The Buffalo Bills conducted their sixth practice of training camp this year and for the first time in 2016, they decided to do some live hitting. The Bills got their feet wet with some team drills that ended in plays with actual tackles, so it was our first chance to see both linebackers and running backs complete the play.
How did those drills, and the rest of practice go? Seven observations from the day of work:
1) Live drill highlights
- The Buffalo Bills got things underway pretty early on in the process, setting the tone for the rest of practice — and there was no limping into it. The Bills called a running play, and backup runner Mike Gillislee made one cut and ran right through the hole for a 47-yard gain. Starting safety Corey Graham found himself too close to the play too quickly, Gillislee caught him flat-footed, and ripped off the huge gain. Before his injury, Reggie Ragland showed good instincts and playmaking ability, stopping a pair of running plays short with a tackle. The other thing that stood out in the first live drills was that backup runner James Wilder, Jr. failed to discern himself when given carries. He ran straight into the pile on his two carries, and both went for two yards or less. That’s his biggest question mark, because he’s clearly an athlete with ability as a pass protector and a special teams player. As for running the ball, he needs to show a lot more. Jerel Worthy was also a standout, collecting three tackles in the opening session. Later on in a live goal line session, the offense managed to put hit pay dirt three separate times: once on a Tyrod Taylor bootleg, another on a Jonathan Williams run that Preston Brown failed to fill the running lane, and even Glenn Gronkowski dove in for a score.
2) Ragland fallout
- By now you know the fact that Reggie Ragland had to leave the practice with a knee injury. For full details, you can click here, but the big question is this: what do the Bills do without him? The immediate answer is veteran linebacker Zach Brown, who signed with the Bills this offseason. He’s been rated in the past as one of the strongest coverage linebackers in the National Football League, which would do wonders for him in the weakside inside linebacker role he’d have to play. If he was healthy, Jamari Lattimore would also deserve some consideration, but he’s still dealing with a broken nose. The rest of the inside linebackers on the roster are either hurt, or a better fit at a different position. The other thing this does, if Ragland has to miss any time, is put more pressure on Preston Brown. He’s had a so-so training camp to this point, and needs to perform at a much higher level if the rookie has to miss any time.
3) Carpenter basically wraps up the kicking competition
- Actions surely speak louder than words, and when it comes to the Buffalo Bills kicking competition, the action of the coaching staff was all you needed to see. During Day Four of training camp, the Bills gave Jordan Gay an opportunity to kick field goals, and he went a respectable 5-of-7 during the practice. However, Dan Carpenter was simply on fire, hitting all 9 of his attempts including two from 50 yards out. Once again on Friday for Day Six of camp, Carpenter was perfect. This time, he hit all 11 of his attempts, and now, Carpenter has converted his last 21 field goal attempts in practice. As for Jordan Gay, he didn’t get a single attempt on Friday. This case is basically closed.
4) Salas earning positive reputation
- All throughout the first six days of training camp, the wide receivers have taken turns either having an outstanding day, or leaving a lot of plays on the field with some drops and poorly run routes. That simply has not been the case with hopeful No. 3 wide receiver Greg Salas, who has caught almost everything thrown his way at Bills training camp. He’s made big flashy plays at some points, but he’s just a consistent and dependable target that seems to know the offense, and that has the trust of the coaching staff. Again on Friday, Salas ripped off numerous catches in both one-on-one drills and in team work as the quarterbacks continue to build a rapport with him. And you shouldn’t fail to note this: when Rex Ryan was asked after Day Five’s practice about the No. 3 wideout job, he at first said it was too early, but then rattled off names of players and Salas was the first that he mentioned. A strong preseason could lock up that role for him in 2016.
5) Justin Zimmer stands out
- Whether it was during offensive and defensive line 2-on-2s, or during the live portion of team drills, Justin Zimmer could not be stopped by the backup offensive lineman he went up against. Zimmer tore through and helped his 2-on-2 team win all four reps of the drill. It was mostly him and reserve defensive lineman Casey Walker working together to beat the likes of Fernando Velasco, Robert Kugler, and Ryan Groy. However, Zimmer also got some run against the first-team, and helped Jerry Hughes defeat the right side of the starting offensive line Jordan Mills and John Miller, and then he and Walker beat the likes of Groy, Eric Wood, and Miller on the very next rep. In the live goal line drill, Zimmer stuffed Jonathan Williams one yard out from the goal line. It’s going to be an uphill climb for him to make the team, but the practice squad is looking more and more likely if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster outright.
6) First mini-fight of Bills training camp
- There was a bit of a scuffle between a few of the Bills players early on in practice, and it all had to do with James Wilder, Jr. It was in a drill that was not live, and the defenders on the play brought the running back down to the ground. At that point, the offensive line — led specifically by reserve interior lineman Fernando Velasco — took exception to that action and went after a couple of defensive players. Both outside linebacker Max Valles and Lorenzo Alexander had to be separated from Velasco, but at least one punch was thrown. The situation was quickly disarmed, and the players went on their respective ways.
7) A surprise replacement for resting Incognito?
- In the first portion of live hitting, a couple of key veteran starters were given the day off from team drills. Both running back LeSean McCoy and left guard Richie Incognito got the day off from work, in what was likely a rest day for both. It was less noticeable with McCoy, mostly due to the Bills primarily working in a lot of their running backs throughout the practices. With Incognito though, it meant an entirely new person had to step in for him, and it was at least a tad surprising that the replacement was not Fernando Velasco. The Bills signed Velasco in the offseason, and was thought to be the top reserve interior lineman. Instead of Velasco, it was Ryan Groy getting all the snaps with the first-team offensive line. To this point Groy has been so-so, but there is a definite job on the active roster for an eighth offensive lineman to be had by someone, and Groy is on the short list.
Day 6 MVP: DL Corbin Bryant
- Bryant was just as good as Justin Zimmer during the 2-on-2 drills with the offensive linemen, and he even registered a sack in team drills. Bryant was consistently making plays on Friday.
Day 6 LVP: LS Reid Ferguson
- The backup to long snapper Garrison Sanborn, Ferguson had two low snaps during Dan Carpenter’s 11-for-11 field goal run — and one of them even skipped on the ground to holder Colton Schmidt. Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, who doesn’t mince words, yelled out after the skipped long snap and reminded Ferguson with a raised voice that his sole responsibility was to get the ball back to the holder without any trouble.
Not Practicing: LG Richie Incognito, LB Kevin Reddick, LB Jamari Lattimore, 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), EDGE Manny Lawson (Non-Football Injury), WR Kolby Listenbee (Non-Football Injury)
Up Next: The Bills will practice on Saturday, August 6 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Practice is open to the public, but a ticket is needed for entry to the session. The Bills will hold their annual scrimmage on Saturday.
Miss a day of practice? Catch up with my daily observations:
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