Day one of Bills rookie minicamp got underway Friday with a pair of practices. Though there was no hitting or extensive team work, the young prospects were happy to hit the field.
"I'm happy to be able to get up here and get going," said Bills top pick Aaron Maybin. "I've been anticipating this time for so long that the fact that it's finally here makes me really happy."
With the players dressed in just helmets and shorts, head coach Dick Jauron wasn't going to pass any judgment on the football skills of the rookies, but is pleased with the physical abilities he witnessed on the field.
"They're athletic," Jauron said. "They move like we thought they'd move and have looked like we thought they'd look. They're in good shape for the most part."
The first two practice sessions Friday focused on special teams at the outset with individual position drills to follow. Then formation and assignments followed at about half to three-quarter speed.
The coaches were more concerned with the players getting lined up properly and repping plays than anything else. With the players pulling cram sessions last night with the playbook, most of the prospects capably executed their assignments.
Buffalo's two draft picks on the offensive line Eric Wood and Andy Levitre worked on translating their old terminology to that of the Bills prior to the first practice.
"Last night we sat down and were going over the plays and stuff and making sure we were pretty clear on what we were doing," said Levitre.
Levitre and Wood at guard
Levitre and Wood both lined up at guard with Wood on the right side and Levitre on the left. Seeing the first-round pick manning the right guard spot seems to be another strong indication that Brad Butler will be moving out to right tackle.
Jauron left open the possibility of Wood and Levitre lining up elsewhere, but they plan to have them stay put this weekend.
"I think we may just leave them alone," said Jauron. "We know that they are guys that give us flexibility and they can move around.
Obviously Eric played center and we know he can play guard. Andy has played guard and tackle and he's actually snapped in practices too, so he has some snapping experience. We may leave them alone, it just depends on how it goes, but as it moves along we know they have flexibility."
Wood also got a few snaps at center behind 2008 practice squad lineman Brandon Rodd.
Nelson a natural pass catcher
Shawn Nelson was solid in his first day particularly in the receiving game. Blessed with natural hands, Nelson made some difficult catches look effortless and rarely broke stride even when some passes were outside his body frame.
"There are some things that I can do that some tight ends in the NFL can do and there are some things that I can't do and that's what I try to work on," said Nelson. "The things I can't do as well or can't do at all is what I work on to be a complete tight end."
With blocking not a realistic element of the practice setting, aside from the blocking sled, Nelson was honed in on the passing game. He mishandled just one ball throughout the two workouts Friday as it appeared the pass was coming in faster than he anticipated.
Aaron Maybin lined up at left defensive end through both workouts Friday. Maybin was hustling throughout and encouraging some teammates during the physical conditioning portion of team work.
"For me, it was just good to have a helmet on again," Maybin said. "It's been so long since I've been on a football field with a helmet, actually doing some football activities, so it was good to actually get out there and get going."
There's no debating Maybin's quick first step off the ball, even in a reduced tempo practice setting.
As expected second-round pick Jairus Byrd lined up at free safety as Buffalo is hoping he can be a takeaway artist in centerfield for their defense. Byrd is not completely foreign to safety having played there in high school.
"It's been a while, but I just have to get my feet wet and it's pretty much just about learning everything and it's more demanding at the corner position with your footwork," Byrd said. "I think at safety it's not as demanding (physically), but the mental game is more."
Byrd also got some work covering the slot receiver as that is still considered an option for the former Oregon defensive back.
Also moving to a new spot was fifth-round pick Nic Harris, who as expected moved to linebacker after playing mostly safety at Oklahoma.
Harris manned the strong side while undrafted rookie free agent Ashlee Palmer (Ole Miss) was on the weak side. Harris runs well and looks like a fit in Buffalo's fly to the football defense.
"I think it went pretty good," Harris said. "Making the transition from safety to linebacker, it's a learning experience and I think I'm ahead of the curve a little bit."
Late round picks Cary Harris and Ellis Lankster lined up at left and right cornerback respectively. With the offense not playing against the defense in team work there wasn't a lot that could be taken from the practice in terms of their cover skills.
Practice was a bit more crowded than expected as the club brought in 30 tryout players in addition to their eight draft choices and 10 undrafted free agent signings. Buffalo needed the players to have an effective set of practices.
"The benefit is they're all people that we've either worked out before and liked them in the first workout and thought they deserved a second chance," said Jauron. "It fills out the squads on both sides for walk throughs and for show team.
Not participating on day one of the rookie camp were 2008 practice squad receivers C.J. Hawthorne and Mike Jefferson. Not participating in the afternoon session were a pair of undrafted rookies. DT David Lindquist (Illinois) and DE Gerald Washington (USC).
The Bills rookies and free agents have a pair of practice sessions Saturday, followed by a final workout Sunday.