It was a day when the script for practice included pressure as Buffalo's defense began to install some of their blitz packages Tuesday during OTAs. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was dialing up a number of different pressures to reduce the time for decision making for Buffalo's offense.
"Everyone in OTAs now is doing it," said head coach Doug Marrone. "We have to get our players ready. You think about how training from an offensive standpoint, we're getting the technique correct and then you're going forward and working on those technique and fundamentals. Then for the quarterback he's going to throw a route versus air. Then the next point is decision making. So the faster we can get to situations where is it zone, or is it pressure? Now they have to make decisions on the field and the better they'll become and the better the evaluation for us."
Pettine's scheme offers a wide array of pressures with linebackers and defensive backs all potential blitzers from a number of different alignments. It was clear that it was an adjustment for the Bills offensive front and the quarterbacks as the Buffalo QBs tucked the ball and ran more often than they had in previous practices.
Defensive end Mario Williams, who figures to be the linchpin in Pettine's pressure packages, is excited about what the scheme offers in terms of potential.
"Extremely," said Williams when asked if he was excited about the defensive scheme. "We're obviously going to be aggressive, but we're going to cover too, so we're going to give you everything. But at the end of the day we're putting people in different positions and things like that. We're still trying to figure out where this guy is going to go and where that guy is going to go. But it's coming along pretty good. It's a lot to take in especially the first day. We had a lot of calls, but we have a lot of smart guys on our side, so I'm pretty sure we'll take care of it."
Williams himself was lining up in a host of different spots depending on the blitz call.
"If I had to guess I'll probably be all over the place, but it comes with working out and being able to just move and know whenever you're in a different position that you have to switch it up a little bit in terms of your point of attack," he said. "I'm just ready to get out there and go."
Hands on coaching
Buffalo's head coach has shown through the first handful of workouts in the voluntary veteran minicamp prior to the draft, the rookie minicamp and the OTAs that he's not going to be one to sit back and observe his players and assistant coaches. Marrone has been very hands on often taking on the role of position coach.
"I think when you first become a head coach it's kind of like, 'How do I want to be?' You're trying to look for an identity," said Marrone. "I don't know that many people say this publicly, but I'll tell you the truth. For me that first approach was like, 'Golly, I don't really feel like I'm doing anything.' I felt kind of like a judge just saying, 'This side play like this and this side play like that.' What I found was I didn't enjoy that. That wasn't my passion and what I wanted to do.
"So I try to get involved now more for myself than anything else. I think it helps getting around to all those position groups and you can relate to those players better because you have to coach the whole team."
Marrone has mainly gone back to his own offensive line roots in the practices thus far. On Tuesday he was instructing offensive linemen on hand placement and technique. He's also snapped balls to his quarterbacks during individual position drills.
QB Competition update
With the quarterback competition in full swing the rotation led off with Kevin Kolb Tuesday, who was followed by Tarvaris Jackson and EJ Manuel. Rookie free agent Jeff Tuel did not get any team reps.
Kolb and Jackson got more of the reps than Manuel, but Marrone says those reps will even out as Manuel gets more in tune with the scheme.
"We've done a good job because we're watching the reps of the quarterbacks and we're trying to make it to a point where it's equal," said Marrone. "Obviously Kevin and Tarvaris have been here for a while so it's not to that point yet, but we are getting a lot of reps out of EJ right now. Probably a little bit less than the other two, but our goal is somewhere along the line in these OTAs as he progresses to get him the same amount of reps."
"You just have to take those mental reps," said Manuel. "When you hear the play being called in your headset, you say it out loud, just like you're in the huddle, just treat it like you're in there playing."
Graham making plays
Bills second-year receiver T.J. Graham has been taking advantage of the extra reps he's received in the practice setting in both the voluntary veteran minicamp last month and the current OTA sessions. With Stevie Johnson still sidelined by a strained back and rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin not able to participate until their college graduation dates (league rule), Graham has been a frequent target of Bills quarterbacks.
"I did a lot of preparation in the offseason so I've got to pick up where I left off," Graham told Buffalobills.com.
With the addition of two receivers in Woods and Goodwin along with a host of undrafted rookies including Brandon Kaufman and Da'Rick Rogers, Graham admits the receivers already on hand are feeling the heat.
"They drafted and brought in like 15 guys so the seats kind of got hot in the room so we all know what's at stake," said Graham. "Tashard Choice gave me some good advice last year. He said, 'There's a draft every year.' We're competitive out there because we know we have to earn our spots every year. They're not just given to us."
Graham had almost half a dozen receptions on Tuesday and appears to have improved in working the middle of the field.
"T.J. is doing really good," said Kolb. "He's working hard, taking it serious. Obviously with the receiving corps it's a competitive group now. I think everybody can go out there and make plays. T.J. is another special talent with his speed."
Stevie Johnson is still sidelined with a strained back according to head coach Doug Marrone. He initially suffered the injury in the voluntary veteran minicamp last month during individual position drills.
"I feel very comfortable with what Stevie has done in the past. It's more important to get him healthy and get him well than it is to push him to get on the field," said Marrone. "I've said that to a couple of players that are out here already that have some soreness. We're here to make sure you know what you're doing and you're healthy."
Also not participating Tuesday were rehabbing players Scott Chandler (ACL), Zebrie Sanders (hip), Keith Williams (undisclosed) and Kyle Williams (Achilles).
Not in attendance for the voluntary practice was Alan Branch and Manny Lawson.
Several rookies were also not in attendance. By league rule rookies cannot participate in practices other than the rookie minicamp until their college class graduates. Forced to wait to practice are receivers Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Kevin Norrell and Brandon Kaufman. Cornerback Nickell Robey and DT Aaron Tipoti are also awaiting college graduations.