One of the most highly touted draft choices in a while has not disappointed through the first two weeks of training camp for the Bills. On Sunday night he'll be putting his talents on display for a national television audience. Buffalo's top pick Sammy Watkins has turned in eye-opening plays with regularity at training camp. Now with the chance to take it into his first NFL preseason game Watkins is eager to make things happen.
"I'm definitely excited for the opportunity to experience my pro debut at the Hall of Fame Game," said Watkins. "It was one of the first things I noticed when I looked at the schedule after being drafted by the Bills. Growing up a Bills fan, the chance to play in Canton on the same weekend that Andre Reed gets inducted into the Hall will be surreal."
The rookies have been prepped by the veteran players. They've been told the speed of the game will increase from camp practice to a preseason game.
"They told me it turns up a notch that you can't even imagine right now," said third-round pick Preston Brown. "So you'll see once you get out there, that's all they've told me right now so it should be fun."
Playing time to be determined
Bills head coach Doug Marrone did not reveal how long he intended to play his starting units on both sides of the ball Sunday night. He wanted to review injury situations at various positions with his coaching staff before making a final call.
"The expectation is that we're going to play the game to win," Marrone said flatly.
That being said proven players like C.J. Spiller aren't expecting to see a ton of work.
"We probably won't play a ton, but while we're out there we want to make sure that we're looking crisp," said Spiller. "We don't want to turn the ball over. We want to take care of it and put some points on the board. This will be a great stepping stone to trying to become an elite offense. I'm excited about getting out there and about seeing the twos and some of our young offensive linemen and obviously in our running back room I want to see what those guys can do."
Offense stressing efficiency
EJ Manuel and the Bills offense has tightened things up over the past several days in terms of protections and timing and accuracy in the passing game. The second week of camp has been noticeably better than the first. Now Manuel and company want to continue that more consistent play into the game Sunday night.
"A productive night. A bunch of good drives. Move the ball," said Manuel of what he wants the offense to come away with following Sunday night's game. "If we score a lot of points that's awesome, but I think the main thing is we want to see guys get in and out of the huddle, go through plays and execute. This is our first game so we just want to go out there and do what we've been practicing every day."
Coordinators focused on matchups
In the first preseason game coaches are worried less about the effectiveness of their scheme and more about who can win their matchups. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett confirmed that he's more focused on gauging talent and who can help the offense most.
"You want to be able to see the guys that can compete when it's real live football, see the guys that really want to get after it, understand the system and that you can depend on," Hackett said. "I think the biggest thing throughout the whole preseason from an evaluation standpoint with all of the guys is do they know their job, how do they communicate with the other guys and how do they make plays afterwards? It's a great opportunity for us to see all of the players and what they can do."
New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is in more of an evaluation mode as he inherits a new unit on his side of the ball in his first season in Buffalo.
"We want to see some good communication, some tackling, we want to see players win," he said. "Not necessarily scheme because we won't scheme a whole lot for preseason games. I want to see guys rush one-on-one and see if they can win. We want guys to cover one-on-one and see if they can win. This is a talent evaluation part of what we're doing. It's about seeing who we can rely on to be on the field."
The availability of starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin for the preseason opener is unknown. McKelvin has not taken a team rep in practice in more than a week sticking to just individual position drills. Gilmore has received a series or two of team reps here and there, but has also been limited.
Tight ends Scott Chandler (groin) and Tony Moeaki (hamstring) have not practiced all week and are not expected to play.
The Giants are coming off a 7-9 non-playoff season. They revamped their offense with new coordinator Ben McAdoo, who came to New York from Green Bay where he was quarterbacks coach. His offense has been described as a fast-paced West Coast offense with smash mouth principles.
"There are five games [on our preseason schedule], and you approach it in different ways when you have five instead of four," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "But we are going to benefit from this, from more opportunities in our new offense."
New York GM Jerry Reese turned over the roster with several veterans not re-signed in the offseason. Among their more notable free agents additions were RB Rashad Jennings, G Geoff Schwartz and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. LSU WR Odell Beckham was the Giants first-round pick this spring.
Starting LT William Beatty is not expected to play Sunday night. Free agent signee Charles Brown is expected to start in his absence.