To say the intensity was ratcheted up on the first day of Bills training camp under new head coach Doug Marrone would be an understatement. From the moment one-on-one passing drills between the backs and linebackers and receivers and defensive backs commenced players were going all out to make good first impressions.
Receivers were laying out for passes. Defensive backs were bumping wideouts to win jump balls and backs and backers were jockeying for position at the point where receiving targets look to gain separation.
The big plays belonged to the receivers as the offensive staff called nine straight go routes to start the segment. T.J. Graham got things off to a good start getting behind his defender to pull in a pass from EJ Manuel.
"We came out and we all said we're going to run go-routes to set the tone—we are a different team, different receiving corps," said Graham. "We got speed to show, and we wanted to show it."
Graham consistently gained separation as he looks even faster on the field than he did as a rookie. The second-year receiver caught a similar ball a short time later from Manuel again even though the scripted play was a shorter pattern.
"He actually called off—I gave him a shorter route, and he called it off and gave me a go-route," said Graham of Manuel. "He's feeling it, I see."
Stevie Johnson also made a diving grab over the middle on a pass from Kevin Kolb on a 20-yard play. Marquise Goodwin caught a deep pass as he slipped past his defender for a big play. Marcus Easley reached the end zone on his reception deep down the near sideline.
The defensive backs made a couple of plays too. Stephon Gilmore had a couple of pass breakups, Ron Brooks had another and rookie Jumal Rolle had an interception.
"We were just competing," said Johnson. "We wanted to give some big plays to the fans and let them see that we're out here competing with each other. The defense played well throughout the entire day and I'm looking forward to competing with them throughout the entire camp."
QB competition commencesThe quarterback competition between Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel got underway. Both players looked like they were still finding their bearings a bit having not thrown to their receivers in six weeks. As practice wore on each of them turned in some quality plays.
Kolb got more reps through the course of practice than Manuel, though not considerably more. An example would be the second series of 11-on-11. Kolb got the first six reps. Manuel rotated in for the next six and then Kolb got the last four.
Marrone gave indication that they're purposely trying not to overload the rookie signal caller right off the bat.
"We have a young quarterback in EJ and we're bringing him along and at the same point we have a lot of time before the preseason games to get the (reps) to 50-50," he said. "EJ did take some snaps with the first group, but you're right Kevin had more."
"They both made plays and both made passes that were pretty good," said Johnson. "(They made) some on the sideline and they read the defense pretty well, but at the same time our defense was on point also. I think we're just getting better and it's day one and we've got to work our way up from there."
Both Williams watchingMario Williams sat out of practice completely after reporting a sore foot to the athletic training staff. Kyle Williams, who is coming off Achilles surgery is cleared to practice, but since he did not do any work in the spring the staff is easing him back into the practice setting.
"We're working him back in," said Marrone. "He didn't participate obviously in the OTAs so just from the standpoint of working just individual (position drills) we kept him out of team and kept him out of the one-on-ones and you'll see him progressing into the practices as we go."
Interceptions and sacksThe defense was very opportunistic in the spring practices when it came to sacks and interceptions. They produced in the same way in practice Sunday. Mike Pettine's unit had three interceptions during team segments of practice. They also had a handful of sacks.
Da'Norris Searcy got an interception off a tipped ball during 11-on-11 on a pass from Kevin Kolb that was intended for Marcus Easley.
"They tried to run the slant," Searcy said. "Ron Brooks broke it up and I caught it on the deflection and took off running."
A short time later, Aaron Williams pulled in a pass in the deep middle from Kolb and returned all the way to the opposite end zone for a score.
"It's always exciting to come out here and come off on a positive note," said Williams, who is making the transition from cornerback to safety. "Still got a lot to work on. The pick just boosted my confidence at the new position I have. Working with Da'Norris, I feel like we're going to have great confidence out there."
Mana Silva made the third interception by a safety when he jumped a route over the middle. The EJ Manuel pass had Brad Smith targeted, but Silva undercut it for the INT.
When it came to the pass rush Jerry Hughes and Marcus Dowtin both recorded tag out sacks on the quarterbacks. A couple of others were posted with more than one defender arriving on the scene.
Chandler off to good startOn the positive side of the ledger Scott Chandler looked sharp in his first practice coming off ACL surgery in January. The tight end recovered quickly from the procedure and was running routes on his own in June. Now in training camp Chandler was working against defenders and even surprised himself.
"Once I had surgery January 9th, I kind of put this date in my mind as something where I wanted to be able to participate in some capacity," Chandler said. "I think I probably exceeded my expectations a little bit, but now it's going to be about managing workload, and seeing how I feel tomorrow."
"Scott was another person that we limited today, just coming back," said Marrone. "He went in there and I was excited for him. He put in a lot of hard work to come back and he's come back quickly from that injury and you saw he has the ability to make plays. I'm excited because when you're coming off that and you're in there you want to make that play. And he made a couple of them."
Chandler made several good hands catches in the intermediate area where he often does his best work. He certainly made a good first impression on both Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel as it was the first opportunity they each had to throw to the tight end.
Caldwell, Hills take in practiceThey were suited up for their first practice with the club on Sunday night, but guard Antoine Caldwell and tackle Tony Hills only did individual position drill work before they were spectators for the team segments of practice.
Caldwell was signed as added competition at the left guard spot after the recent release of guard Chris Scott.
"I was told to just come out here and compete," Caldwell told Buffalobills.com. "There's going to be an opportunity for everybody and that's all you can ask for. That's why I'm excited to be here and I look forward to the opportunity."
The four-year veteran lineman knows he's going to be behind with the scheme, the terminology, the blocking techniques and the quarterback cadence, but he intends to lean on his 39 games of NFL experience to help him catch up to his new linemates.
"It's the experience. I've played in some games in the NFL and that more than anything kind of speeds you up and that's what I'm going to have to rely on," Caldwell said. "I'm going to have to be a little bit smarter because I'm a little behind right now and I think I'll be able to be up to the challenge."
Hills is now part of a tackle field that includes Hutch Eckerson, Chris Hairston (PUP), Zebrie Sanders, Thomas Welch and Sam Young behind current starters Cordy Glenn and Erik Pears.
ScheduleThe Bills have a 2 pm practice scheduled for Monday.