The offensive staff is putting their faith in rookies Eric Wood and Andy Levitre as both are expected to be full time first team guards moving forward. The two interior linemen have been flanking center Geoff Hangartner for the past two practices, and though they have a long way to go they’re excited about the prospect of earning starting jobs together.
“It is cool to have us both in there and you’ll have a guy to work with and you’ll have a guy in the same boat as you,” said Wood. “Going against a guy like Marcus Stroud and for him Kyle Williams, not every day is going to be your best day, but you have got to get better every day. As you keep getting better, those mistakes will lessen and you’ll become a good player.”
Head coach Dick Jauron is not ready to etch their names in stone as the starting guards, but it’s clear the team has high hopes for them in 2009.
“We drafted them high and there are reasons why we did that,” said Jauron. “So that’s what we’re hoping happens as we move along, but we’ll just keep watching it. They’re young. They’ve got a lot to learn. We want them to get all the reps they can get.”
Preventing the projected starting five from working together right away was the injury suffered by Brad Butler, who did not even attend practice as he was getting treatment on his ailing back.
“He was in the trainer’s room icing his back,” said Jauron. “It’s pretty stiff. It’s pretty sore. But again, (head athletic trainger) Bud (Carpenter) does not feel like it’s a long-term issue. We’ll just have to see where it goes as the week progresses.”
Jauron said he’s not ready to determine whether or not Butler will be ready in time to go in the preseason opener on Sunday night.
Filling in for Butler for the majority of practice at right tackle was second-year man Demetrius Bell. Bell has primarily worked as the second string left tackle, but has also seen a few reps at guard and right tackle.
“As you can see I’m getting my opportunity, so I’m taking the best of it,” said Bell. “I feel better about my technique, so I feel better about everything all around. I still have a long way to go but I feel better about everything.”
“He’s come a long, long way,” said Jauron. “We’re really pleased with what he’s done in training camp and the offseason and our OTAS. As you know, he’s a tremendous young man. It’s an exciting story, but just going to have to see him do it more often.”
Veteran Kirk Chambers also spelled Bell for a few reps here and there in practice Tuesday night.
Ashton Youboty got some work as the first team nickel cornerback. That may have been due in part to Drayton Florence’s duty at right cornerback, with Leodis McKelvin still limited in practice and not taking part in any team work.
But Youboty had a great practice with a pair of interceptions, including one in the end zone that was intended for Josh Reed when he was lined up as an outside corner on the left side with the second unit.
Youboty’s play did not experience much of a drop-off at the outset of camp despite the long layoff due to plantar fasciitis in both feet. And now a week and a half into camp the fourth-year corner is really rounding into form.
“Just staying focused and making small progress every day as they install the new defenses,” said Youboty. “(I’m) re-learning things I missed out on being out so long. So just getting comfortable going out there and making plays. It’s a matter of reps right now. The more reps I get the more consistent I can get.”
Manning the second nickel role was Reggie Corner, who also played right cornerback in the second string base defense with rookie Ellis Lankster opposite him at left cornerback.
Antwain Spann saw some reps Tuesday at third string free safety. Spann is still trying to get acclimated to Buffalo’s system and its terminology.
Pat Thomas was back as the second string middle linebacker as he and Marcus Buggs continue to flip flop between second and third team on an almost daily basis.
Shawn Nelson continues to get sprinkled in for first team reps and is split wide on most occasions away from the line. The majority of Nelson’s first team reps came during red zone work as it’s clear he will be another mismatch option in that area of the field.
In fact Nelson pulled in a well thrown fade pass from Matt Baker in the back right corner of the end zone for a touchdown. The rookie had four receptions on the day.
Lindell on the money
Kicker Rian Lindell had one of his better field goal kicking segments of camp. He was perfect on his first four attempts. It was difficult to determine viewing from the sideline if his 49-yard attempt was good, but he nailed a 51-yarder on his last attempt.
His 50-yard attempt was blocked by John Wendling as the field goal block unit was trying to get some work in at the same time Lindell was placekicking.
Lee Evans got things going right away with a good grab over the middle at the beginning of 7-on-7.
Roscoe Parrish had a nice catch in the deep middle for a 25-yard gain on a throw from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Derek Fine made an equally good catch in the same area of the field two plays later.
Trent Edwards effectively beat the blitz when he hit Nelson in the flat for positive yardage.
Edwards also hit Evans along the near sideline for a 15-yard gain as he fit the ball into a tight space with good coverage by Drayton Florence.
Terrell Owens ran a good stop route for first down yardage.
Derek Schouman pulled in an 11-yard touchdown pass during red zone work.
And Dominic Rhodes got up the field quickly on a well designed screen play.
On the defensive side of the ball Youboty had his two INTS.
Kawika Mitchell put a good lick on Rhodes to break up a pass.
Ko Simpson had a pass breakup on a throw intended for Shawn Nelson.
Marcus Buggs had a pass breakup over the middle on a throw by Fitzpatrick, and also got a good shot in on Jonathan Stupar over the middle.
Keith Ellison had a tackle for loss on a run play to Fred Jackson.
Bryan Scott had a “sack” on a blitz off the edge on Trent Edwards.
And Kawika Mitchell and Chris Kelsay each had a quarterback pressure in 11-on-11 work.
Leodis McKelvin was limited in his return from a quad strain.
Not participating on Tuesday were Steve Johnson, Jairus Byrd, David Lindquist, Copeland Bryan, Brad Butler, James Hardy and Marcus Smith.
Practice on Wednesday is scheduled for 1:10pm.