
Dennis Dixon made a difficult throw from the far side of the field to Chris Summers deep down the left sideline for 30-yards.
And Summers (6-5, 215) later turned in the play of the day when he out jumped CB Brandon Smith (6-1, 205) for the ball for a 40-yard play.
Last week on the second team offensive line Edawn Coughman played left guard and fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson played right guard. To begin the second week of OTAs the two guards flipped with Richardson manning the left side and Coughman on the right.
With some starters not in attendance or being held out for other reasons it afforded some younger players enhanced opportunities during team work. With Brandon Spikes not doing any team work third-round pick Preston Brown was running the first team defense Tuesday as the middle linebacker as he was making all the pre-snap calls. Keith Rivers and Nigel Bradham flanked Brown in the first team base defense.
Jarius Wynn and Corbin Bryant got first team reps on the defensive line in the absence of Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams. Dareus won’t be in attendance for the rest of the OTAs, while Williams was getting checked out by team athletic trainers according to Marrone.
The competition at safety saw some changes. Last week it was mostly Da’Norris Searcy and Duke Williams at the starting safety spots with Aaron Williams still not doing any team work. In week two of OTAs it was Searcy who was paired with Jonathan Meeks at the top two safety spots.
Finally on defense at cornerback Ron Brooks and Mario Butler were the beneficiaries on the boundary at cornerback with Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore not cleared for team work.
Right tackle Cyrus Kouandjio got a late series with the first unit in 11-on-11 in place of veteran starter Erik Pears.
The Bills are back on the practice field Wednesday for a 10:30 am session.