There was a noticeably different feel to Bills practice as mandatory minicamp got underway late Tuesday afternoon. With the release of Tarvaris Jackson Monday, the quarterback competition was reduced from three candidates to two.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone explained why the decision was made on the eve of the team's mandatory three-day camp.
"I think it's very difficult in what we're trying to accomplish when we're trying to get a starting quarterback from that competition," said Marrone. "When you look at it from the standpoint of reps there's just not enough reps to really do a good job of evaluating. So we made a decision to go with the three quarterbacks and the competition out there right now will be a lot clearer, especially for myself as a coach, with the amount of reps that Kevin and EJ will get."
Kolb, who prefaced his remarks by saying he enjoyed his time with Jackson and respects him as a player, certainly welcomes more repetitions with new teammates in a new offense, but isn't prepared to accurately assess a reduced quarterback field as far as the competition for the starting job is concerned.
"I don't really know that I could analyze it right now. We put in new stuff (Tuesday) so it's going to be repetitive, but I focus on myself," said Kolb. "I do the things right myself and play the game the way I can play it then things will take of themselves. I'm sure EJ is thinking the same thing. That's just the way the game works."
The benefits for EJ Manuel are significant. No longer is he the third wheel forced to take mental reps each and every practice. Instead he's taking live reps and he and Kolb split the reps pretty much down the middle on Tuesday.
"I knew I'd get a chance to make more plays and get more reps," said Manuel. "Your body gets to stay warm. You don't take three reps and then you're done. Anytime you can get more reps it's a positive thing for you. So it's a great opportunity."
Kolb was the first man through the rotation followed by Manuel and undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel also got a handful of reps through the course of practice.
Deep ball attemptsThe offense was trying to get some deep ball work in early during the team portions of practice. In their first seven-on-seven about half of the pass plays were long passes downfield. Unfortunately the offense only connected on two of them.
But Kolb was not discouraged by the inability to connect for big plays at this point.
"I'm sure you saw that we had maybe six or seven deep balls that we were just right there with everybody with both groups," said Kolb. "The one that sticks out in my mind is the one to Stevie (Johnson) early. It was a post route and he came back to the sideline and I said, 'Hey man it's okay I've never thrown a deep ball to you since I've been here.' That's stuff we'll work out and I'm not worried about it."
More reps for both Kolb and Manuel with the offensive playmakers will only help to tighten up those connections in the passing game. The two that did successfully connect went from Manuel to Da'Rick Rogers and Jeff Tuel to T.J. Graham.
Legursky lines up at guardBills newest offensive lineman Doug Legursky had his first practice with his new teammates Tuesday and the coaches lined him up at left guard. For most of practice Legursky ran with the second unit, but was rotated in at the first team left guard spot in place of Colin Brown.
"It was exciting," Legursky told Buffalobills.com. "I got some good quality reps with the twos and the ones and I felt comfortable. I know the offense pretty well. Coming in last week and finally signing and they pretty much threw the playbook at me and sent me home, but I pride myself on being a cerebral player to where I can kind of ingest that and take it all in and not have to be coached a lot on what to do as opposed to how to do it. So things went good today."
Marrone said he felt a bit shorthanded on the offensive interior, which led to the Legursky signing. He also confirmed that Legursky will be part of the competition for the starting left guard role.
"He's been a pretty good swing player," said Marrone. "He's done that before where he's played guard and center. He'll compete for one of those positions and again right now we really don't have, just like at quarterback, we're having that competition at left guard. Colin (Brown) is in there, Doug is in there and we might put some other players in there."
The third team left guard Tuesday was undrafted rookie Zach Chibane.
Branch and Lawson back in the foldAfter attending the voluntary veteran minicamp prior to the 2013 NFL draft, free agent signees Alan Branch and Manny Lawson were back on the practice field Tuesday. Lawson saw work with the starting unit on a rotational basis, while Branch ran mainly with the second unit on defense also being rotated in for snaps.
"This tempo is something," said Alan Branch following practice. "I don't think no matter how hard I trained at home, there was no way I was going to be ready for what we just did and only thing you can do is go out there and practice and get yourself into the shape and get used to the tempo that they have on offense."
Coach Marrone reiterated how he remained in contact with both Branch and Lawson during the OTAs, and that they both had acceptable personal reasons for not attending the voluntary practices last month.
"I think it's early yet. I'm excited about some of his skill sets and the way he can fit into this defense," said Marrone of Lawson. "There's a lot of competition on that side. There are a lot of different packages and things that we're doing. But I'm excited that he's here and working and I'm glad things worked out well for him and he's past the things that are going on. He did the right thing and I'm looking forward to him playing well for us."
Defense active in passing lanesIt was evident that the Bills defense had the better of play, especially when it came to the plays turned in by the secondary. Buffalo's defensive backs got their hands on several passes through the course of practice to force incompletions.
"The big thing today was just communication," said Butler, who unofficially had three pass breakups in Tuesday's practice. "We saw on film that the mistakes we were making were part of communication. If we communicate and we're on point, we'll be a good defense."
Coach Marrone singled out his defensive backfield specifically for their play Tuesday.
"I was really pleased with the defensive backs especially," said Marrone. "I thought this was the best that they've communicated since we've been together, which is a great feeling for myself because it's a feeling of comfort that they're getting comfortable with our scheme. But I think now that the quarterbacks are getting a chance to work with the receivers the timing will come into play and that will help us offensively."
Among some of the more notable plays on defense was Alex Carrington's tackle for loss on a C.J. Spiller run up the middle. Mario Williams and Keith Pough both had would-be sacks. Stephon Gilmore sniffed out a screen play to post a would-be tackle for loss, and Aaron Williams posted a nice interception over the middle on a pass intended for Mike Caussin.