Here are the four takeaways from Buffalo's final practice at St. John Fisher.
Offense made strides
During the first week of training camp Buffalo's offense looked out of sync and had trouble stringing positive plays together during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 during practice sessions. Each week however, their performance improved and with it came more consistent play. It appeared to hit critical mass during the two days of practices in Pittsburgh and finished on a high note this week.
Fred Jackson feels the entire unit has been in lockstep of late.
"I think getting everybody on the same page," Jackson said. "That's the thing about offense. You can't have one guy go out and make a play. You can have one guy contribute, but if we're not all on the same page we're going to look like it.
"The best thing we can do is all get on the same page so we're where we're supposed to be, make plays how we're supposed to make them. Having EJ get comfortable with the way receivers run routes where they're going to be. Where we fit in pass protections and that's how we're evolving and hopefully when we get to the regular season we'll be able to hit the ground running."
As EJ Manuel sees it on field communication has improved by leaps and bounds and that has translated into better execution.
"Communication has been huge," said Manuel. "That's one of the things I really wanted us to work on from OTAs moving into training camp. I feel like our communication has been tremendous from what it was the first day we got out here until now. Especially on the field telling guys this is what I was expecting on this route, or this is why I ran the route this way or this is what I saw in that protection. That kind of communication has improved a lot."
What can Brown do for defense?
He played all three linebacker positions in his time with the Cardinals at Louisville. That experience might prove to come in handy for rookie LB Preston Brown. Earlier in the week he was what head coach Doug Marrone likes to call cross training as the Bills coaching staff tries to find a suitable replacement for Nigel Bradham in the opener knowing he'll be serving a one-game league-imposed suspension.
Brown has been lining up at the outside linebacker positions in addition to his middle linebacker role. Ty Powell and rookie Randell Johnson have also been in the mix as an outside linebacker replacement for Bradham in Week 1 at Chicago.
On Thursday Brown was lining up in just about every defensive package during team portions of practice. He's seen a ton of work in nickel packages and was also getting first team reps at middle linebacker.
"It's good to be busy," Brown said. "The more things I can do to help the team I'm just trying to do that. Going out as SAM, WILL, mike, whatever it is I'm willing to do it."
Brown is really pushing veteran Brandon Spikes for time on the field at middle linebacker, something he set out to do from the start. He's not going to be presumptuous, but Brown admits it's hard not to think about the possibility of being a starter as a rookie.
"It's always in the back of your mind. You know that somebody is going to have to be out there playing," he said. "So you're always thinking about it, but you're just trying to get better every day. In those games you just try to make strides. After these next couple of weeks we'll be in the real fire, so we've got to be ready for the real games."
Brown, who has already earned high praise from his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, got some more from his head coach on Wednesday when Doug Marrone appeared on Bills flagship station WGR Sportsradio 550.
"Preston Brown is having as good a camp as Kiko (Alonso) had last year," said Marrone.
His best play Thursday was his tight downfield coverage on Scott Chandler to foil a touchdown pass attempt from EJ Manuel.
Two minute drill
In preparation for Saturday's game the Bills ran a pair of two-minute drives in practice Thursday. After a pair of short to mid-range completions, EJ Manuel hit Mike Williams down the right sideline with a 15-yard pass to the defense's 41-yard line with 51 seconds left.
Manuel then hit Scott Chandler down the seam for a first down, and followed that with a completion to Fred Jackson out of the backfield for another first down. The offense then called timeout with 28 seconds left. After a short gain play and pair of incomplete passes to Williams and then to Chandler in the end zone, it was 4th-and-5 at the defense's 20 for the offense with 19 seconds remaining.
Manuel threw low and outside to Mike Williams to keep the defender from making a play on the ball along the right sideline, but the ball was trapped off the turf and an incompletion.
The second unit tried to put together a drive as well with Thad Lewis running things. Lewis had an incomplete pass sandwiched by a completion to Chris Gragg and another to Caleb Holley. Absent first down yardage, it was fourth down. Lewis tried to find a target over the middle, but the ball was picked off by Corey Graham ending the drive.
With Sammy Watkins not participating in the team portions of practice Robert Woods has largely been the outside receiver opposite Mike Williams with the top offensive unit. EJ Manuel was looking for him early and often in practice Thursday.
Williams had five catches before they were midway through practice. It's been a stellar camp for the receiver they acquired via trade and his teammates and coaches are noticing.
"I think Mike has done a great job getting himself healthy and doing a great job of competing," said receivers coach Rob Moore. "I've been really pleased with what I've seen so far."
"Mike has definitely proven to me that he can go out and make big catches for us," said EJ Manuel. "In OTAs we weren't necessarily always on the same page. But the things we've been doing after practice and trusting him in practice and letting him go up and make big catches for me has been huge for us. I'm very excited to have both of those guys in our receiving corps this year."