As Thursday comes to a close, the offseason program for the Buffalo Bills is now in the history books. The team completed the last practice of their three-day mandatory minicamp, and now the Bills have a six-week break until the start of training camp.
The Bills still went through the final workout of the offseason on Thursday, and although it was a shortened session, there were still some notable nuggets from the event.
My seven observations from the third, and final day of Bills minicamp:
1) Many veteran players unavailable Thursday
- For one reason or another, quite a few of the players that we normally see make up the first unit for the Bills did not do so on Thursday. Players like Cordy Glenn, Aaron Williams, and Marcell Dareus had minor injuries. Jerry Hughes was away from practice for the second straight day with an illness, and Corey Graham won a Rex Ryan-made lottery, and was given the final day off. In addition to that, during team drills, the Bills were still without Stephon Gilmore, Kyle Williams, Sammy Watkins, and LeSean McCoy, and the Bills even gave tight end Charles Clay the morning off from team drills. The benefit to that? Plenty of reps were there to go around for the players on the roster bubble to potentially make an impression on the coaching staff.
2) Without Clay, the top unit TEs?
- On Wednesday, I wrote about my pick for one of the biggest sleepers on the roster this summer: tight end Blake Annen. On Thursday, the Bills showed that Annen was making a solid impression on them, too. Without Clay throughout team drills, the Bills trotted Annen out with the first unit, along with Chris Gragg, when two tight ends were needed on a given play. That’s an interesting development, seeing as how Jim Dray was thought to be on solid ground of making the roster when they first signed him. Annen has played quite well during OTAs and minicamp, flashing the athleticism and the ability to both get open and make a play when the ball is thrown to him. I wrote it yesterday and I’ll write it again: Keep your eyes on Blake Annen to push for a roster spot this summer.
3) Seymour shows some kick returning chops
- In lieu of Stephon Gilmore not participating in the offseason practices, sixth-round pick and rookie Kevon Seymour has had an extended stay with the first-team at cornerback, and has drawn some rave reviews in the meantime. On Thursday, though, Seymour stood out for a new reason. When the Bills went to practice kickoff returns, Seymour was one of three players that lined up in the end zone as a returner. He was joined by Javier Arenas and Walt Powell — who are also in the punt return competition — as the only players to receive a kickoff. Of the three, Seymour stood out for both how he read the play, and his speed and acceleration through the lane. The special teams session wasn’t “live,” meaning there wasn’t any hitting, but you could see the zip Seymour had in and out of his cuts. He’s had an impressive spring.
4) Things get heated for the second straight day
- During the second day of minicamp, wide receiver Robert Woods and cornerback Ronald Darby came to blows and threw a couple of punches each before they were separated by teammates. During the team’s one-minute drill, it was getting desperately close to another fight. It all started on a third-down play, when defensive lineman Jerel Worthy blew through the attempted block from right tackle Jordan Mills, and seemed to have Tyrod Taylor in a bad spot. Taylor threw it off his back foot, completed it to Greg Little, and was given the first down. Worthy was none too pleased and argued that he had Taylor sacked in the backfield, which would have ended the drill and given the defense a win. Worthy kept at it as he ran back to the new line of scrimmage, and Mills was jawing a little bit with him, too. One more play went off, and it seemed like the situation had cooled — that is until Mills decided to have a few more words with Worthy. The two kept screaming at each other, and then had to be separated by teammates as the second-team offense and defense waited to start their version of the drill. Intensity has certainly been a big part of the offseason program for Rex Ryan’s bunch.
5) An early look at special teams contributors
- While Seymour, Powell, and Arenas all took turns returning kickoffs, we got an initial glance at the men blocking in front of them, too. Throughout the duration of the drill, we saw noted special teams players like Colt Anderson, Robert Blanton, and Lorenzo Alexander getting time there. The Bills also used recent pickup Jamari Lattimore, Randell Johnson, Jerome Felton, Corbin Bryant, Corey White and Zach Brown on the return units. There were a bunch of other players that filtered in as well, but those players took the majority of the reps. Still with some players that have to return during training camp, by no means is that set in stone. It’s merely the first glimpse we saw of the groupings.
6) EJ’s hard count is back
- It was a frustrating third season for EJ Manuel during 2015, but he had a big moment in the final week. On a 4th-and-3 late in the game against the New York Jets — who were trying to make the playoffs with a win — Manuel used his hard count cadence to draw defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson offsides, and he was pumped up, as it’s evidenced below (thanks to SBNation):
Manuel did it again on Thursday in a rep during team drills. Manuel hit the hard count so well that three players on the Bills defense jumped offsides. For his struggles, he does that quite well, so perhaps that isn’t the last time we’ve seen that in 2016.
7) Tryout offensive line struggles mightily
- With Manuel in during team drills, the Bills decided to give the four offensive lineman at minicamp, on a tryout basis only, a chance to show them what they’ve got. The line consisted of Amherst-native Ryan Schmidt, Jacob Schunke, Andrew Zeller, Justin Renfrow, and the line was completed by the rostered Robert Kugler. That five-man unit had as bad of a set of reps as you could envision. Almost every single play, there was a major bust in responsibilities and it resulted in either a sack, or the run play being blown up in the backfield. Granted, it’s tough to get a firm grasp of the offense in just a few days, but that was their big chance to shine in front of the coaching staff. Players like Leger Douzable and Justin Zimmer were part of the reason that the attempts were so unsuccessful.