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OTA Practice Notes - Day 5

Posted May 21, 2013

News and notes from Tuesday's OTA session at One Bills Drive.

The defense appeared to have the better of the play in Tuesday’s OTA session for the Bills, but Buffalo’s top receiver was the headline grabber. Stevie Johnson was back on the practice field for the first time since straining his back in the team’s voluntary minicamp a month ago.

“I’m definitely happy,” Johnson told Buffalobills.com. “At first they said I was just going to come out here and do some drills on the side, but I wanted to get out here and run and see how it is. It felt good. I’ve still got point pressure in my back and in my ankle, but I was out there and I was able to complete it so I feel good about it.”

Johnson only did individual position drills in practice, but it made a difference for the wideout from a leadership perspective. He has said being a spectator makes it harder for him to be a vocal leader. That wasn’t the case Tuesday.

“It makes me feel like I have a role,” said Johnson. “I don’t like sitting out of practice or anything because I feel like I can’t talk to anybody because I’m not doing it and I’m not in that fire with them. But just doing the little bit that I did, I felt like I had the power to tell some people to do it this way or run the route like this. When you look at it, make sure you run it a certain way because I was out there with you. It just felt good being back.”

Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was happy to see Johnson working his way back.

“It was great to see him. He looks great in a uni,” said Hackett. “It was great to see him and great to see him run some routes instead of being on the side. We’ve just got to work him back in.”

Johnson said he’s not sure if his workload will be increased in the coming practices, but intended to get some treatment post practice.

“I don’t know. (Tuesday) was random,” said Johnson. “I wasn’t even supposed to do what I did and I ended up getting through it. So we’ll see. I’ll just play it by ear and continue working on it and we’ll see what happens for the rest of the week and minicamp.”

Defense wins day
The better of play in the OTA practices often vacillates between the offense and defense from day to day during the team periods. On Tuesday the defense had the better of the action on the whole with a handful of sacks coming on blitz calls. They also fared well in bottling up the run game. Their coverage was also pretty consistent as Buffalo’s quarterbacks rarely even attempted to look downfield.

“We’re going to be aggressive, relentless,” said Pettine. “I think you can eliminate some of the youthful mistakes by putting pressure on people. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with the cumulative intelligence of the group-we’ve had to do a lot early. We want to build this thing from the ground up.  We’ve started early focusing on fundamental stuff rather than scheme, but we’ve still had to throw a lot at them schematically to get up to speed, we don’t want to go too slow with it.”

One player that seems to be quick on the uptake is LB Marcus Dowtin. The former Jets practice squad player obviously has some familiarity with Pettine’s scheme, and on the field it shows. Dowtin was reading plays well and knifed into the backfield on one particular play to register a would-be sack.

“He was primarily an inside linebacker in New York,” said Pettine. “We’ve been training him as an outside linebacker here, but he’s another player that has some position flexibility. He’s athletic enough, he can play inside, he can play outside.  He can do some safety type jobs, he can do some defensive end type jobs.  Again, that’s the type of player that we’ll always have a role for in our system, with that amount of versatility.”

Dowtin is currently running with the second unit on defense at outside linebacker.

Carrington disruptive
With Marcell Dareus not participating at the voluntary OTA practices this week and Kyle Williams still on the mend it’s afforded Alex Carrington the opportunity to play with the first unit day in and day out. Carrington has been steady through most of the practice sessions, but Tuesday may have been his best day on the practice field.

Carrington was one of the main problems for the offense in the run game as he helped to clog up the inside run lanes. He also ran down a screen play in the flat to make a tap-out tackle and had a sack as he got underneath an offensive linemen and charged into the offensive backfield.

“(Tuesday) I lined up mostly at three technique,” Carrington told Buffalobills.com. “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Coach calls the plays, I just got to do my job. Some of the stuff, like the screen, I just felt the offensive lineman leave early and that was my key. I’m just trying to become a smarter football player.”

Carrington even earned the praise of coach Pettine at times during Tuesday’s session. After his sack Pettine, who doesn’t say much during practice, said, “Good play A.C.!”

“Coach Pettine, is just doing a good job of throwing stuff at us,” said Carrington. “Seeing what we can absorb. Now, with that experience of playing different positions, it’s a little easier to take in having done it before. It’s definitely a fun, aggressive defense. It allows multiple guys to make plays, so I’m looking forward to it big time.”

Run game focus
There was a heavy run game focus by the offense in practice Tuesday. Even during red zone periods the offense worked on their ground attack.

“You always want to be able to run the ball. It helps everybody out on the field,” said Hackett. “It’s a good chunk of yards, especially when you’re handing the ball to the guys that we have back there. It’s a very good group coached by a very good coach and it’s an exciting deal to be able to turn around and hand the ball off or from the gun or wherever it is. You really want to give those guys the ball one way or the other.”

QB rotation
The quarterback rotation hasn’t changed all that much. The majority of the reps continue to flip flop between Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb. EJ Manuel is then sprinkled in for some reps at the end of certain team segments.

Manuel unofficially took 14 snaps in practice during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 team periods with his longest stretch coming in 11-on-11 red zone work when he ran eight straight plays.

When offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was asked what his focus is with respect to improving Manuel’s game, Hackett provided a broad answer.

“Everything,” Hackett said. “He’s a young man that’s got to work on a lot of things from footwork to progressions to plays to formations, everything. Defenses in the NFL are obviously a little different. He’s got to work on that too. He’s got to work on everything.”

“I still have a long way to go in this offense as far as picking things up, but I’m trying to learn it as fast as possible,” Manuel said.

Field goals
Rian Lindell and Dustin Hopkins got in some field goal work on Tuesday. Lindell was a perfect 4-4 on his attempts, which included a 50-plus yard attempt. Hopkins hit his first two, but was wide left on his two 50-plus yard attempts.