Saturday's practice brought out the first live contact of camp with short yardage and goal line work a focus at Bills training camp. After the defense had been controlling more of the play through the 11-on-11 team periods, the offense looked inspired after head coach Doug Marrone stepped into the huddle in between plays.
Following two plays by DL Jay Ross in which he had a tackle for loss on Fred Jackson and a quarterback pressure forcing an incompletion, Marrone huddled up the offense and made some brief comments before the next play.
"I think that's probably the old O-line coach in me coming out," said Marrone. "I was talking to them on how we break the huddle. I try to make sure I work both sides of the ball on it and I try to get the most out of the players. That's what I'm trying to get accomplished."
He also succeeded in lighting a fire under an offense that needed a boost at the time. The offense ran five successful plays after the words from the head coach were delivered.
Offense dominates goal line
That last team series spilled into live goal line work where players could be tackled to the ground, and the offense dominated scoring on seven of the eight plays from scrimmage.
On the first play Fred Jackson took a stretch play left and just reached the ball out far enough to break the plane of the goal line with the ball despite being wrapped up by a pair of would-be tacklers.
Zac Brown plunged in on the next carry for another score.
On the third play the offense had a bit of trickery up their sleeve as they went play action to fill-in tight end, Thomas Welch, who usually lines up at offensive tackle. Welch demonstrated some good feet in the back of the end zone, catching the EJ Manuel pass for a TD.
"A couple of tight ends went down, so I had to move in and play tight end in the goal line, which I've done before," said Welch. "I played tight end in college. I was comfortable. They called a pass for me, so I had to make a play."
The only defensive win on goal line came when Manny Lawson was the first to wrap up Jackson on a run to the right for a tackle for loss.
After that the second unit came on for their four goal line plays. On the first undrafted rookie Kendall Gaskins powered his way in for a score over the right side of the formation.
That was followed by a tackle eligible play for a score as Jeff Tuel hit tackle Sam Young for a touchdown reception.
Gaskins scored again on a run to the left, and on the final play Brown on a stretch play to the left stiff-armed a would be tackler to the ground and reached the front left corner of the end zone for a score.
"Obviously today was the first time with the players having live contact," said Marrone. "I was very pleased with it. We had a short yardage session of it, a goal line session of it and a four-minute session of it. It's always good to practice like we're going to play.
"At times the offense got on a roll, at times the defense got on a roll from drill to drill. So it was good work against each other. The one thing we have to be is consistent and be ready to go right from the snap on both sides of the ball."
Four-minute drillAfter the hooting and hollering by the offense concluded the team finished practice with a four-minute drill, the game situation when the offense has a lead and they're trying to run out the clock. Buffalo's defense still smarting from the goal line drill responded by stoning the offense's run game in this segment.
EJ Manuel gained yardage on a quarterback keeper play, but after that there was little room to run. Fred Jackson saw nothing but blue jerseys in the hole on his two carries.
Zac Brown hit the hole decisively enabling him to fit through a crack for positive yardage, but he was stymied on his second carry of the segment.
The defense then put the exclamation point on the series with Torell Troup stopping Brown for a loss. Marcell Dareus then posted a tackle for loss on the final carry of the series.
"In four minute we got the one first down with the second group, but the defense did a good job there," said Marrone. "The offense had the better of it on the goal line and the defense stopped them on the four minute (drill)."
More EJ and TuelWith veteran QB Kevin Kolb succumbing to a knee injury on a freak slip on a rubber mat running between practice fields, Buffalo was down to two quarterbacks for virtually the entire practice Saturday. EJ Manuel got all the reps with the first unit, while fellow rookie signal caller Jeff Tuel ran with the twos.
"I think the first thing you look at is obviously when that unfortunate incident happened with Kevin, you look to see how EJ (Manuel) and Jeff (Tuel) react to see where you are," said Marrone. "It was a very smooth transition, which was a positive. The team just went on and we practiced so I think in other situations when you have a quarterback and those things happen, it can affect the team. I didn't see that and I didn't see it affect the two guys behind him so that's positive."
Among Manuel's better plays in the passing game Saturday was a tight pass to Robert Woods over the middle that Crezdon Butler thought for sure he'd have intercepted.
Manuel also hit T.J. Graham on a well-time play over the middle for first down yardage.
His biggest play of the day however, came in 7-on-7 when he dropped a 60-yard bomb over the shoulder of Marcus Easley, who beat his coverage for a long touchdown on a deep post.
Tuel, who ran the second unit efficiently, was more than happy to get the extra work Saturday.
"It was one of those things I was ready for," said Tuel. "As the third quarterback, you don't get the physical reps like the other guys, so I've really been taking my mental reps and playing attention. So when a situation like this happens, I'm ready to go and can just roll with it."
Woods and others step into the slotWith Stevie Johnson out for the foreseeable future with a hamstring injury, rookie Robert Woods saw a lot more time in the slot where Johnson has lined up for most of training camp. Johnson liked what he saw from his fellow receiver.
"I love him. It's amazing just watching him play," said Johnson. "Even the little things that we watch. I'm happy that we have him on our team. He's one of those guys who will take over soon."
Woods knows with Johnson down it's an opportunity for all the young receivers to get a lot more time and experience in the offense.
"I think this opportunity is great for us rookies to come in and all the other receivers as well," said Woods. "It is a great opportunity to put more on film and get more reps. Stevie is down right now, more stuff to put on film for the coaches to look at for their review."
Head coach Doug Marrone said Marques Goodwin and Brad Smith are two other receivers in addition to Johnson and Woods that can also line up at all three receiver positions.
Sacks aplentyWhile the offense had its share of success Saturday the defense continues to rack up sacks with regularity. Among the defenders with quarterback takedowns in the team's most recent practice were Manny Lawson, Arthur Moats, DL Corbin Bryant and Jarron Gilbert.
Jay Ross continues to put good plays together. He had a tackle for loss and a quarterback pressure that led to an incompletion.
Punters pushing each otherThe punting competition was relatively even through the first set of kicks a few days ago in practice, but first-year player Brian Stahovich (pronounced Sta-HOVV-itch) looked to be the more consistent punter Saturday.
In the first set of punt attempts the two punters kicked from between their own 31 and own 45-yard line. Each punter got seven attempts.
Shawn Powell clearly has the stronger leg, but controlling the power in that leg is something that Powell appears to still be working on. While he had the two longest punts of the day in terms of total distance with a pair of 62-yarders, both of them went for touchbacks, which did not appear to be the aim of the punting drill.
Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman looked as though he was seeing how well the punters could drop punts inside the 20, or even better the 10-yard line.
Stahovich did the better job of that with four of his seven attempts being fair caught or landing at or inside the 10-yard line. He also was more successful when it came to angling punts toward the sidelines with his two best kicks forcing the punt returner to come within a few feet of the sideline to make the catch effectively pinning the return man in for the coverage unit. Both of those punts came down at the five and six-yard lines respectively.
Powell's best kicks landed at the 13 and the seven. Again Powell had a better gross average (53.8) than Stahovich (49), but Stahovich seemed to match his kicks to the game situation more effectively.
Stahovich also had the three best unofficial hang times in that first series of 4.58, 4.61 and 4.7.
On the second series of kicks Powell was afforded five attempts to Stahovich's three as the special teams segment of practice ran out of time. Kicking from between their own 21 and 28-yard lines, Powell again had the two longest kicks with two 56-yarders, but they were driven balls. Neither had more than four seconds of hang time, which can make things tough for a coverage unit at times.
His gross punt average on his five kicks was 47.2.
Stahovich with his three attempts had the three longest unofficial hang times of 4.25, 4.45 and 4.56 and had a gross punting average of 48.3.
It was clearly Stahovich's most consistent kicking day thus far in camp. He kicked between 46 and 54 yards on nine of his 10 attempts, had consistent hang time and showed an ability to directional kick.
Lineup notesWith Mario Williams still not participating in team work in practice Manny Lawson lined up on the edge with the first unit to start the team segments of practice. Veteran DT Alan Branch and Torell Troup were both rotated up to the first unit on the second time through the team series with the ones as Kyle Williams reps are still limited.
DL Jarron Gilbert and OLB Jamie Blatnick were also able to get some snaps with the first unit at times on Saturday.
Doug Legursky continued to get all the first team reps at left guard.
ScheduleThe Bills practice on Sunday at 2 pm.