The fifth day of organized team activities brought the first extended red zone work during the team segments of practice Wednesday. Good plays were turned in by both the offense and the defense during the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work inside the 20-yard line.
The offense had their share of scoring plays, but there was some miscommunication at times that compromised execution. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett saw some of his newer players thinking their way through the plays at times instead of just playing.
"Today with the red zone with it being the first red zone (work), typically it's a completely different package and that's why guys were thinking a little bit and they were trying to get everything worked out," said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. "It's a lot different than the field. It happens so fast down there whether it's pads or no pads. Everything is quicker down in that red zone. We've talked to the guys all the time. So we have to be able to execute that."
Among the better plays by the offense in the red zone Wednesday was a post route run by Kevin Elliott with EJ Manuel hitting him in stride for a score. Elliott also had another scoring play on a corner route. Tony Moeaki made a nice fingertip grab in the left rear corner of the end zone on a well-placed ball by Manuel. Caleb Holley had a diving grab that ran parallel to the goal line near the front left pylon that broke the plane for a score on a throw from Jeff Tuel. Chris Hogan and Sammy Watkins also had scoring plays.
Defensively, some plays were turned in as well. Brandon Spikes batted down a pass attempt over the middle by Manuel. Spikes then did push-ups at the end of the play as a punishment for not coming down with an interception.
Rookie cornerback Ross Cockrell picked off a pass over the middle in the end zone and returned it out to near midfield on a red zone throw by Jeff Tuel. Jonathan Meeks read a pass play well and intercepted a Manuel pass that was intended for Watkins on an in route. Jerry Hughes had a would-be sack on a drop back by Tuel, and undrafted rookie Kenny Ladler intercepted a Manuel pass on a miscommunication between the quarterback and Sammy Watkins.
Special teams focusThe segments for special teams look to be the same as last year in terms of length, but special teams coordinator Danny Crossman is breaking things down to the grassroots level to ensure that each and every player that has a chance of making this roster as a special teamer knows exactly the way to execute no matter the situation.
The focus in week two of OTA practices has been kickoff coverage. In addition to lane responsibility and the dos and don'ts when it comes to leverage, Crossman at times has made a point of stopping a rep and making corrections immediately on the field for all to see. Many times a coach will wait to correct it in film review in the classroom, but Buffalo's special teams coordinator is trying to address while it's fresh in everyone's mind. It's an interesting approach that's not often seen in the practice setting.
Crossman has also made use of some of Buffalo's new additions this offseason to serve as cornerstones of his special teams units. Free agent signees like Anthony Dixon and Corey Graham are serving in prominent roles on special teams.
"It's great. I started my career off as a special teamer. I enjoy it. It's something that I really pride myself on," Graham told Buffalobills.com. "So to have the opportunity to go out there and lead guys and show guys how to do it the right way it's special. I'm glad that he put that responsibility on me and I look forward to having the opportunity to do that."
Handling kickoffs Wednesday were Dan Carpenter and Dustin Hopkins. Both kicked well and were aided by a wind at their back on the team's grass field. Hopkins, who was a bit inconsistent last week, was much more effective Wednesday morning. All but one of his six kickoffs cleared the back of the end zone and would've been automatic touchbacks. His longest sailed 10 yards beyond the end line good for a 85-yard kick. His shortest went nine yards deep in the end zone.
Hopkins will need to maintain that type of consistency to convince the coaches he can be an asset to the team's kick coverage unit.
Carpenter meanwhile put two through the back of the end zone and another nine yards deep in the end zone on his best kicks of the day.
The only other note from special teams work was C.J. Spiller was one of the designated kick returners joining Leodis McKelvin and T.J. Graham. Spiller hasn't returned a kickoff for Buffalo since the 2011 season. Marquise Goodwin was not part of the rotation Wednesday.
Lineup notesThe biggest change in the lineup Wednesday was Mark Asper's move to starting left guard. With Chris Williams not in attendance for the practice, Asper was moved from third-string center to first team left guard. Newly signed Macky McPherson took Asper's place as third-team center during team work.
Antoine McClain, who had been manning right tackle with the third unit was bumped up to right guard with the second unit due to the absence of J.J. 'Unga, who was held out of practice for a second straight day.
Also held out of practice completely, but in attendance were Kiko Alonso and undrafted rookie CB Darius Robinson.
Also on offense Kevin Elliott was rotated in for some first team reps as well as Chris Hogan with Robert Woods still limited coming off ankle surgery. Elliott is trying to prove he can be another big target outside.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz continued to mix and match nickel linebacker combinations Wednesday. With Alonso out and Brandon Spikes back from a day out of team work, it was mostly Spikes and Nigel Bradham as the first team nickel linebackers.
Schwartz made it clear that he's not ready to cement anyone in any job at this point in time.
"The stuff that you're seeing on the practice field, we're not judging players on how they finish plays. It's a non-competitive situation," he said. "We want to learn their role in the defense. We want to learn how everything fits together, and they are being judged on that and their work ethic."
Undrafted rookies Deon Broomfield and Kenny Ladler got some reps as second team safeties.
Mario Williams was back at practice after missing Tuesday's practice.
ScheduleThursday will be the last day of week two of OTA practices. Start time is scheduled for 10:30.