The Bills 2014 training camp presented by Connors & Ferris got off to a rousing start thanks in large part to the fans who were loud and boisterous from the outset. Buoyed by a night practice atmosphere the players looked eager to compete as well.
The offense was getting a lot of the support early with high hopes for EJ Manuel and top draft choice Sammy Watkins.
"Oh it's great," said Watkins. "I've been waiting on this for a whole month now and I've just back home, training, trying to get in shape then to come to this scenery. There's probably some 5,000 people here. We have great fans and that's just motivating me to come out and have a great day, practice hard and don't put nothing bad on tape."
Watkins turned in a few receptions all of which came from the arm of Manuel during the team portions of practice. His first catch came on a stop route on the left side as he got separation from Stephon Gilmore.
He later caught an out route from Manuel that was well-timed and drew cheers from the crowd on hand. Manuel also hit him on a misdirection play for what would've been first down yardage and more during 11-on-11. Watkins had four catches during team work.
Manuel admitted in his second training camp there was a lot less apprehension coming in having familiarity with how things work.
"My confidence is very high," he said. "I'm excited to get back out here. We got tons of weapons on offense. Our defense is still solid. Looking forward to seeing what kind of product we put out on the field in two weeks against the NY Giants. It was awesome, it felt good."
Next man up
The Bills began the process of moving on without Kiko Alonso, who was lost to an ACL injury three weeks ago. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was flanked by Nigel Bradham and Keith Rivers on defense Sunday.
"Honestly, I feel for the kid but, you know, next man's up and he's got to be accountable and step in there and get the job done," Spikes said. "We've just got to fill in that wound and step it up a lot, everybody."
Rivers, who stepped in a good deal for Alonso when he was limited in OTAs and minicamp appeared to get most of the work in his place, but defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz believes he has two pretty interchangeable linebackers in Rivers and Bradham.
"Yeah definitely I think both of us are similar players and can play the run and the pass just as well," said Rivers. "The coaches do a great job of cross training us so we're able to play. So if that happens to somebody like Kiko we don't miss a beat and we're ready to go."
Bradham meanwhile was teamed with Preston Brown in the nickel package pairings, while Spikes and Rivers were another pairing.
Chris Hairston was a player who found himself thrust into a role and it came a bit more on the fly than most other position assignments Sunday. Bills GM Doug Whaley confirmed on Friday that rookie seventh round pick Seantrel Henderson would be lining up at left tackle in place of Cordy Glenn who is on the Non-Football Illness list. But Henderson left practice before the team segments of practice even began.
Hairston, who spent most of his time at guard late in the spring practices, suddenly found himself at left tackle next to Chris Williams. Coming back off the Non-Football Illness list himself after missing all of 2013, Hairston is still trying to knock the rust off and round back into form.
Stepping for Marcell Dareus alongside Kyle Williams on the defensive line was second-year man Corbin Bryant. Bryant played a larger role in Buffalo's defensive line rotation last season after Alex Carrington went down with a season-ending injury in Week 3. He could see similar playing time in the rotation this season if he continues to make progress.
Punters and kickers got some work in Sunday. Both Brian Moorman and his rookie competitor Jake Dombrowski were attempting to hang punts high kicking from midfield to the opponents' 43-yard line. Both were kicking Aussie-style punts dropping the ball point down to create the proper bounce if it hits the turf. Moorman did crack one of his trademark moonshots that drew some applause from the crowd.
Veteran kicker Dan Carpenter was the only one to take field goal attempts Sunday. He was a perfect 8-for-8 on his attempts with his last one a 46-yarder that skimmed off the crossbar and through.
Buffalo Bills Training Camp 2014 presented by Connors & Ferris kicked off with a night practice at St. John Fisher College on Sunday, July 20.