The pads aren’t on. And, no, we won’t be declaring a winner in the Buffalo Bills quarterback derby yet. But it was refreshing to have some actual football to talk about Friday at St. John Fisher College.
It’s been a wild month.
The offensive line coach was arrested for allegedly punching a minor and threatening to kill his family. The head coach jumped out of a plane. The running back posted an invite to a “females only” party on Instagram. Pets heads are falling off.
On Friday, everyone finally hit the field.
And the first day of practice was a sneak peak of what to expect this summer in Pittsford. The quarterbacks were shaky. LeSean McCoy can dazzle. The defensive front is loaded.
A few thoughts from the sideline…
This is a healthy team. The Bills avoided major injuries through organized team activities, minicamp and whatever players are doing back in their hometowns but fans were supplied a brief scare on Thursday when the team announced that defensive end Mario Williams was on the active/non-football injury list.
Yet there was No. 94 trotting out on the field with his helmet. By the middle of practice, the Bills announced Williams had been lifted to the active roster. Rex Ryan said afterward that Williams had been dealing with minor back pain.
Kicker Dan Carpenter and cornerback Leodis McKelvin remain on the NFI list and did not practice, while the only other Bill out was defensive end BJ Larsen.
Ryan did not sound concerned with either McKelvin or Carpenter.
Harvin plays "D." There was an odd sight for a few snaps of team during practice: Percy Harvin lined up at right cornerback. The Bills gambled on the troubled receiver to liven up their passing game, not guard other receivers. This was actually Harvin's idea. He approached Ryan about getting some snaps at cornerback and the coach obliged.
With McKelvin out, Ryan figured, why not?
Chalk it up as the first of many outside-the-box ideas Ryan will probably experiment with as head coach.
“We’re not going to over-coach him,” Ryan said. “We expect him to be a top receiver for us. But if he can help out in that area, just like if Kyle Williams can help our offense out then we’ll look at that as well. This is just a let’s see what he can do thing. He came to me with it. He’s obviously got the physical skill set where you’d think he could be pretty good at it.”
No QB front-runner. To reiterate what my colleague posted earlier, nobody stood out at quarterback on Friday. But 2013 first-rounder EJ Manuel particularly struggled. Through his handful of 11-on-11 reps, he patted the ball and played with hesitance. Manuel botched his first two 11-on-11 snaps of training camp.
In a later full team period, Manuel tripped over himself from center one snap and overthrew Watkins on a fade the next.
The worst throw of the day was a Matt Simms lollypop over the middle that was picked off by Duke Williams. Matt Cassel received the first-team reps, though the Bills used both halves of the field for all four quarterbacks to get snaps.
On one 15-yard out, Tyrod Taylor overthrew Sammy Watkins who nearly hauled in a highlight-reel, one-handed catch. Buffalo hopes this picture — talented receiver forced to lunge, dive, etc. on a routine play — doesn't become a theme.
If anything, Taylor’s athleticism stands out. He took off outside the pocket multiple times and threw on the move. Remember, Greg Roman’s quarterback those three straight NFC Championships in San Francisco was Colin Kaepernick and Taylor was a player the Bills coveted.
McCoy sees talent. In Philadelphia, LeSean McCoy was surrounded with talent. He played with Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. At receiver, the Eagles had DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Touchdowns — under both Andy Reid and Chip Kelly — came in bunches.
The Bills still need to figure this quarterback thing out but added a lot of firepower themselves in the off-season.
The talent level in Buffalo, McCoy said, “is amazing.” While Buffalo’s top guns might not match those in Philadelphia, McCoy sees a deeper team here.
“Before I got here, I didn’t know the type of athletes we have, as far as talent, speed,” McCoy said. “The biggest part is depth. You look at good teams, man, and what separates a lot of good teams is depth. In this league, this game, guys get hurt and it’s part of the game. But if guys can step up and do a good job and replace that player, that’s a big difference.
“Here, we have a lot of talent. In the backfield. So many wide receivers who could start on other teams. And even the guys I’ve played with, which was very good, but overall just the depth — not player for player — but the overall depth, I think this is the one of the most talented teams I’ve played on.”
While it’s always difficult to grade running backs in a pad-less, quick-whistle setting, McCoy had the catch of the day Friday.
Blanketed by Nigel Bradham up the sideline, McCoy leaped over the linebacker and plucked the ball between Bradham's arms — here’s the photo. Maybe this is why some of the greats to play the position were so baffled by Chip Kelly’s decision to drastically reduce McCoy’s role in the passing game.
Buffalo would be wise to, as Jamal Anderson said, have a whole package of pass plays for McCoy.
Rookie Watch. Karlos Williams is one tall, strong, fast specimen in person. The Florida State safety-turned-running back said he wants to bring a physicality to the position. This offense will obviously start, first, with McCoy. But Buffalo might be tempted to use Williams in some fashion if he can pick up the playbook quick enough.
He doesn’t waste motion. With Williams, it’s one cut and go.
If anyone has learned anything over these last 15 playoff-less seasons, it's to never count out Fred Jackson. Still, Williams could push for a role.
We’ll be keeping an eye on this crowded position through the summer.
Kouandjio, Graham with starters. At right tackle, Cyrus Kouandjio was ahead of last year’s starter Seantrel Henderson. And former cornerback Corey Graham worked next to Aaron Williams at safety.
Kouandjio spoke at length about his off-season and mindset this past week, calling his 2014 rookie season “one of the lowest times in my life.” Ryan has rewarded Kouandjio's grueling off-season with the early nod, though nothing will be set in stone.
Once full contact begins, they’ll get a true gauge.