PITTSFORD -- Through his first two training camps with the Buffalo Bills, Richie Incognito had become used to a decidedly relaxed approach from the man in charge.
Monday, as the guard's third Bills camp and 11th in the NFL neared its end, Incognito and other incumbents received the strongest reminder yet that Sean McDermott is no Rex Ryan when it comes to discipline.
McDermott suddenly brought practice at St. John Fisher College to a halt, gathered the entire team at midfield and had players take a knee because, well, this was going to take awhile. Then, in a forceful and animated way, the coach made it clear that he was not the least bit happy with the slow and sloppy manner in which the session was going to that point. He didn't like that players kept asking for calls to be repeated and that one day before camp was to break, there was a general sense of what Incognito described as "guys feeling a little sorry for themselves."
"Coach brought us up and really just kind of grabbed us by the facemasks and gave us a good butt-chewing and a lot of guys needed to hear that," Incognito said. "A lot of guys at this level are not used to hearing that.
"He told us, 'This isn't the team that we're intending to be, get your (expletive) together, and come out here and strap it up and do what we've been talking about, practice what we preach.' For my time being here, I've never had a head man stop it like that. It's really nice to have Coach McDermott see it happening and nip it in the bud."
Whether it was an intended consequence or not, the rest of the session took on an angry tone.
There were multiple instances of post-play scrapes, beginning with one between safety Colt Anderson, who was taking part in only his second practice since being removed from the physically unable to perform list, and wide receiver Walt Powell.
Defensive linemen Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson also were involved in skirmishes. After Hughes had gotten into an altercation with fullback Mike Tolbert, Tyrod Taylor started chirping from behind the line of scrimmage, and as he stepped toward Hughes, Incognito got him front of the quarterback to cool things down.
"Yeah, I was playing peacemaker," Incognito, infamous for playing with an edge and being an instigator, said with a wry smile. "I’m a peacemaker now in this part of my career. I was just making sure (Taylor) was good. They were going back and forth and just making sure nothing happens."
Hughes and Lawson both were sent to the sidelines, where defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier tried calming each down. Hughes, who is known for having a short fuse and drawing personal-foul penalties as a result, seemed to take the longest to gain his composure.
After practice, in full view of media and other spectators who had yet to depart the public session, McDermott held separate lengthy conversations on the field with Hughes and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Hughes said the topic dealt with an "off-the-field" matter he would not reveal and was unrelated to tempers flaring during drills. McDermott wasn't made available to reporters.
Clearly, though, McDermott's speech lit a fire under his team.
"The practice instantly changed," Incognito said. "It got chippy, it got physical, it got violent. We had some live periods in there.
"You mix in a little bit of Coach McDermott’s speech and a little bit of just being hot and tired, and you kind of get a powder keg getting ready to explode."
Still, there is a fine line between being competitive and out of control.
That was something with which Hughes seemed to struggle Monday.
"There’s a very thin line," veteran linebacker and team leader Lorenzo Alexander said. "I’m in this game and we’re all alpha-males competing at a high level, but there’s a thin line between being tough and being a liability. I love Jerry’s passion, I love the way he plays the game, but I’ve talked to him about this. Just making sure that when one of us comes up to you, tries to calm you down because I don’t want to stop it because that’s what makes you great. Just come back to us, let’s go to the next play and be you again between the whistles."
"You have to play within the rules and just use all that bottled up frustration to play in between the whistles," Hughes said. "You know, just be a smart player. You understand things are going to get chippy, but at the same time just play in between the whistles."
Including the signal that brought practice to an end.
McDermott had more words for his players after that. One message that is supposed to be understood is that what happens on the field -- especially as it pertains to fights -- stays on the field. Nothing is to be carried over into the locker room.
Incognito said he has long been clear on that point, but still wouldn't hesitate to do what he always does: joke about what took place and push teammates' buttons
"Oh yeah, Richie does that," Alexander said. "He lives up against the line all the time, so he’ll have fun with it and guys understand that. We don’t take anything that happens on this field into the locker room because we’re brothers at the end of the day and out here, we’re just competing. When we come back in, it’s stuff we can laugh about, joke about, get over and learn from at the end of the day, so you can help us win games."