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Day 3 Bills Training Camp Observations: 'Getting closer and closer to football'

PITTSFORD -- Here are my observations from the third practice of Buffalo Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College Monday:

> Players put on pads for the first time since the end of last season, and finally there was something that more closely resembled football on the practice field.

"First day of pads, as a coach, you can't wait to see it," Rex Ryan said. "You find out who's a 'downhill guy,' who'll get after it, and then who won't. You forget who long it's been since you've had the pads on. You're getting closer and closer to football all the time." The contact was far from fierce, though. Tackling to the ground wasn't allowed in this session. It will be in goal-line drills during this Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage. Still, there were some collisions and, according to Ryan, resulting "bumps and bruises, but nothing too bad."

> Stephon Gilmore keeps making the kind of plays that scream, "Pay the man!" On the first snap of the second team period, the cornerback left his feet to snatch a Tyrod Taylor pass intended for Greg Little. That was Gilmore's second pick at the start of an 11-on-11 session. The first was on Saturday. In his pursuit of a long-term contract extension, he insists he knows his worth and, by all indications, he believes it's somewhere north of the five-year, $75-million free-agent deal Josh Norman signed with Washington. Ryan didn't do General Manager Doug Whaley or team contract negotiator Jim Overdorf any favors with this assessment of Gilmore: "He's a tremendous player, but I see his game as actually improving. He's been, by far and away, the most impressive guy out here."

> Ryan made good on his threat to institute a "penalty lap" punishment for linemen who jump offside or are called for a false start. Three offenders were made to jug around the track surrounding the field during practice. Amazingly, one was center Eric Wood, who would presumably be the last player to move before the snap. "That's a first," Ryan said. When Wood tried to make the case that "technically, I wasn't offside," Ryan responded by saying, "Oh, I guess not ... nobody else moved, including the nose tackle." Rookie defensive tackle Adolphus Washington also jumped early -- and then had to run.

> Speaking of cornerbacks, Ronald Darby continues to struggle. During an impressive rookie season, his relative lack of height (he stands 5-foot-11) generally wasn't a problem against larger receivers, such as 6-2 Greg Little. But it has been the past two practices. Little beat him for the second day in a row. In multiple cases, Darby just doesn't seem to be competing for the ball the way he did most of the time last year, even while getting regularly beat in camp and the preseason.

> It was only the third practice of camp, and despite temperatures below 80 degrees and mostly cloudy skies, Marquise Goodwin -- whose NFL career has been defined by constant health issues -- had to leave practice with what Ryan said was "heat prevention more than anything else." To others, it seemed as though he developed leg cramps.

> Clearly, neither Goodwin nor anyone else has instilled any confidence in Ryan about the state of the Bills' return game. "Not really good as it stands right now, let's be honest," the coach said. "That's something we want to get better at. We struggled a little bit. We don't have that true return specialist, if you will, so we're trying to improve." The Bills fumbled three punts and lacked overall explosiveness in their returns last season.

> Duke Williams is definitely stepping up his game in an effort to prove he is still a viable candidate to back up, if not start, at safety. After Blake Annen caught a pass on a short out pattern, Williams rocked him with a hit that drove the tight end back about five yards. Ryan has noticed a difference in Williams, who often seemed confused and was out of position on some plays last season while struggling to understand his role in the defense. "He really is a young man that I even had a conversation with about it’s really about being all in," the coach said. "There’s no ands or buts about it. And he understands how I feel. Man, I’ll tell you what, he’s the man that’s bringing in the coffee. That’s how much time he spends in here. So he wants it bad. And I see a different player. I see a player with way more confidence. Not something that is going to be handed to him. He’s going to have to earn everything he gets and he’s OK with that right now."

> Cardale Jones' wild inaccuracy has been evident since the first practice. On Monday, it got even wilder. One of his errant throws wound up sailing about 20 yards beyond the sidelines and hit a reporter (not me) who tried protecting himself while holding his cell phone. The phone went flying, hit the ground and the case came apart. Wonder if Apple Care has anything that covers misfires by rookie quarterbacks?

> Safety Jonathan Meeks was impressive in intercepting a deep EJ Manuel throw intended for Dez Lewis.

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