It was the first hot afternoon practice of Bills training camp on Monday and the defensive performance fit the temperature on the thermometer. Buffalo's pass rush, which set a franchise record for sacks last season, was putting consistent pressure on the quarterbacks for much of the team segments.
Jerry Hughes, who had a solid spring, picked up right where he left off screaming off the edge on several pass play during the team segments. He had a handful of quarterback pressures often flushing Buffalo passers from the pocket and also had a few would-be sacks on the day.
Hughes wasn't alone either as Mario Williams was consistent with his penetration up front as was Pro Bowl DT Kyle Williams. Even the second unit had some success with Jacquies Smith getting some pressures off the right side and Manny Lawson getting up field effectively.
"With the crowd noise and the music that coach Marrone has playing during practice it's causing us to communicate and guys are just flying around to the ball," Hughes told Buffalobills.com. "When you turn on the film it's looking great."
Hughes also credits their talented secondary for forcing Buffalo's quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer due to their solid coverage on the back end.
"We've got a great secondary behind us too," said Hughes. "The way that those back five, back seven guys cover, we have no choice but to get there because they make the quarterback check to his second and third reads. When a quarterback does that it's a D-lineman's job to get back there so we try to do that to the best of our ability."
By no means does Hughes think they're playing top flight ball yet. He admits there are still mistakes being made, but the frequency that they're getting pressure without even installing much of their blitz packages has him and his teammates up front encouraged.
"We're really not even doing much up front. We haven't had pads on. We've done certain things as far as a few blitzes here and there," said Mario Williams. "Most of the time it's just front four. The biggest thing is us playing off of each other."
The big plays were not abundant for the passing game, but the bright spot was Sammy Watkins, who turned in a handful of receptions that drew reactions from the crowd.
The first was a 70-yard catch and run down the right sideline for a touchdown. A few plays later Watkins reached out and snared a ball between two defenders and turned to escape up the right side of the field.
Later Watkins executed a well-timed play over the middle and EJ Manuel hit him in stride with the rookie receiver picking up a healthy amount of yards after the catch. His last impressive play came on a pass that was deflected near the line of scrimmage. The ball went high in the air, but still traveled about 10 yards downfield. Watkins broke back toward the ball and out jumped three defenders to come down with the football earning roaring approval from the fans on hand.
Unfortunately Watkins got poked in the eye on the play and was pulled from practice. Still, it's clear that Watkins even against Buffalo's starting corners is capable of making plays consistently.
"I think he's shown already that he has multiple moves to get off press," said head coach Doug Marrone. "He's fast and he's strong, but he's going to be facing the top corners in the world. We feel we have very good corners on our football team to get him ready to go.
"He's a very mature kid. He takes this very seriously. You can see how he handles himself and how he goes about his business. He goes in there and he wants to make an impact."
Woods: offense has to pick it up
While Watkins performed up to snuff and there were a half dozen other quality plays turned in by the offense, in the estimation of Robert Woods it's not nearly enough for a two and a half hour practice session.
"I think the intensity is high, but we've got to execute a lot better, especially the passing game," said Woods. "We've just got to get open and make some of those plays that we're dropping. We've just got to make plays on the passing end."
There were some drops in Monday's practice and some passes that weren't on the mark. Woods feels those kinds of plays need to be eliminated in the coming days.
"For me I want to look good as a team whenever we're out in public pretty much," he said. "Every time we come out here in front of cameras and fans we want to showcase our improvements in our practices."
The inconsistencies of the passing game may have frustrated Woods as the practice wore on because late in the session the receiver blew his stack in a dust up with Da'Norris Searcy.
Both claim words were not exchanged, but there was a stare down before the two started throwing windmill punches at each other. Both connected with the other's helmet, which was audible from the sidelines. The pair eventually wrestled each other to the ground and teammates eventually separated them.
"You saw it," said Woods. "I've got no comment about it really. Nobody said anything. Me and Da'Norris are cool. It's just something extra outside the play."
"From what I heard he was a little mad today," said Searcy. "Tempers flare out there. I don't like fighting with our guys. I'd rather fight with our guys than against our guys. But like Robert said we're good and we squashed it. What's out on the field is left out on the field so there's no beef going into the building. It's just like it's a family, and brothers sometimes fight. It just happens sometimes, but we leave it out there on the field and go back to work. That's all that matters."
Spikes leaves practice early
About midway through the practice session Monday the heat looked to be getting the best of MLB Brandon Spikes. The veteran linebacker was stripped of his spider pads and jersey and his undershirt and he was doused with cold water and wet towels on the sidelines while practice continued.
He was eventually escorted to the team's cooling tent for the remainder of practice.
"I just know that he has (muscle) cramps right now," said Marrone. "I'm also 110 percent sure that I don't know if he'll be back (Tuesday)."
Also forced to leave practice early was undrafted rookie LB Darrin Kitchens, who suffered an undisclosed lower body injury and had to be carted off the field.
Cornerback Brandon Smith also suffered what Marrone labeled a leg contusion on a collision between three players who were all going for a pass over the middle. He stepped out of practice early as well and did not return.
The Bills have an 8 a.m. practice scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Check out photos of the action on and off the field at Bills Training Camp at the Monday, July 21 afternoon open practice.