PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WKBW) - The Buffalo Bills took to the field for the second-to-last time at St. John Fisher College. It was the final night session of training camp, and now only one two-hour practice separates them from entering the next phase of the 2015 season.
How did everything shake out during the final night practice? Seven observations from the day:
1) First hint of QB plan for Pittsburgh
- In regards to the quarterback discussion, the question that has been on everyone’s mind this week is which of Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, or EJ Manuel will get the start against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Head coach Rex Ryan said that they still haven’t decided and didn’t offer any insight as to how the depth chart will shake out. However, the third preseason game is normally designed to be the one that gives the most time to the starters in preparation for the regular season. So, with that in mind, might the Bills try to rotate all three quarterbacks in with the first-team against the Steelers? Rex Ryan:
“I’m not going to tip my hand, but you are very intelligent”
So, the rotation we’ve seen over the last two practices — with all three quarterbacks getting time with the first-team offense — is likely to be a precursor to what we’ll see Saturday against Pittsburgh. Who starts the game will likely be merely semantics, and it appears the Bills are putting a lot of stock in how each of the three men perform in that game.
2) EJ’s step forward, and subsequent step back
- Getting a second straight day to work with the first-team offense in spots against the scout team, EJ Manuel started the night off with good accuracy and a solid zip on his throws. When the Bills went into the two-minute drill, Manuel ran in to work with the second-team offense (Cassel worked with the first-team, while Taylor did not get a two-minute drill session). When he started his attempt, Manuel worked very well against the second-team defense, completing passes to Bronson Hill, Nick O’Leary, Andre Davis, and Tobais Palmer all while preserving time on the clock. Manuel moved the Bills within the defense’s 30-yard line, but then, that’s when the infuriating part of Manuel reared its ugly head. On consecutive plays, Manuel completely overshot Palmer on an out route that went out of bounds and hit a team cameraman. After that, he overshot his intended receiver over the middle, and Mario Butler picked him off to end the drill. This is a commonality for Manuel, who shows promise, and then the problems with inaccuracy happen once again.
3) No Dareus
- The Buffalo Bills just got Kyle Williams back from his injury this past week, but they were without the man that stirred up some controversy following the Cleveland Browns game. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who is just a few days removed from controversial comments regarding a six-year extension offer worth $90 million from the team, did not participate in practice in any capacity. The Bills said after the session that Dareus was “fine.” That could mean one of many things, that a minor injury happened and they were just being cautious, or, perhaps it was just a rest day. Conspiracy theorists will wonder if it’s contract related, but, Dareus was on the sidelines with his teammates on the sidelines during the second-half of practice. In his place, Corbin Bryant took first-team reps alongside Williams.
4) Main defensive backups
- For the second straight day, the Bills spent a good portion of their practice working their starters against a scout-team offense and defense, which looked much like some of the schemes that the Indianapolis Colts — the Bills opponents in the first week of the regular season — use quite regularly. The normal starters on defense took the majority of the reps, but the Bills did show an interesting substitution package at one point, which could give an indication as to what they’re thinking for the 53-man roster. The defensive line, from left end to right end, featured Alex Carrington, Red Bryant, Stefan Charles, and IK Enemkpali, and it also had second-year player Randell Johnson as an outside linebacker. Keep in mind, Dareus did not practice on Sunday, which meant Corbin Bryant likely would have been with this group in the middle of the line. However, it’s also fair to expect that Carrington is becoming a likely candidate to take over for the injured Jarius Wynn as Mario Williams’ backup, and that the newly-signed Enemkpali and Bryant have a solid chance of making the roster if no other additions are made.
5) Watkins and Woods limited
- The Bills have been getting many of their players back from injury, but for the second straight day, they were cautious with two of their top wide receivers. Both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods returned to practice on Saturday but did not get any reps during team drills. That trend continued on Sunday, giving the duo just a bit more of a rest after both dealt with tightness during practice ahead of the Browns game. Even if Percy Harvin is ready for the first week of the regular season, they’ll likely need to depend heavily on both Watkins and Woods to play as the top two wideouts, so sitting them out of team drills in a random August practice shouldn’t be all that concerning.
6) Darby getting beat
- Up-and-down is the way of life for rookie cornerbacks in the NFL, and second-round pick Ronald Darby is finding that during his initial training camp and preseason. Darby started off camp with quite an impressive showing, and then hit a bit of a wall midway through, which bled into the team’s first preseason game against Carolina when he was beat quite often by Panthers receivers. Then against the Browns, Darby turns in a two-interception performance that mirrored the first week of camp. On Sunday, bad Darby was back. He was beat on multiple routes throughout the practice, and couldn’t even hang with the newly signed Austin Willis on one rep against the scout team. It’s fair to expect the see-saw style of play continue from the rookie cornerback, until the light finally goes on. It usually takes a while for young players at that position, but the Bills need him to find it quickly with no end in sight for Leodis McKelvin’s absence from practice.
7) Aaron Williams injured, but his replacement may surprise you
- Midway through practice, starting safety Aaron Williams had to get checked on by trainers with what the Bills called “tightness.” Williams was beat a few times by tight end Charles Clay ahead of being shut down for the rest of practice. When he did leave the session, it was not Duke Williams that filled in for him with the first-team defense — it was Bacarri Rambo. If Rambo has indeed passed Duke Williams on the depth chart, he’ll have gone from being a slight favorite to start, to deep backup safety in the matter of a couple of months. Also keep in mind that Jonathan Meeks was not practicing on Sunday, but he hasn’t gotten any time with the first-unit at safety this summer.
Day 16 MVP: WR Dez Lewis
- For the first time this summer, the seventh-round pick impressed with both his route-running and his hands. He was getting open consistently, even beating Stephon Gilmore on one play versus the first-team defense. He also made the play of the day by adjusting to a poorly thrown deep ball, and splitting both the cornerback and the safety to bring in a reception. It might be too little, too late for Lewis, who has been largely unimpressive at camp.
Day 16 LVP: C/G Alex Kupper
- Kupper has been the most common LVP during training camp, but he once again struggled mightily as a member of the scout team. The very large Red Bryant was lined up one-on-one against him, and Kupper was so caught off-guard by Bryant’s strength that he collapsed immediately upon contact, allowing the defensive tackle to get into the backfield. It’s been a very tough camp for Kupper.
Not Practicing: DT Marcell Dareus, HB LeSean McCoy, WR Percy Harvin, HB Karlos Williams, FB Jerome Felton, WR Chris Hogan, HB Boobie Dixon, HB Bryce Brown, S Jonathan Meeks, CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Cam Thomas
Up Next: The Bills have Monday off, and will then get back on the field for the final time at St. John Fisher College on Tuesday from 10 am to 12 pm. The practice will be open to the general public. A ticket is not needed for entry.