It was the best day the offense has had in training camp and it took a kick in the pants for it to happen. Early on in the first team segment of practice, Buffalo's defense was getting consistent pressure on the quarterbacks.
Kyle Williams in his return to team work (see below) Friday had a sack on his second play of the game as he deftly slipped between Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik to tap out Kevin Kolb. On the very next play Manny Lawson swooped in to log a sack as well.
After a handful of run plays again the pass protection had some problems as Marcus Dowtin got to EJ Manuel. On the next play Torell Troup was credited with a sack, prompting offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to begin yelling.
"Is someone going to block somebody," Hackett shouted across the field.
By the time the first team series was over, there were two more sacks, both by DL Corbin Bryant. Hackett huddled up the offense and the message was received.
While the linemen were off the field during 7-on-7 red zone, the offense began to find its rhythm. Dorin Dickerson made a sliding catch in the end zone on a pass from EJ Manuel over the middle despite good coverage.
When things went to 11-on-11, Kevin Kolb hit T.J. Graham with a beautiful touch pass in the back of the end zone, dropping it over the defensive back giving Graham enough time to get both feet down for the score.
Manuel then found Robert Woods in the end zone for another score during red zone work and on the next series Kolb threw a bullet to Chris Gragg down the right sideline for another touchdown.
"I felt like the offensive side we came out a little sluggish, but we picked it up right after that first period," said Manuel. "I didn't think we played to our level of where we can be as a team. The defense did a great job. Obviously those guys are good too, but I think we can do better as an offense and we did later on in practice and after that first team period we did a great job in the second half."
"Coach got on us a little bit and we picked up the juices and kicked it in a second gear and then started executing pretty well the last three team periods," said Kolb.
Kolb and Manuel both successfully capped their two-minute drill series with touchdowns. After hitting Brad Smith on a 20-yard pass play down the right sideline, Kolb took a keeper out of bounds after finding no one open downfield.
After a C.J. Spiller got the offense down inside the five-yard line on a bobbing and weaving run up the middle that went for 15-20 yards, Kolb eluded the rush and found Robert Woods wide open in the left corner of the end zone for a score.
"They kicked the coverage over so it was one-on-one backside and then got into a little bit of a scramble mode and everyone (defensively) went with my eyes and it was nice to finish off a two-minute drive. We'd been making some two-minute adjustments and trying to get better at that so it was a good day for us in that area."
EJ Manuel's drive wasn't quite as smooth, but he got the job done. After a false start by a receiver was followed by a sack on third down, the offense was facing a fourth down situation from their own 37-yard line. But Marques Goodwin beat his coverage and Manuel dropped one over his shoulder for a 63-yard touchdown, bringing the crowd to its feet and an end to the practice.
"I just gave Marquise the opportunity to go down and make a catch," said Manuel. "It was fourth down. I think it was like 4th-and-eight. 'Quise did a great job stair stacking the DB. I gave him a chance to catch a ball and we scored a touchdown."
"I really had to run," said Goodwin. "EJ's got a cannon as well as the other quarterbacks. He put it out there and I just had to go make the play. That's the way to end practice. We wanted to finish strong."
QB competition updateWhile Manuel continues to make plays in the practice setting, Kevin Kolb had his best day of camp. The veteran showed great touch on some intermediate passes in the red zone and zipped others into tight windows Friday.
"I feel like every practice has gotten better and better for myself," he said. "I'm more comfortable with the play calls, with the footwork. There's always going to be a little bit of rust when you come into training camp, but I thought today by far was not only my best day, but I think as an offense the last three or four team periods was as good as we've looked thus far."
Kolb also had some praise for his competition feeling Manuel is going about preparing for his first NFL season the right way in all facets.
"Great," said Kolb when asked how Manuel is handling his first NFL training camp. "I think he's doing an amazing job. He works hard. He studies. The thing that I like about him is he doesn't have pride in terms of when he doesn't know something he asks a question. A lot of times players don't do that because they want to look smarter than they are. He's not afraid to put himself out there and be vulnerable. That's how you learn fast and get better every day so I commend him for that."
While Manuel made a few more plays here and there over the first three days, there are little nuances to the game that Marrone wants to see the rookie clean up in due time. Add in Kolb's solid performance Friday and Buffalo's head coach sees a tight race.
"We're very, very pleased," said Marrone. "As far as the pass attempts Kevin (Kolb) has probably 20 to 30 more pass attempts at this time. We've been monitoring that and keeping that close. (Manuel) came in with a bad play late and then made a big play late. You see it. You see the little things that he has to work on, like getting the ball down a bit in the red zone. He was getting the ball a little too high.
"Kevin made some really good plays today. I think that's a part of the experience with what he's doing. But those guys are battling it out. That's a heck of a battle right now."
Legursky runs with the onesThere is also a battle brewing at left guard. Up until Friday's practice Colin Brown had taken all but two reps at the starting left guard position, while Doug Legursky ran with the second team. On Friday the two linemen switched roles as Legursky ran exclusively with the starters.
"It felt good," Legursky told Buffalobills.com. "Colin has been working there a lot, but there's an obvious battle between us two and as long as both of us get shots to go against the number one defense, and play with the number one O-line it's a fair battle. I'm glad I got some shots today."
"We're moving Doug around playing center and guard and you'll see him play more guard now," said Marrone. "I feel very comfortable with what he can do at center. We'll give him the full tilt to go ahead and compete at that left guard position. You'll see it rotating around as we go unless someone steps it up."
Legursky's play was steady lined up between Eric Wood and Cordy Glenn.
Marrone, who two days ago suggested a possible third candidate being added to the competition, backed off those words on Friday when asked if he was still considering an additional player to the mix.
"We might put someone else over there, but again I'm trying to get as many reps as I can with those two right now," said Marrone in reference to Brown and Legursky. "Those are the best candidates we have for that position right now."
Kicking battle a dead heatIn the spring it was clear that sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins had the better leg strength, which was most noticeable on kickoffs, and Rian Lindell had better consistency on field goal attempts. On Friday the kickers lined up twice during the special teams segments to attempt field goals.
On the first run through Hopkins and Lindell each attempted six kicks. Lindell put the ball through the uprights on each of his first four attempts from 29, 31, 42 and 45 yards away. On attempts from 49 and 52 yards his missed wide left and wide right to go 4-for-6.
Hopkins was good on his first two attempts from 33 and 37 yards out, but missed wide right on a 43-yard attempt. He was true on a 46-yard attempt, but then hooked a 51 yard attempt wide left before making good on a 50-yarder. He too went 4-for-6.
On the second set of attempts each kicker only had four kicks. Again they had the same success rate of 50 percent with each going 2-for-4. Lindell was good from 35 and 39 yards, but missed wide left on a 47-yarder and wide right on a 50-yarder.
Hopkins was successful on a 41-yard attempt, but missed from 44 and 49 yards wide right before hitting a 51-yarder to also go 2-for-4.
Lindell, who up until Friday had been the more consistent kicker, was not happy with his results.
"I've had better days," Lindell told Buffalobills.com. "I need to hit a more-consistent, cleaner ball."
The added dynamic to Friday's kicking was that the kickers switched holders. Shawn Powell had been working with Lindell all along going back to spring practices, but Friday Powell worked with his former college teammate in Hopkins. Powell held for Hopkins at Florida State.
The other punter candidate Brian Stahovich held for Lindell, when he had been paired with Hopkins until this point.
It was thought that the holder change might help Hopkins having had Powell as a holder before, but he went 9-for-12 last Tuesday compared to 6-for-10 Friday. Lindell who went 9-for-11 Tuesday was 6-for-10 as well Friday.
Kyle back, Mario closerDefensive tackle Kyle Williams had been limited to just individual position drill work through the first four days of training camp, but on day five Williams was given the green light to participate in team work. On his second play from scrimmage, Williams pierced through the line to sack Kevin Kolb. The veteran DT pumped his fists in celebration of the play.
"Kyle Williams has picked it up quite a bit. I think you saw that today," Marrone said. "When a player comes back and he goes, we're going to work him in that way. We're not just going to throw him in there so you see Kyle's workload is increasing. He looked very good out there."
Meanwhile Mario Williams is a step closer to practicing. On Friday he was still working on the side with strength and conditioning coaches, but Buffalo's head coach is anticipating a return to practice soon for his top pass rusher.
"It's getting closer. He did a little bit more today," Marrone said. "We went through the walk-through, so now we're just waiting for the doctor to release him and then he'll be going out there. We'll probably bring him back the same way like Kyle, a little at a time."
Lineup notesAntoine Caldwell and Tony Hills were sprinkled in with the second unit as the offensive staff tries to get them reps in the system to get them up to speed. They were rotated out for Keith Williams and Sam Young.
When Kyle Williams was rotated out of team work with the first unit, veteran Alan Branch was rotated in at defensive tackle. Jay Ross would also spell Marcell Dareus at defensive tackle with the starters.
Dominique Ellis and Jonathan Meeks rotated with the second unit on defense at safety. Each were working alongside Duke Williams when they were on the field.
Undrafted rookie DT Aaron Tipoti is a high-motor player and appeared to be rewarded with some second team reps on Friday.
OLB/DE Jamie Blatnick got some reps with the first unit on defense.
ScheduleThe Bills are back on the practice field at 8 am Saturday.