If a smartphone were really that smart, why would it go off like a siren in the middle of the night? Apparently in Western New York, it happens to alert people when hazardous events are occurring, such as the thunderstorm that rocked and rolled through the area early Monday morning. Compounding the problem was the fact that I was staying in a hotel and was completely disoriented when it happened.
Fortunately, it turned into an opportunity to get my camp notes written up because there was no sleep to be had after lightning struck my adrenal glands at 1:30 AM. I now understand what the term “waking up from the dead” means in a literal sense. There was more rainfall in 24 hours than we experience in six months in Wyoming. It could have been much worse, and I am thankful that for the most part there were few people harmed by the storm as it moved through the area.
A blessing was the fact that practice had already been rescheduled from 8 AM to 6 PM. Being a morning person, I generally prefer 8 AM practices when camp is empty and there is a chance to move around and see much more of the action on the field. However, it provided an opportunity to catch an evening practice that was well attended but not jam-packed, as are most scheduled night practices.
Here are my observations from practice on Monday evening:
Defensive Line and Wide Receiver Depth
I spent most of this practice focusing on the defensive line and the wide receivers. These two position groups are by far the deepest I’ve seen since the Super Bowl years. Once again, Marcell Dareus was paired up with Kyle Williams during drills. I think Doug Whaley was right when he said that Marcell does better when he is with the team.
It also seems this coaching staff recognizes the importance of not overworking starters like Kyle Williams early in training camp. They are careful to make sure that battered veterans don’t get overworked. With the extra week of camp, this is particularly important. Kyle doesn’t need much motivation or improvement on his technique. Just ask the guys who put out the rankings for Madden.
Resting veterans gives coaches a chance to observe and work with players who are on the bubble or need more attention and work. One guy to keep an eye on is Stefan Charles (#96). He was signed by the Bills off the Titans practice squad last season after Alex Carrington went down with a torn quadriceps.
Keep your eyes on this guy. He is coming along nicely and will be able to bolster that second wave of lineman who must play at a high level in order to prevent a drop off in production when starters are rotated out for a rest.
This defensive line is definitely frustrating the offense. While it is expected that the defense will be ahead of the offense at the beginning of camp, this group of defenders is stifling, punishing, relentless, and brutal at times. Many of us (myself included) were despondent when Mike Pettine left to coach the Cleveland Browns.
While Jim Schwartz is no doubt a competent defensive coordinator, Bills fans were drawn to Pettine’s wild blitzing schemes and blue-collar attitude. The mere thought of going back to a Dave Wannstedt style defense made eyes roll across Bills Nation. This just in, Jim Schwartz is no wallflower and his defense doesn’t even come close to the snoozer Wanny put together.
This may reflect as much or more about Pepper Johnson’s effectiveness in terms of getting productivity out of this enormously talented defensive line. Pepper has a quiet intensity that commands respect, and the players are responding well to his coaching style. So much so in fact that Coach Marrone came over and had a very animated discussion with Coach Johnson. I suspect the conversation had to do with fisticuffs and stifling play. Marrone was sticking up for his ‘uglies’ on offense, and you have to love him for his dedication to his former position group as a player.
Wide Receivers Will Be Cut From This Team That Will Shine Elsewhere
I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a position group that went from being a weaker unit to an impressive strength on the team in one season. This is not just because superstar-in-the-making Sammy Watkins is on board either. The shine coming off Sammy may be blinding for some fans that aren’t looking beyond the starters to see some of the talent that lies beyond them on the depth chart.
One guy who kept popping into my field of vision is Chris Summers (#87). Keep your eyes on this guy if you come to camp. He is hard to miss at 6’5”, 215 lbs. The former Liberty product is one man who could stick on the practice squad for Buffalo, or elsewhere if the team can’t afford the roster spot for his development. He’s definitely raw, but quietly making some tough catches.
Sammy didn’t take a lot of reps at camp last night, but if there is one theme that keeps repeating itself, it’s the care these coaches are taking in keeping players from being overworked. After watching Sammy on and off the field for two practices, I must say this man has charisma that casts itself over the entire team. You can see the awe in the eyes of rookies, veterans and coaches as they interact with him.
If you’ve never really had a solid definition of a player that has the “it” factor, “it” is Sammy Watkins. He’s electric, humble, and the kind of person who emanates large doses of effortless swag. He is the Kiko Alonso of the offense.
While Kiko was expected to be good and exceeded those expectations, Sammy is expected to be great and could exceed that expectation in becoming truly elite, a once in a generation kind of a player. And while that light shines bright from Sammy, it provides a great distraction for the rest of the WRs that are flying under the radar.
Mike Williams had an outstanding practice Monday night. He is going to benefit enormously from the attention that opponents will have to devote to covering Sammy. He also seems to be developing great chemistry with EJ Manuel, especially in the red zone.
- Fred Jackson or “Gramps” as he is affectionately called by his teammates looked fantastic last night. Watching him reminded me of the 2006 training camp (my first), when he came from NFL Europe and languished on the sidelines in favor of the “A-Train”. I still am stunned by the ineptitude displayed by Dick Jauron in overlooking Fred Jackson eight years later.
- Leodis McKelvin remains one of my favorite players on the team. He is a rare guy who does not seek the limelight, but it still seems to follow him wherever he goes. I got a kick out of watching him observe Sammy Watkins from the sideline. His arms were crossed, and the scowl on his face revealed how serious these DBs are about figuring out a way to stop him.
- While much attention has been given to Jairus Byrd’s departure by the national media, color me NOT surprised he is on the PUP list for the Saints (Editor’s Note: Byrd was removed from the PUP list this morning). Bills fans know it’s camp time, and Byrd doesn’t like to get his uniform dirty in August. Meanwhile, Aaron Williams is the ‘heir apparent’ to the position, though Schwartz uses SS and FS interchangeably.
- The guy who is finally getting some well-deserved attention is Da’Norris Searcy. The “other half” of the safety equation is having a great camp. Many people forget that this is his contract year, and the Bills may pay for dragging their heels in getting him re-signed. This just in, Da’Norris makes big plays when they mean the most. Last year’s pick-six was a thing of beauty, and he’s already intercepted a pass from EJ Manuel in camp.
- While we are on the subject of INTs, Brandon Spikes got a beauty of a pick off of EJ in practice. If Takeo had seen the play, he would have high-fived his cousin.
- Nigel Bradham is also having a fantastic camp, and is flourishing under Schwartz’s tutelage. While it could have been an unmitigated disaster losing Kiko for the season, I’m reassured that Bradham will be able to step up and shine. I was concerned last season that he might not make the team this year because he was not drafted in the Marrone era and had an inconsistent year. That will not be an issue this season, judging from what I’ve seen from him on the field. Schwartz effusively praised him during his last press conference, and rightfully so.
Overall, it was a spirited practice last night. Marrone kept it short (for him), and that was probably wise on his part. It was cold, rainy, and the players have Tuesday off. No point in risking injury on a slippery field.
That’s a wrap for now, folks. I’d like to thank everyone I met who reinforced why I come from Wyoming to attend training camp. There is no other group of people I would rather spend time with than Bills fans. I will be tweeting again live from practice on Wednesday afternoon. Have a great day, and thanks for all the love and support.