Oh, it certainly feels good to have football back. The Buffalo Bills ran onto the field for the first training camp practice of 2016, signaling the offseason is officially over.
It was a light practice, with the players only in helmets, jerseys, and shorts as the sessions slowly ramp up. There was no hitting, and the contact between players was minimal.
Just how did the players on the field look in their first practice? Seven observations from the day of work:
1) So-so Tyrod start
- During the offseason practices, whether it was during OTAs or in mandatory minicamp, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor was clearly a cut above the rest of the quarterbacks. His throws were crisp, accurate, and it seemed like he made some real strides in the offseason. However, in his first day at training camp, Taylor was a little off when dropping back to pass. On passes that we routinely saw him make during the offseason, there were some high throws that led to incompletions, and even an interception. Whether there was some rust, or he just wasn’t on the same page of some of the receivers he didn’t work with during the offseason, it wasn’t a blazing start for the Bills starting quarterback. Fortunately for them, there’s still 16 days of practice for him to recapture the magic of minicamp.
2) Gilmore playing with an edge
- For much of the Bills’ summer break, one of the big questions was whether or not Stephon Gilmore would show up for the start of training camp. Not only did he show up for the first day, but he was the most dominant player on the field by my count. He let up a couple of slant patterns in one-on-one’s, but Gilmore’s play the rest of the session was as good a way as any to start things off — especially for his ultimate quest to secure a lucrative long-term extension. Gilmore’s play of the day was an interception of Tyrod Taylor, which wasn’t just a ball thrown straight into his gut. He battled with wide receiver Jarrett Boykin all the way down the field on a comeback route, stuck his foot in the ground and drove towards Boykin. At the end of that battle, Gilmore came away with the interception — providing a bit of a statement along with it. Gilmore was the most physical at the line of scrimmage with the receivers, which is his burgeoning brand of play. The fifth-year cornerback will need to prove that he can become a more consistent playmaker in 2016 if he’s going to warrant the type of money it sounds like he wants.
3) Dez Lewis, Goodwin impress
- During the offseason practices second-year wideout Dez Lewis looked much improved in the non-contact sessions, subsequently creating a fair bit of buzz for himself as a potential answer to the No. 3 wide receiver competition. Saturday’s practice was essentially the same thing as the minicamp practices, and Lewis picked up right where he left off, running precise routes and securing catches in one-on-one situations with defensive backs. He got the better of Sterling Moore on a few different occasions, which helped contribute to another positive day. His next biggest challenge will be when things get a little more physical as camp continues. Marquise Goodwin, in his first practice with the Bills since his bid for the Olympics fell short, left a few of his defenders in the dust that were cheating and playing off of him in coverage. Goodwin ran a few fast-paced, quick cut routes where he came back to the ball and completed the play. It was a good first step for Goodwin after being away from the Bills for all the offseason workouts, and a great first impression in his bid to win a roster spot.
4) Enemkpali quite stiff in coverage
- Without Shaq Lawson at practice, and now Manny Lawson due to a pectoral injury, IK Enempkali is getting a healthy dose of playing time with the first unit. A college defensive end, Enemkpali can get after the passer but hasn’t been exposed to a large amount of time where he has to cover players in the open field. As an outside linebacker in Rex Ryan’s system, he will surely need to discover the many virtues of coverage. The problem may not be learning what he needs to know, but rather, the implementation of those strategies. Enempkali may just not have the hips to cover in the open field consistently enough, and he showed quite a bit of stiffness when trying to cover the flat areas. He likely hasn’t done a lot of it, but he’ll need to find a way to get better of that if he wants to carve out a substantial role while Shaq Lawson is injured.
5) A switchup: edge rushing for Striker
- All through the first practices for the Bills, whether it was rookie minicamp, OTAs, or mandatory minicamp, undrafted free agent rookie Eric Striker was working solely with the inside linebackers. Striker mostly played the weakside inside linebacker role, being taught the parts of the games that he wasn’t exposed to in college at Oklahoma. As a member of the Sooners, Striker’s position was as a 3-4 outside linebacker, mostly charged with the duties of rushing the passer. Whether it’s due to a lack of depth at the position thanks to injury, or because of a change in philosophy for Striker’s role, the rookie was moved to outside linebacker for the practice. As an outside linebacker on Saturday, Striker showed a natural bend as he turned the corner on the edge on the way to the quarterback. He’s been one of the fan favorites among the undrafted free agent rookie class, and the more he shows his versatility, the better it is for his chances to make the roster. He’ll need to make his mark on special teams, too.
6) Mills leads the way at right tackle, first-team defensive line combo
- Along the offensive line only one starting job is up for grabs, and it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s much of a competition at this point. Jordan Mills remained with the first unit at right tackle all throughout the practice as Cyrus Kouandjio remained at second-team right tackle. Even in the early sessions, Kouandjio was caught off balance and driven back by Bryson Albright on one rep which speaks to some of the balance problems he’s had since he’s entered the league. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bills were without both Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, so the starting defensive line was comprised of rookie Adolphus Washington, Corbin Bryant, and Jerel Worthy. That’s notable, because it’s an early look into the depth chart along the line, with both Bryant and Worthy ahead of the veteran Leger Douzable and impressive undrafted rookie Justin Zimmer. Of that first group, Bryant took the most reps at nose tackle, and was flanked with Washington to his left and Worthy to his right.
7) Kicking Competition Round 1: Morgan defeats Carpenter
- In the first of many opportunities for the dueling kickers to try and secure the job this summer, the clear winner of the day was undrafted rookie Marshall Morgan. Showing a big leg in his five attempts, Morgan connected successfully on all five, from the distances of 33, 33, 35, 40, and 40 yards out. Carpenter on the other hand, missed twice of his six attempts, failing to convert from 37 and 40 yards out. The incumbent kicker connected from 26, 28, 33, and 43 yards out. There weren’t any long-range attempts this time around — more of a warmup round than anything. However, score this one for the rookie Morgan, who will have to outright win the competition in order to secure the job.
Day 1 MVP: CB Stephon Gilmore
- Gilmore made his presence felt all practice long, including being so aggressive at the line of scrimmage that he grabbed Leonard Hankerson and drove him back a few yards on one rep.
Day 1 LVP: CB Javier Arenas
- The Bills maintained through the spring that Arenas’ best chance to make the roster would be as a punt returner. That was reinforced on Saturday, after Arenas was repeatedly beat and got a little too grabby (which would have been a penalty) during 1-on-1 drills versus wide receivers.
Did Not Participate: WR Sammy Watkins (PUP), WR Marcus Easley (PUP), EDGE Shaq Lawson (PUP), DL Kyle Williams (PUP), RB Karlos Williams (Non-Football Illness), DL Marcell Dareus (Non-Football Illness), OT Seantrel Henderson (Non-Football Illness), S Jonathan Dowling (Non-Football Illness), EDGE Manny Lawson (Non-Football Injury), WR Kolby Listenbee (Non-Football Injury)
Up Next: Sunday, July 31 from 10 am to 12 pm. Practice is open to the public, and no ticket is needed for entry.
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