Wednesday's morning practice brought the first red zone work of training camp. It was a pretty even battle inside the 20-yard line between the offense and defense.
The defense had the upper hand early with good coverage in end zone on most of the early snaps during 7-on-7 red zone. Rookie Preston Brown and Corey Graham had pass breakups and DE Jarius Wynn had a sack.
But the offense did turn in some plays of their own with Robert Woods making a difficult catch in the end zone along the right sideline. EJ Manuel threw the pass behind the defender's back and Woods reached around him to pull in the ball for the score.
C.J. Spiller had a nice looking cutback run to the backside of the play and waltzed into the end zone and Thad Lewis took a read option keeper over the goal line on a good play fake.
Defensively, Stephon Gilmore had a pass breakup in the back left corner of the end zone on a pass intended for Watkins. Duke Williams also foiled a pass that had Chris Hogan targeted.
Safety Da'Norris Searcy registered a tackle for loss when he got good penetration and tapped out Spiller in the offensive backfield.
Sammy Watkins got another red zone series going with a touchdown grab in the end zone on a throw from Manuel. Scott Chandler pulled in a pass from Thad Lewis in the back of the end zone. And rookie Caleb Holley made a leaping, twisting catch in the back left corner of the end zone for a score at the close of the final red zone segment.
The execution all around appeared better than it was the day before, but head coach Doug Marrone said there is still a considerable amount of ground to cover.
"I think as a coach my expectations of our performance, especially in practice, is always going to be extremely high," said Marrone. "There are a lot of things on my mind that I want to make sure we get better with. When you look at where we were last year to where we are now it's very encouraging, but still in terms of my expectations of where we need to take this team and we have to perform better."
Right guard battle
Marrone confirmed on Wednesday that there is a competition going for the starting right guard position. The comment came in the wake of Chris Hairston appearing at right guard with the first unit at practice. Hairston was first put there back in the spring. The third-year player is learning the position on the fly, but credits teammates and coaches for bringing him along including the man with whom he's competing.
"Wherever I can help this team, wherever I can make this team, it's something I've got to work on. Guard is very new to me. I'm learning a lot more about the game and the intricacies of playing guard," Hairston told Buffalobills.com. "(Kraig) Urbik is helping me out, (Eric) Wood is helping me out. The coaches are doing a real good job of really giving me some time and good teaching. A little bit of getting in with the ones and playing against good (players) is always good. It's helping me come along."
Hairston is battling with incumbent Kraig Urbik for the right guard spot. Urbik saw most of his work Wednesday with the second unit, but did rotate in with the first group at times.
Searcy faring well
He was considered the favorite going in to land the safety spot alongside Aaron Williams in Buffalo's secondary and though it's early there's no sign of that changing at this point. Da'Norris Searcy has done well in the practice setting at camp, much like he did in the spring. It has Marrone believing in the safety's versatility after watching him excel in a hybrid nickel linebacker role in 2013.
"Da'Norris has really played extremely well starting in the OTAs," said Marrone. "He did a very good job for us last year and I thought at times he didn't get enough credit for the plays that he made. He made a lot of big plays for us.
"When he came to the OTAs, he's very solid, good at what he does. Very knowledgeable, he has good instincts. He's been playing very well and I'm excited about that. He's a multi-position player. He can play the back end safety for us. He can play up on the line of scrimmage. He can blitz and play man to man. He gives us great versatility and he can play special teams. He's a great value for us."
In addition the defensive staff might see a benefit in the fact that Searcy has played with the rest of the starting secondary for the better part of the last two seasons and that group knows how to play off one another already.
"Pretty much everyone knows that me and Aaron came in together and Leodis was already here and the next year we got Stephon so that's three and a half, four years we've been playing together," Searcy said. "So just being back there with each other every day for the past four seasons now we know how everybody is going to play. Being comfortable with each other back there is great."
Picking up the pace
The Bills offense still wants to push tempo in games and operate at a breakneck pace. Optimum speed has not yet been reached in the early practices to this point, but Marrone believes the collective foot will be on the gas soon.
"It needs to move a lot faster on and off the field and doing that," he said. "Obviously we're re-installing again so I know in the back of my mind that may slow things down a little bit. But my expectation is to be right on the money with it so we have to be faster."
The Bills are off on Thursday, but return to practice on Friday with a night practice at 6 p.m.