1. O-line still mixing and matching
With two new offensive linemen on the roster in Ryan Bates and Demetrius Rhaney it was anticipated that there would be some shuffling among the second and third units for the offensive line. But at practice Sunday, there was some unanticipated mixing and matching.
The starting line left to right was Dion Dawkins, Quinton Spain, Jon Feliciano, Cody Ford and Ty Nsekhe. With Russ Bodine sidelined by an oblique injury, the change at center was somewhat expected, but as the series during team segments went along, offensive line coach Bobby Johnson mixed and matched some players with the first unit.
Spencer Long rotated in at left guard for Quinton Spain, who has had a virtual stranglehold on the starting left guard spot. After a few more snaps Long then moved to his right to line up at center. Jon Feliciano kicked out to right guard and Cody Ford moved to right tackle, with Nsekhe stepping out.
Later in practice, Nsekhe rotated back in with the first unit for Dion Dawkins for some reps at left tackle with the first unit.
“The important thing is to have the communication be continuous,” said Spencer Long. “It’s to get guys used to playing with the different guys. Our line is very fluid right now.”
With the team’s second preseason game coming up in five days, the coaching staff would undoubtedly like to solidify who their top five linemen are and get them as many reps as possible between now and the regular season opener.
But injuries compromised individual and player combination evaluations and has likely stretched the process out a bit longer than anticipated.
Mitch Morse remains in concussion protocol and fellow center Russ Bodine is sidelined due to injury. It’s created a domino effect for the interior linemen with Feliciano and Long doing the most shuffling around.
2. Munnerlyn determined to prove himself
As he walked off the practice field following his first session with the Bills a familiar face put an arm around him. It was general manager Brandon Beane, who worked with Munnerlyn during his first stint in Carolina.
With former Carolina teammate Kurt Coleman in earshot, Beane asked Coleman about Munnerlyn.
“How’d he do?”
Coleman said, “I didn’t see a lot of him. I was on pass rush more today.”
“Should we keep him another day,” quipped Beane.
“He’ll be fine,” said Coleman as the three former Panthers shared a laugh.
Captain Munnerlyn might be a 10-year veteran, but he’s as motivated as ever to prove himself to his new teammates. Even though he’s late to camp after signing Saturday, Munnerlyn has a firm grasp of the defensive scheme having played in for most of his career.
“It’s not a big learning curve for me,” he said. “They were calling some of the plays and it’s a little different terminology, but it’s pretty much the same thing. I’m like, ‘Wow, this is simple for me.’ I’ve been in this system for seven years of my career. To come back to it and hear it and get back to it like I’ve never left.”
Munnerlyn was eased into the practice setting as he still needs to get into football shape despite his rigorous training regimen while he waited for the phone to ring. Most of his reps came at the nickel corner spot with the third team defense.
But Munnerlyn is eager to show teammates why he’s been in the league for 10 seasons.
“I think the plan is to ease me in, but on Tuesday and Wednesday there’s no easing in,” he said in reference to the team’s joint practices with the Carolina Panthers this week. “I’m a competitor and I want to go out there and compete. I want to show my new teammates that I can make plays and that I belong here.”
For the veteran corner, it’s a new opportunity to prove he can still make a difference despite being the oldest defensive back on the roster.
“I feel like I’ve still got a lot of football left in me,” said Munnerlyn. “People look at my age and they’re surprised I’m only 31. I’ve been in the league going on my 11th season and I’m only 31-years old. I was fortunate to come out early and I still have a lot left in me. I still want to play and show my worth.
“My release got me hungry again and I’m ready to roll.”
3. A whirlwind 36 hours for Ryan Bates
On Friday afternoon, offensive lineman Ryan Bates was lying in bed resting up after his latest training camp practice with the Philadelphia Eagles, and waiting for his girlfriend to arrive to pick him up for dinner and a movie.
Then his phone rang.
“I got a call from Eagles GM Howie Roseman,” said Bates. “He said, ‘Hey Ryan how are you doing?’ I said, ‘Good, how are you?’ He then told me I got traded. I thanked him for the opportunity. Next thing you know my girlfriend got there and I’m like, ‘Hey you’ve got to help me pack. I’m sorry we’re not going to dinner anymore.’ She was a good sport about it. She handled it really well. Then within two hours I was on a plane to Buffalo.”
That was followed by playbook cram sessions on Friday night and all day Saturday with assistant offensive line coach Terry Heffernan and offensive coaching assistant Ryan Wendell and fellow recent signee Demetrius Rhaney.
“We’re all trying to cram everything,” said Bates. “It’s a little difficult learning a whole new offense right after camp. A lot of rushing and cramming, but I’m starting to pick it up. I’m not too worried about it.”
In his first practice Bates lined up at offensive tackle mostly with the third unit, though he did get a few reps with twos. It’s the position he played most often in college at Penn State, though the rookie does offer position flexibility.
“I played some left tackle and right tackle (Sunday),” said Bates. “They told me they want me to start out at tackle. Hopefully I’ll move around a little more, guard, center hopefully. We’ll see. Only time will tell.”
For the undrafted rookie the trade was a sobering example of how NFL football is lot different than the college game.
“I’ve quickly learned that it’s a business,” he said. “That’s what everyone told me and I’m quickly learning that.”
And as for where Bates left things with his girlfriend, now that he’s in Buffalo.
“I just told her,” said Bates. “I’ll see you when I see you.”