For the first time during the 2014 version of training camp, the Buffalo Bills gave their players their first taste of real football. Before the practice, head coach Doug Marrone announced that the Bills would be going “live” under the lights at St. John Fisher College.
The players dressed in full pads, they got themselves mentally prepared and full contact (except for the quarterbacks, of course) was on for the first time since last December. Who stood out during the real hitting session?
Here’s a recap of Day 6 for the Bills:
Issues at right tackle
- Despite the overwhelming thought that the competition between Erik Pears and Cyrus Kouandjio would be one of the key things to watch in camp, it hasn’t really gotten too competitive just yet. Kouandjio has struggled to stand out while Pears has been solid to this point in Pittsford, NY. On Saturday night, Pears left the door wide open for Kouandjio to steal some reps with the first unit in the near future but the rookie turned in an even worse performance than his competition. The play of both right tackles was downright dreadful during 11-on-11 work, leading to multiple sacks throughout the practice and a frustrating night for Doug Marrone, Nathaniel Hackett and EJ Manuel. Kouandjio has not been the player the team was expecting when they selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In fact, he has been outplayed by seventh-round selection Seantrel Henderson, who has spent the first week of practice as the first-team left tackle.
8 sacks in 17 plays
- It wasn’t only the fault of the right tackle position on Saturday: during one portion of non-contact team drills, the defense came away with the aforementioned statistics. Do the Bills have a solid defensive line? They absolutely do. However, it wasn’t just the first unit that was working their way into the pocket at will. Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Xavius Boyd, Bobby Felder and a pair of others were the gentlemen that came away with the sack tallies -- and a reminder: Boyd and Felder were just signed this past week. Thad Lewis and the third team trotted out for their reps, but a bobbled snap was all Marrone needed to see. He stopped that period of work and had the team take a five-minute break to try and get what was easily the worst offensive showing of training camp, thus far, out of their minds.
Henderson showing ability
- If you removed the biographies and watched rookie tackles Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio side-by-side on Saturday, you would think their actual draft positions were reversed. The Bills have been without Cordy Glenn throughout training camp due to an undisclosed illness, which has given Henderson all the reps with the first unit at left tackle. He’s had his rookie moments throughout, but he was one of the stronger offensive linemen during the night practice. His best moment came during one-on-one drills up against Mario Williams, the highest paid defensive player in league history, with no one else to help him out. Henderson displayed quick feet, pushed Williams out wide and didn’t surrender any territory to the Pro Bowl defensive end. The rookie was called for a hands to the face penalty, but from a technique perspective, he was solid all throughout the rep.
The 'live' highlights
- The entire tone of practice was set early on when the players partook in a full-contact period, and it was there that the defense started showing that Saturday night would be theirs — and in a big way. Out of the 19 plays (unofficial), the offense came away with a good play only three times. One was a 22-yard pass from EJ Manuel to Lee Smith in which the tight end broke some tackles, another a Jeff Tuel read-option keeper and the third was a jump ball deep down the right sideline roped in by Mike Williams. Other than that, it was all defense. Marcell Dareus and Brandon Spikes both flashed against the run when they were on the field. Safety Jonathan Meeks provided the biggest hit of the day, on a Ronnie Wingo rush attempt. Even rookie cornerback Ross Cockrell got a big hit in on wide receiver Kevin Elliott as he attempted to catch a pass along the sidelines, which as you could guess, wound up incomplete. The physicality was there throughout for the defense, and they dominated the live session.
Don’t sleep on the Schwartz blitz
- Saturday night was yet another reminder that new defensive coordinator isn’t shy to call a blitz, or two, or five. In fact, he did it in bunches and the offense couldn’t recover during team drills. He was sending linebackers, safeties, boundary corners, nickel corners, running stunts to confuse the offensive line in their assignments. It was a wildly successful evening for him but it’s likely to be expected with such a talent gap between the first-team defensive line in comparison to the first-team offensive line. However, it’s what he did with the second and third units that was equally as impressive.
Day 6 MVP: DE Manny Lawson
- Asked to switch back to his position from college, Manny Lawson was a bit slow out of the gates but erupted for a big practice on Saturday night. Lawson found his way into the backfield during one-on-one drills and team drills alike. He also chipped in as a stout edge defender, which is one of his biggest strengths, to bring down a ball carrier quickly on a third-and-long rush attempt. His most impressive pass rushing rep came against rookie Cyrus Kouandjio in the one-on-one drills. Kouandjio started backpedaling and looked stiff and too upright all throughout the rep. Lawson recognized it, used his long arms to push Kouandjio up near his shoulder pads and it sent the right tackle stumbling backwards, allowing the defensive end to walk in for the sack. It was Lawson’s best day by a wide margin.
Day 7 LVP: OT Cyrus Kouandjio
- If you’ve read the recap all the way to this point, you know why.
Injury Update: Leodis McKelvin was dressed for practice but didn’t take team drills for the second straight day. Despite that, the team said the starting cornerback is not on the injury report. Running back Fred Jackson, safety Kenny Ladler, tight end Tony Moeaki and tight end Chris Gragg all did not participate in practice.
Up Next: The Bills resume practice on Sunday at St. John Fisher College for the seventh session of training camp. It begins at 2 pm and is open to the general public.