Ratcheting up the intensity
It was anticipated that there would be more of an edge to practice with another team lining up on the other side of the line of scrimmage Wednesday and that proved to be the case. After 30 minutes of warm up drills and individual position work separately the two teams began the competition period with backs and tight ends working 1-on-1 against linebackers in pass rush drills and receivers and defensive backs battled on 1-on-1 pass routes.
On the whole the linebackers for both teams won the majority of the battles. The backs for Buffalo who held their ground the best were Boobie Dixon and Frank Summers.
After winning with a straight rip move on his first rush, Brandon Spikes went to a spin move on his second rep and won again.
"You've seen two," shouted Spikes. "I've got another move left though!"
The Steelers backs will have to wait for Thursday because the drill period was over before Spikes was up again in the rotation.
The receivers might have been even more amped up than the linebackers. There was an awful lot of jawing between Buffalo's receivers and Pittsburgh's defensive backs. As receivers and DBs went 1-on-1 the other wideouts and defensive backs provided a running commentary based on what happened on the play they were witnessing.
It was sparked by Ike Taylor in the first play of 1-on-1 against Robert Woods. Woods beat him off the line and made the reception. Instead of tagging Woods off Taylor tackled him.
That intensity carried into the first team period when the Bills offense faced the Steelers defense. Doing first down work there were a good number of run plays. On the second play from scrimmage C.J. Spiller got taken hard to the ground in what was supposed to be a 'thud' period.
When everyone got off the pile Spiller sprang up and was hot. Both teams got real close and the jawing continued. Spiller had to be escorted to the sideline by one of Buffalo's assistant coaches to cool off. There were a couple of other minor skirmishes through the course of the session.
"That's football," said EJ Manuel. "When you have a bunch of guys that want to come out and compete and put their best foot forward each and every day. That's what you're going to have. I think we're all professionals, we know at the end of the day we can't come out here and fist fight or anything like that. We won't get anything accomplished that way. You're going to have some tussles here and there."
The Bills traveled down to Latrobe, PA to play in a series of combined practices at Steelers Camp before the Bills vs. Steelers preseason game.
Tight ends making plays
The tight end contingent for the Bills has been beset with injuries. It's really slowed down their progress in the passing game as a group this summer. Tony Moeaki was still sidelined Wednesday with a hamstring injury, but Scott Chandler and Lee Smith led perhaps their best day collectively.
Smith had three receptions on the day with his best play coming on a well-timed throw by EJ Manuel over the middle that went for 20 yards. Chandler's best reception also came on a crossing pattern with Manuel hitting him in stride allowing him to run for more yards after the catch on another pass play that went for 20-plus yards.
"I think it was just one of those days. I thought I've been on page or on mark with all of our guys. I think it's just a matter of our quarterback play," said Manuel. "You've got to be accurate and put the ball on them to allow them to make plays. I thought Scott (Chandler) did a great job and Lee (Smith) did a great job too. They just happened to be open and it's just finding a cavity within their defense and that's where they were. That's what I did, just threw the ball to them."
When it comes to the history of linebacking corps in the NFL the Steelers have a lot more big names than the Bills, but on Wednesday Buffalo's linebackers were making some noise. During the first competition period when linebackers were going 1-on-1 against backs and tight ends in pass rush situations the Bills linebackers fared quite well.
Nigel Bradham led the drill off by beating Tauren Poole with a quick first step and then drove by him hard getting his shoulder up under the Steelers back to tap out the quarterback.
Keith Rivers was next and threw H-back Bryce Davis aside on the next snap.
Brandon Spikes then went with a spin move to escape the clutches of Miguel Maysonet to get to the quarterback.
Preston Brown won on two straight snaps driving TE David Paulson into the backfield and into the QB on his second rep. It earned some praise from linebackers coach Fred Pagac.
"Not bad at all Preston," said Pagac. "Not bad at all."
Bradham looked significantly quicker off the ball than anyone else in the drill on either side of the line.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a proven veteran with a pair of Super Bowl rings. EJ Manuel is a second-year quarterback trying to establish himself as a trusted starter. Perhaps that's why the approach that each offense took with their primary signal caller was so different.
For the Steelers the offense on Wednesday was very stripped down according to Big Ben. When asked if he did much at the line pre-snap during team Roethlisberger said their approach was pretty straightforward.
"No, nothing," he said. "We had one snap count. We didn't do any hand signals, no audibles. You noticed when we were going they were getting off the ball quite a bit, so one time I changed the count and got them all to jump, but we kept it very, very basic (Wednesday) and we will (Thursday) too."
The Bills on the other hand ran everything just as they do in their own intrasquad team segments at St. John Fisher.
"We played ball. We didn't tone anything down," said EJ Manuel. "We did our normal protocol as far as our plays. It's just a matter of us going out there and executing against what they're doing on defense."
After Manuel's post-practice press conference was over I asked him why he thought there was such a difference in philosophy about how to run the offense in these intersquad practices. Buffalo's QB had a good answer.
"You can do that when you've got two Super Bowls like Ben," Manuel said in reference to Pittsburgh's approach. "That's where we're trying to get."