PITTSFORD – Here are some observations from the fifth practice of Buffalo Bills training camp at St. John Fisher College Thursday:
Dressed to sweat: Linebacker Preston Brown was one of a few players who showed up for practice wearing hoodies under their jerseys. He and the others – including safety Jonathan Meeks and fellow linebacker Randell Johnson – were told, for their own safety, to remove them because of the intense heat. With the sun acting as a blast furnace to push temperatures into the high 80s, it was easily the hottest day of camp. A second water break was added for the first time since the Bills began working out here. Still, some players, such as Meeks, aren’t bothered by the heat. As he reminded Rex Ryan, “I’m from South Carolina, Coach.” Brown’s main reason for wearing a hoodie was because it had pockets where he could “hide” the candy he always carries with him onto the field. He replaced it with a lighter shirt that also had pockets. By the way, his favorite candy is wrapped gummy bears, which he consumes frequently on the field.
Short-lived starter: After starting at outside linebacker in last Tuesday night’s practice, free-agent rookie linebacker Eric Striker found himself with the third-team defense Thursday. Ryan said he “did some good things” Tuesday night, “and then he had like five busts, I think.” IK Enemkpali was back as the No. 1 outside linebacker opposite Jerry Hughes. Enemkpali still looked brutal in coverage, though. On the first play of team drills, he was supposed to drop into the flat, but instead took a deeper drop and wound up colliding with inside linebacker Reggie Ragland.
Dareus’ practice debut imminent: Ryan said he wouldn’t be surprised if defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who began camp on the non-football illness list for an undisclosed reason, began practicing by the end of the week. The coach didn’t have any timetable yet on when wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who is on the physically unable to perform list, would be cleared to practice, but all indications point to that happening on Monday. Meanwhile, offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio was kept out of practice. Ryan said he didn’t think it was a “serious injury, but (the medical staff) wanted to keep him out today.” Jamari Lattimore is out with a broken nose that Ryan said the linebacker suffered when, during a walk-through, another linebacker slipped, fell backwards and his knee came up and “actually UFC’d him right in the nose” by accident.
Candy “getter”: Speaking of Brown’s candy crush, he revealed after practice that Ragland, as a rookie, is the designated “candy getter,” meaning he must supply, at his expense, the veterans with candy for each practice. Brown said Ragland is handling the duty well, “going to Target to buy the big Halloween-sized” bags of sweet treats. Brown recalled being the “candy getter” as a rookie in 2014 for Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers.
Tyrod sharper: Tyrod Taylor probably had his sharpest day of throwing so far. His passes were crisper and more on target. He seemed to do a better job of picking out open targets and placing the ball in the perfect spot to be caught, as he did on a beautiful back-shoulder throw that tight end Charles Clay grabbed for a touchdown in a red-zone drill.
Two-minute not too good: The offense struggled in some end-of-the-half two-minute drill work. Ryan said, “it wasn’t that sharp,” and he was being kind. There was confusion everywhere, with players not entirely certain of their alignments (leading to one illegal formation call) or assignments. Looking at the bright side, Ryan pointed out that at least a couple drives ended with field goals.
One Buffalo: Sabres coach Dan Bylsma stopped by practice to check out how his Pegula Sports and Entertainment counterpart does things. Ryan, who spent a good portion of his youth in Canada and is an avid hockey fan, said he spent some time picking Bylsma’s brain. After practice, the two set up a little gag when Ryan, talking with the media about an injury to linebacker Kevin Reddick, suddenly asked, “Does anybody remember what it was?” Standing off to the side, Bylsma gave a classic NHL-style coaching response to an injury question: “Lower body.”
Communication breakdown: Yes, it happened. Again. The defense was struggling to get signals from the sidelines and with getting in the right personnel packages onto the field, two major problems from last season. At one point, Brown could be heard yelling to the sidelines, “Personnel!” He explained later he was looking for substitutions to be sent onto the field, and if that doesn’t happen quickly enough, he’ll make the call with the personnel already in place.
Jones’ best day: Another quarterback, rookie Cardale Jones, easily had his best day of camp. Through the better part of four practices, Jones repeatedly was wild with throws, once hitting a reporter sending about 50 feet behind the sidelines. On Thursday, he seemed a bit more natural in his footwork and that helped lead to better accuracy. He fired a beautiful throw over the middle to Greg Little and then followed it up with a nice connection on a comeback route by Walter Powell, who had just returned after suffering a cut on his lower lip while getting tangled with a defender and hitting the ground.
Should have been a rap: During pre-practice stretching, the Bills, like pretty much all NFL and college teams, have music blaring over the loudspeakers to get players hyped up to go to work. On Thursday, there was a rap song, by Fetty Wap, with some fairly explicit lyrics. A number of youngsters in the stands sang along with every word, but at one point, assistant defensive backs coach Ed Reed – sounding like the dad that he is – turned toward the sidelines and gave an “Are you kidding me?” look to whoever was in charge of that tune making the playlist.