The Bills safety position has been in flux this spring due mainly to the absence of Aaron Williams in the lineup. Williams is the only sure thing at safety with the rest of the candidates battling for the right to fill the other safety position.
Williams is still sidelined as he’s rehabbing from offseason surgery, but will be full go for training camp. His absence has allowed the other five safeties to get a lot of snaps through the spring practices.
The safety combinations have varied somewhat week to week. On Wednesday the starting tandem was again Duke Williams and Bacarri Rambo as was the case Tuesday. The other pairing was Corey Graham and Jonathan Meeks. Kenny Ladler rotated in and out for Graham for a snap here and there.
Graham, who is transitioning to safety from cornerback, has fared well according to his head coach.
“Not surprising that he’s really taken to it,” said Rex Ryan. “He’s smart and I think that’s the prerequisite at that position. He looks good to me.”
Paired with Meeks, the two offer solid cover skills. Meeks, who was injured last year in the preseason opener and was eventually placed on injured reserve, hasn’t played in a game since 2013. Through the spring however, he’s quietly demonstrated he can still cover a lot of ground in the defensive backfield.
“I had a little rust when I first started back,” said Meeks. “That was a chance for me to build some confidence to show these new coaches that I have range and what I can do. It solidified for me that I can still run around and I feel faster and stronger. My body feels rested so that year helped me out. That year off was a blessing.”
When asked about the vacant safety position Ryan has withheld judgement choosing to wait until the players put the pads on in training camp. On the whole he and his defensive coaches have been pleased with what they’ve gotten from the safety contingent.
“I think all those guys, they’ve all had some real positive plays, but I still think we’ve got to get better as we go before I’m real comfortable with any guy taking over,” Ryan said.
QBs working through heavy volume
Buffalo’s quarterbacks have had to deal process a heavy load of material in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s voluminous playbook in spring practices. Wednesday was another day where the offensive focus went heavy on the details.
“It’s the terminology, it’s the formation, it’s how we want to run particular routes, how we want to read them and were still familiarizing ourselves with all those things,” said Matt Cassel. “It’s very early – I mean it’s late in the off season, but at the same time it’s early in the system. So we still have to study really hard and I think this time is critical for us, especially as we grow towards the season. Every day there have been subtle changes and there’s been a lot of install throughout the entire offseason.”
Even the offensive linemen see the amount of recall and processing that the quarterbacks have to go through during team work.
“We’ve been installing a lot of plays,” said Richie Incognito. “G-Ro (Greg Roman) has a very extensive and very broad and very in depth offense. It’s a lot of plays, a lot of terminology and a lot of new stuff. We’re playing to come together as one unit, but we have a long way to go to be where we want to be.”
There were fewer downfield passes on Wednesday in comparison to Tuesday with a lot of underneath and dump down throws from the quarterbacks.
Matt Cassel’s best pass came when Chris Hogan got great separation on a route on the right side to beat the corner on the play.
EJ Manuel had a great looking touch pass during red zone that he dropped over the outside shoulder of the cornerback and into the waiting hands of Marqueis Gray for a touchdown despite tight coverage.
Tyrod Taylor’s best throw was on a pass to the right side where he fit the ball between the corner and the safety to Robert Woods for a 15-yard pickup.
Hogan, Woods separating themselves
Chris Hogan has come a long way the last two seasons with the Bills, from a dependable special teams player to a contributor at receiver. Never satisfied, Hogan has really sharpened his route running game and it’s showing in practice.
Hogan was very effective Wednesday working against cornerbacks gaining consistent separation from one series to the next. The wideout was getting up on the toes of the cornerbacks quickly and then cutting on a dime forcing them into quick and sometimes incorrect decisions in coverage.
His best route came when he put a double move on a cornerback that left him on his heels and unable to recover as Hogan calmly pulled in the pass and headed up the field.
Robert Woods was right there with Hogan and a clear favorite of EJ Manuel during team work. During one series Manuel went to Woods on three out of four snaps with Woods moving the sticks on two of the three receptions.
Hogan and Woods could be a dangerous pairing in between the numbers for the Bills this season.
Defensive plays aplenty
Pass pressure and hands in the passing lanes were the theme for Buffalo’s defense Wednesday. Manny Lawson got things started when he knocked away a pass in the flat intended for Charles Clay.
Ross Cockrell made a great second effort as he swatted a ball out of the hands of Marquise Goodwin as he was trying to pull in a bomb from Cassel for a touchdown.
Mario Butler turned in an interception when he jumped a short out route that had Caleb Holley targeted. Butler’s momentum carried him out of bounds, but he got two feet down after making the play.
Also turning in pass breakups Wednesday were Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham and CB Rod Sweeting.
Would be sacks were logged by Stefan Charles, Randell Johnson and Ty Powell.
Bills second-year offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson was back on the field with his teammates Wednesday after missing the first day of mandatory minicamp due to travel issues. His absence on Tuesday came with consequences.
For most of the spring Henderson has been working at left tackle with the second unit. On Wednesday he was lining up at right tackle with the third unit seeing a few rotational snaps with the second offensive line at right tackle.
“It is what it is,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman. “You’re not here for a day, you miss a day and you’re a day behind. It’s that simple.”
Undrafted rookie Tyson Chandler manned the second team right tackle spot for most of practice. Guard/tackle Darryl Johnson worked at second team left tackle. Cordy Glenn and Cyrus Kouandjio were again the starting bookends on the edges.
Top draft choice Ronald Darby saw his first action with the first unit during team work Wednesday. With Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore being held out of team work, Ross Cockrell and Ron Brooks have seen the most work with the first team defense.
Wednesday the top pairing was Darby and Cockrell with Rod Sweeting and Brooks running with the twos.
DE Michael Buchanan saw some reps on the second defensive line. Alex Carrington rotated in after seeing more of the work there Tuesday.
The running back rotation continues to be LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon as the top three. Karlos Williams was fourth in the order Wednesday, but he has flip-flopped with Bryce Brown.