Bills head coach Doug Marrone and his staff got an awfully long look at a lot of players that were completely new to them walking in the door at One Bills Drive in January. Through the OTA and minicamp practices Buffalo's staff began to formulate opinions and assemble evaluations on all 89 players on the roster. The only reason those evaluations are not close to completion is because real football has yet to be played.
"The critical time will be when they put the pads on and see what they can do making the tackles and blocking and reacting," said Marrone. "It's very difficult to judge (players) when they're never in the mode of full finish blocking. You never know who is going to turn it down a little bit, who is going to turn their head and who is going to use the proper technique."
Through the spring practices Marrone and his assistants preached high effort and high energy. Still, the players had to be responsible enough to not put one another at risk as well. The coaches encouraged intense play in the practices with an up tempo approach and the promise of earning more playing time on the practice field come training camp.
"The thing I talked to the players about is with a new staff and a new team is we're putting people in different spots," said Marrone. "No one is going to make the team now. One thing players can earn is reps from their performance in the OTAs. Those reps will be awarded in training camp."
Marrone however, does caution that those awarded reps do not represent conclusive decisions on players and where they fall on the team's depth chart.
"It doesn't mean that we like one person better than the other because the game changes so much when the pads go on," he said. "There were players in OTAs when we didn't have pads on we've actually put things in for schematically that we thought was going to be great and then when we put the pads on that player didn't perform anywhere near that expectation.
"There were other players that we felt there wasn't a good time of evaluation for because we're not out there in pads and part of their game was running and hitting and tackling. Those are the things that are tough."
For the defensive staff defensive linemen and linebackers are often the most difficult to evaluate because of the physical nature of their positions. Football in shorts and helmets doesn't provide a full view of a player's game in those roles.
The case is much the same for offensive linemen.
"That's always difficult," said offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. "It really is because you want more, but you can't get that with the rules that we have and the things we have to do with just the helmets. But the good thing is the first steps, the timings, the communication at the line, discussing who they're going to get to. Those are the things they can practice."
Knowing the physicality of practice will increase at training camp, Marrone and his staff is looking to raise the level of intensity and enthusiasm for practice as well.
"When I said I was pleased with the OTAs, it was the type of competitiveness I was looking for," Marrone said. "I was able to see that. Now the goal for myself, as the head coach, is how can we escalate that competition when we put on the pads on?
"When we get into training camp and the first couple of preseason games we're going to have to do a good job of thoroughly evaluating everyone."