Bills OTA practices came to a close on Friday with a spirited session that had head coach Doug Marrone encouraging his players in a team huddle to build on what has been accomplished in the three weeks of voluntary workouts.
"The one thing I did like throughout the 10 days, was the competitiveness, whether it was generated from the individual player, or it was generated because we were moving people around so much. That's the type of competitiveness I was looking for," said Marrone. "I was able to see that. Now the goal for myself, as the head coach, is how can we escalate that competition when we put on the pads on, because the rules open us up to do more things."
Marrone and his coaching staff already sound as though they have an eye on the team's mandatory minicamp, which begins in a couple of weeks' time.
"Being a new staff (the OTAs) are a benefit," said Marrone. "Getting them to understand what we're looking for in our system and really what our expectations are as we move forward. Those are the things that happen from the mental part outside of teaching schematics, learning about development, learning about the drills. For us we had to teach them the drills that we wanted them to do and be familiar with so now we can go out in the mandatory minicamp and expect better production."
The team's three-day minicamp will be the final on field tune-up for the players and begins June 11th.
Graham one of the standoutsNFL talent evaluators often say players make the biggest jump in their on-field performance from year one to year two. After getting a handle on the demands of the NFL as a rookie, they more effectively prepare for their second year in the league. T.J. Graham looks like a prime candidate to make such a jump as a second-year player.
Graham made a host of plays in the passing game through the course of OTA practices. The former third-round pick had the play of the day in the final OTA session getting behind the defense deep down the left sideline to pull in a 50-yard pass from Tarvaris Jackson.
The speed receiver said he put in a lot of time to sharpen his game and believes he's already reaping the rewards in practice.
"I understood what I had to do for an NFL game or a practice-what things to work on," said Graham. "It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. You've got to pace yourself. The training this year was a little different. There's different things I trained on—speed work, better endurance. I feel good."
Other receivers like Brad Smith and Marques Goodwin also demonstrated good consistency through the course of the voluntary practices. Both developed good on field chemistry with the new quarterbacks on hand, but Graham was probably the most impressive in the receiving corps from start to finish.
QB UpdateThe OTA practices have provided the coaching staff with plenty of tape to evaluate the decision making, performance and progress of the quarterbacks all vying for the starting job. Although EJ Manuel hasn't taken quite as many reps as Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb, Marrone sounded encouraged by the strides Manuel has made thus far this spring.
"As far as EJ is concerned along with Jeff Tuel, who wasn't on the field a lot, but I got to watch, both those quarterbacks from a mental standpoint and a physical ability standpoint being able to go out there and do it have done better in my experience than any other young quarterbacks that we've brought in with any of the organizations I've been involved with in the NFL," Marrone said.
As for Jackson and Kolb they again flip-flopped being the first quarterback through in the rotation during the team segments. On occasion Manuel was second in line in the rotation, but for the most part it's been the two veterans getting the most work.
Marrone, who said he liked the way that Jackson and Kolb have been competing, made sure to reiterate that a timetable on naming a starting quarterback for his team will be predicated on player performance.
"I think the timetable comes when one of those guys separates themselves," he said. "The struggle with that position as well as some other positions on the field is it goes back to reps. You only have a certain amount of time. I'm going to take a good look this week and go back and see it. We have had enough reps on them to look and see what they've done."
Subbing in at cornerThe Bills have been a bit shorthanded this week at cornerback with some of Buffalo's cover men nicked up. On Friday it prompted secondary coach Donnie Henderson to shift Aaron Williams to cornerback. He did it mid-series telling Williams he'd be there the rest of the day. The third-year defensive back, who has lined up exclusively at safety during OTAs took the change in stride.
"I felt like I was at home. Being there the last two years, I'm comfortable there," Williams told Buffalobills.com. "So whatever time coach needs a corner there I'm the first one to jump up. Just because I moved to safety doesn't mean I can't play corner. So I was just out there being physical and doing the things I did, and go out there and make plays."
The two biggest changes Williams said he's had to make in the shift to safety is widening his field of vision and dramatically improving his communication skills pre-snap.
"The difference between the safeties and corner is at corner you're only focused on one guy," he said. "At safety you've got four guys to worry about so I'm back there I don't have to worry about just one guy, I can open my vision up and see what the quarterback is looking at with splits and all the different techniques that they do with us."
As for his communication he sees it as a work in progress.
"It's coming along," said Williams. "It's progressed since week one. It took me a while just because I didn't know what I was doing. I was just out there feeling it, but now I know a little more and know what I'm doing a little bit and making the calls and feeling confident about it."
Zebras at practiceAt every one of the 10 practice sessions the Bills had officials observing plays during the team segments and throwing flags when warranted. Marrone and his staff believes it creates an added measure of accountability by the players in the practice setting.
"I think it's extremely important for us," said Marrone. "We always want to constantly be aware of one the rules and playing within the rules. They call the fouls and then we're able to take that off the tape and say, 'Listen this is a foul and we can't do this.' So we get extra teaching time with those officials at practice and I think it benefits. I think studies have shown that when you have officials at practice that during the season you reduce your penalty intake."
The pre-snap penalties appeared to be fewer and further between as the practices went along.
Kickers duelThe Bills' two placekickers have made it clear it will be a strong competition at the position. Veteran Rian Lindell has been a bit more accurate than sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins, while Hopkins has shown a stronger leg.
Lindell was good on five of his six attempts Friday including a 58-yarder that came right after his only miss. That was a 55-yard attempt that was wide to the right.
Hopkins was five-for-seven missing 49 and 55-yard attempts. Both were wide left. Hopkins, to his credit, did come right back after his miss and bombed a 59-yarder between the uprights.
Both kickers had a slight breeze at their back on their attempts.
ScheduleThe players are off for the next week and a half before returning for the mandatory minicamp on June 11th.