The Bills rookies took to the field for their first practice Friday and Bills head coach Doug Marrone had a clear list of criteria he wanted to see if he could check off with his youngest players on the roster.
"Our goal as coaches was to come out here and get with these players, start teaching them the playbook, the offense, defense and special teams," Marrone said. "Start working on even special teams. Really just trying to get a chance to know them, how they learn, what they do and really teach them our tempo of practice and what our expectations are out of them."
Among those expectations was a fitness level that applied to the pro game.
"Who has showed up in shape? Who is ready to play? Who can go the full time and work at 110-percent? Really to make sure they get out there, play and try to make good first impressions," said Marrone.
EJ WatchEJ Manuel was an obvious focus. Buffalo's top draft choice was the subject of a lot of flash bulbs from the media on hand. Manuel appeared to handle everything in stride.
After going through the individual position drills portion of practice and throwing passes against air, he was unofficially 20-25 passing with three drops by receivers and one high pass that fell incomplete.
During the team portion of practice Manuel was 20-24 passing with one would-be touchdown and an interception. Manuel made deep passes look effortless as the ball came out of his hand with arc and velocity.
He hooked up with Marquise Goodwin on a deep ball down the left sideline that traveled almost 40 yards in the air as Manuel's timing was pretty good with his wideouts considering it was their first practice on the field.
"The fact that I have Marquise Goodwin on my team now I've got to get used to that, just letting it go," said Manuel. "Sometimes you want to be perfect, but with that guy you can just throw it out there. All the receivers can run, but definitely Marquise."
Manuel's best pass of the day was an 18-yard out along the near sideline where he hit first-year receiver Chris Hogan placing the ball only where he could catch it. He deftly kept the ball away from the receiver putting it on Hogan's outside shoulder on a pass that required some touch.
The pass was so pretty it earned Manuel a chest bump from offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Early chemistryDuring 7-on-7 team work Manuel quickly went to second-round pick Robert Woods as the quarterback-receiver tandem hooked up for six of Manuel's 20 completions on the day.
"He did a great job," said Manuel of Woods. "He always seemed to be open and he ran great routes. You want to the playmakers the ball and that's what we did today."
Manuel and Woods struck up a rapport with one another when they were ironically on pre-draft visits together with the Jets.
"We were able to hang out for two days and it's crazy that we ended up on the same team," said Manuel. "We texted each other and we're happy about it."
Undrafted Kaufman impressesEastern Washington receiver Brandon Kaufman is a tall drink of water at 6'5" 215 pounds. His college career was interrupted by injuries, but he was very productive at the FCS level. On Friday Kaufman
After being unable to turn his first target into a reception during 7-on-7, Kaufman redeemed himself on the next play. He caught a pass coming across the middle and took it the distance on run after catch for a would-be touchdown.
Kaufman made four more receptions before the practice session was over, including the catch of the day, a ridiculous one-handed grab over his head as he was running toward the left sideline. Manuel hit him 30 yards downfield for a big pass play.
Eye on receiversBills head coach Doug Marrone admitted that his eyes were transfixed on the receiving corps and how they performed in the team setting.
"I thought they did a good job," said Marrone. "Sometimes you go out there and you have to get to a better feel of where they are going to be and where they are going. I thought both sides did a nice job of that. When we played against our defense versus the zone overages, we did a nice job. Then when the man comes and the timing and running through, I think things get a little bit more difficult so probably see some of a little bit more man coverage tomorrow and I will be interested to see how we separate."
Players that appeared to gain consistent separation on routes were Woods, Kaufman and Hogan.
DefenseOn the defensive side of the ball, fourth-round pick Duke Williams saw most of his time during team drills at safety, but was sprinkled in for some work at slot corner. Bills GM Buddy Nix and Marrone have both talked about making use of Williams in some subpackage roles as a cornerback.
Undrafted rookie cornerback Vernon Kearney had one of the better pass defense plays. Running stride for stride with Marques Goodwin as best he could, Kearney was able to break up the Manuel pass intended for the receiver with world class speed.
Kearney had some ups and downs on the first day, drawing the ire of secondary coach Donnie Henderson at one point, but that pass breakup deep down the left sideline was probably his best play of the day.
Kiko Alonso showed very good coverage underneath to the flat as he blanketed Zac Brown, who made a short reception and had to settle for a minimal gain. Alonso appeared to be playing strong side linebacker most of the time.
Safety Dominique Ellis capped the team portion of practice when he picked off an errant Manuel pass over the middle. Manuel just placed the pass too high for his intended receiver Kevin Norrell to make a play on it.
ScheduleThe Bills next rookie minicamp practice is Saturday at 2:30 pm.