The announcement was made shortly after Buffalo's night practice got underway. Former Bills special teams standout Steve Tasker hopped on the public address system and made everyone aware of the presence of a Bills legend.
"And standing right now at the seven-yard line on the sideline is the newest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the Buffalo Bills, number 34 Thurman Thomas," Tasker announced.
The fans in attendance, upon recognizing Thomas' presence, immediately rose to their feet to give the Bills all-time leading rusher a standing ovation that lasted 30 to 45 seconds. Thomas acknowledged them with a wave of his hand and quietly took in the rest of practice flanked by fellow Hall of Famer Jim Kelly for a good portion of the workout.
"I called Jim (Kelly) earlier today and I called (Steve) Tasker earlier today and I asked them what they were doing," said Thomas. "They said they were heading down to training camp so I called (Executive Vice President) Russ Brandon and asked if he could leave some tickets at the gate so I could get in. Just to come down here and see what these guys are doing, I was very impressed by what they did in the first preseason game. This is my team and I love the organization and I love the city."
"It was terrific having Thurman here and have him meet our whole football team at one time," said head coach Dick Jauron. "They're all certainly aware of who he is and what he's done. And as our most recent inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame it made for a nice night."
At the conclusion of practice Thomas briefly addressed the team in the middle of the field.
"He talked a lot about how much he loved being in Buffalo," said Jauron of Thomas' comments for his players. "He talked about how great the support was which we're all aware of, but for him personally how strong he felt about that support. That was terrific for our young players to hear."
Another night to the defense
Unfortunately for Thomas he caught the offense on a bad night as they were outplayed again by the defense. Coverage was particularly good defensively as J.P. Losman and the other quarterbacks had to wait longer than usual for someone to come free for a pass.
In 7-on-7 red zone Jason Webster could have had an interception, but got spun around while covering Peerless Price in the back corner of the end zone and had to settle for a pass breakup. Ko Simpson had good extended coverage on Sam Aiken in the end zone on the very next play that lasted more than five seconds as Losman searched for an open target. Robert Royal couldn't quite hold on to another pass over the middle as he was harassed by a defender and Lee Evans couldn't come down with a fade pass from Trent Edwards. Marshawn Lynch had a touchdown reception on the last play of the segment, but the length of the play was questionable as Edwards likely would have been under a lot of duress.
Perhaps the best indication as to how the night was going for the offense was during their first 11-on-11 series when Marshawn Lynch lost his shoe on one rush, though he got good yardage on the play. A few plays later the ball slipped out of Losman's hand as he tried to deliver a pass. The ball fluttered up into the air and was snared for an interception by Aaron Schobel.
The two-minute drill wasn't any better for the offense. Losman was sacked on the first play from scrimmage. After a short completion to Lynch on second down, Losman was sacked again on third down as coverage was solid by the defense. Then on fourth down intended receiver Josh Reed was bumped just as the ball arrived. The ball skipped off some fingertips and Jim Leonhard tipped the ball up in the air to himself for the interception.
"We were pretty good on our assignments," said Duke Preston. "It was just the execution. You always have that little lull coming off the preseason game and it happens sometimes. But we've to definitely bounce back as an offense tomorrow and get things rolling again."
Losman was so frustrated he ran the second series as well against the third team defense. The offense had a bit more success as he completed passes to Reed, two straight to Roscoe Parrish and then Sam Aiken and Donovan Morgan. A rush by Anthony Thomas put the offense in acceptable field goal range which was what was needed on the drive.
However, during four-minute drill the defense again set the tone. Angelo Crowell came screaming in from his strong side linebacker spot and decked Dwayne Wright on a stretch play to the left sideline. Three plays later John McCargo got great penetration forcing Shaud Williams to run back inside toward traffic where Ryan Denney and George Wilson dropped him for a loss.
On the very next play Williams was stopped for no gain by Mario Haggan, but Williams got some redemption on the next snap. He caught a pass in the flat from Craig Nall and juked out Haggan in space and turned upfield for extra yardage.
"The defense had a good night and that's the problem," said Jauron. "They make you feel good, but I can never feel good unless both sides (of the ball) do something. But it happens and (the offense) is not happy about it. And it puts a little more pressure on the offense to pick up a little more tomorrow."
One offensive player that did have a good night was Craig Nall. Coming off a solid performance in New Orleans where he led a long 14-play field goal drive, Nall was accurate and decisive with his throws Monday night. Unofficially he went 4-5 passing in the practice as a good portion of his work involved run plays.
Another indication of the defense's intensity Monday night was when Fred Jackson exited practice early after taking a good shot to his shoulder from Keith Ellison. It happened during the second segment of 11-on-11 work on his first carry of the series. Jackson took a good hit to his left shoulder and came out and was examined by trainers on the field.
Head coach Dick Jauron didn't appear to be overly concerned.
"It's not believed to be serious," said Jauron. "He bumped his shoulder."
But Jackson didn't really see any action the rest of practice.
"I just tweaked it a little bit," said Jackson. "Just a funny angle I hit Keith Ellison, our linebacker, in a funny way and it just kind of tweaked it, nothing major. I think it is going to be alright it is just something that they wanted to make sure I was fine so they pulled me out of practice for the rest of the night."
Jackson said he planned to get some treatment on the shoulder in the training room.
"I'll probably be out here (Tuesday) for sure," he said.
Jackson has moved up the depth chart after his strong performance Friday night at New Orleans. He was getting reps right after Marshawn Lynch in the rotation with Shaud Williams and Dwayne Wright coming after him.
Greer making a move?
Jabari Greer is another player that may be benefiting from his strong performance against the Saints. After his two interception night Greer was getting first team reps in place of Terrence McGee, but it was due mainly to some residual soreness McGee was experiencing coming out of the Saints game.
"Terrence had some soreness in both legs," said Jauron. "He's a little bit sore from the game. He wasn't complaining, but we talked to him though and told him to run through individual and see how they felt and we gave him some of the night off."
Still Jauron didn't deny that Greer has helped himself with his play in last Friday's game.
"I think it's fair to say that anybody that performs like that certainly has improved his chances," said Jauron. "Certainly when a guy has two interceptions and both were really good plays you look at him again. It's not that we didn't think he was good before that, we did and that's why he's here, but we think he did a really terrific job."
Reps for Hargrove
Despite his league-imposed four game suspension, Anthony Hargrove still got reps with the second team defense mainly at right defensive end. Eric Powell played opposite him on the left side. However, C.J. Ah You and Ryan Neill were both rotated in more frequently for reps with the second team as well.
Return to action
Offensive lineman Aaron Merz returned to practice for the first time in almost a week as he continues to deal with a nagging shoulder injury. The MRI results from last week didn't reveal anything unusual, but Merz is still dealing with pain.
When asked by Buffalobills.com how his first practice back went Merz responded plainly.
"About as good as I expected."
Not in action
Brad Butler, Trevor Hooper and Josh Scobey were all held out of practice Monday.
Buffalo has an afternoon workout Tuesday scheduled for 1pm.