The last time I visited training camp was during what would turn out to be Chan Gailey’s last season as coach of the Buffalo Bills. Having experienced training camps under both Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey, it was a bit of an eye-opener to view a Doug Marrone training camp for the first time.
The moment the players emerged on the field I could tell this was not going to be like any other Buffalo Bills training camp I’ve attended. Practice went for nearly three hours, with a break to keep the players cooled off and hydrated. The pace of workouts was fast and furious in comparison to previous camps.
In fact, Doug Marrone gave anyone trying to cover camp a pretty good workout of their own. By the time I got around to the back of the field to view offensive line drills, they were off to another drill on the other side of the field. I felt like a pinball bouncing around trying to catch everything going on simultaneously.
I learned from training camp experts (you know who you are) that the best thing you can do if you are trying to take in all that is going on during practice is to try to focus on one or two position groups, and then follow the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills toward the end of the practice session.
Since there are a plethora of articles written by greater minds than my own regarding the X’s and O’s of training camp practices, I will stick with what I do best; the ‘wyobabble.’ When I go to camp, I’m watching the interactions and behavior of the players and coaches as much as assessing the execution of drills.
My notes are a tangled mess of observations as I trekked across the field back and forth, trying to absorb as much of what was going on as possible. As I proceed through the four practices I’ll be attending this week, I will post my observations in the same messed up way that my brain seems to function most of the time.
So without further adieu, here are my observations and training camp intangibles report from practice on Sunday afternoon:
Music at Training Camp is a Motivator for Players and Fans
Much has been made of Doug Marrone’s playlist, but no one can dispute the ‘pep in the step’ it brings to everyone at camp. His selections were much better than songs played at the stadium during games. Anyone remember when Kiko Alonso famously stated that a song (don’t remember the specific song) was the “worst thing he ever heard” during a game? I still laugh at that comment. It’s obvious the team is missing a big part of their soul without Kiko around.
Marrone Focused on the Offensive Line
I focused most of my attention during this practice on the offensive line (that should not surprise anyone who knows me) and the wide receivers. It was obvious that Marrone was not pleased with the play on the right side of the offensive line from Saturday’s reportedly miserable practice session.
Marrone spent a lot of the practice working with the right side of the line, namely Pears, Urbik, and Hairston. There was some serious swearing going on by the coaches. They got after the players regarding their footwork and leverage. We are blessed to have a head coach who played as an offensive lineman in the NFL. His attention to detail is impressive, as is his passion for the position group.
There is some serious poundage that has been added to this offensive line. These men are gigantic. They are freaks of nature that have the lightest and most nimble feet holding up their massive bodies that I’ve ever seen. It is evident that this is the most physically talented group of offensive linemen that the Bills have had in years. If you get to camp, don’t miss watching the “big uglies.” You won’t be disappointed.
Wide Receivers: A Position of Strength
The Bills have managed to turn the wide receivers from a position of weakness on the team into a position of strength in one season. Obviously, everyone is focused on the dynamic playmaking skills of Sammy Watkins. There is no doubt he is the real deal. He made another mind-boggling catch after he juked Ron Brooks out of his shoes. Sammy is going to embarrass a lot of corners in the years to come.
While Watkins will garner a lot of attention, this may prove to be most beneficial to Robert Woods and Mike Williams. Watkins is THAT good. He will command double coverage every moment he is on the field, and the rest of the wide receivers and running backs will reap the benefit of his presence.
Chris Hogan is not only going to make this team, but he also may put T.J. Graham out of a job. If it boils down to one or the other, Hogan has made his case for supplanting Graham on the roster. T.J. dropped another pass in the end zone toward the end of practice during the 11-on-11 drills. His hands continue to betray him. With Goodwin’s speed and agility, as well as special teams play, T.J. may turn out to be on the outside of the equation when it comes time to trim the roster to 53 players.
While it is great to see Naaman Roosevelt wearing a Bills uniform again, he is facing an uphill battle due to the talented competition on the roster. However, if he doesn’t make the squad it’s never a bad thing to have a hometown player learn the offense. If there is a rash of injuries and the Bills need to sign someone fast during the season, he will be ready to go.
Marcell Dareus is Ready to Rock and Roll
Dareus apparently got quite a laugh out of the staff (as reported by Chris Brown) when he offered to substitute in as a safety when they needed an extra guy. I wish they had let him try it out. We would have been able to feel the earth move under our feet. That might be a good song to add to Marrone’s playlist when the big guys are doing their drills.
On a more serious note, it’s clear that Dareus has a new best friend at practice. Kyle Williams spent most of practice paired up with Marcell. You could see Kyle talking with him constantly and patting him on the back. Kyle knows that his ability to freak out on the field will depend on Dareus functioning at his best. It was nice to see Marcell dancing to the music, but he was also very focused when he needed to do so.
Pepper Johnson: One Fine Position Coach
His attention to detail is evident by the way that he advises players. He is a teacher in every sense of the word. If Schwartz leaves to become a head coach again, I would be fine with Pepper taking over as defensive coordinator. I’m glad he’s on our side. He may be missed by the Patriots more than they think this season.
Much has already been written about this defensive line. This is by far the most talented group of defensive lineman the team has fielded in many years. Eric Wood recently stated that he believes they are the best in the league, and the reason why the offensive line is struggling to contain them. That was evident again at practice on Sunday. I’m trying to remember the last time both the offensive line and defensive line had this much talent.
The Most Talented Team in A Decade
This team has a more talented roster than they’ve had in the last ten years. Now they have to find a way to convert that talent into wins instead of underachieving as they have done so often over the last decade. Of course the big unknown is at the most important position on the team; the quarterback.
For all the griping that I read and heard about EJ Manuel, to my untrained eye he appears to be greatly improved over last season. People tend to forget that EJ might not have played a down last season if Kevin Kolb had not suffered a severe concussion. Though painful to watch at times, EJ did get through some growing pains that should prove beneficial for the team this season.
What I saw from EJ at practice on Sunday was better footwork, more reads through his progressions, and a seemingly more confident presence as a leader on the field. While I agree with the critics who state that he is still having trouble making decisions quickly, I firmly believe that will come when he sees that he can depend on the rest of the offense to help him get there.
Bills Fans are Amazing
We already knew that was the case, but St. John Fisher was packed, the fans were upbeat, and it was great day to be back at camp. I met so many wonderful people as I moved around trying to take in as much as possible.
The one thing I miss most about living in Western New York are the incredible people who live here. I was hauling a huge bag with me across the parking lot when a wonderful woman named Carol came over to me in a golf cart and asked if I wanted a ride.
She is a retired teacher who still substitutes from time to time. She works for the Bills during training camp for fun. She is a neat lady who gave me some great advice about where to dine in the Rochester area. Thanks, Carol!
As I made my way through a jam-packed Bills Store, I spotted a woman named Andrea who was trying on a great pair of Zubaz leggings. She lamented the fact that there is no dressing room at the store. I shielded her from the rest of the customers so she could try them on over her shorts.
Her daughter Kaethe came over and we had a great chuckle about how Bills fans have each other’s back (and backside as well) when necessary. Andrea looked so good in those updated Zubaz I decided I had to buy a pair for myself. They bring back the distant memories of the last time the Bills were a relevant football team. My husband will no doubt get quite a chuckle when he sees me sporting the Zubaz again.
I will be at training camp through Thursday’s practice. Stay tuned for more wyobabble as I try to absorb as much as one old woman can possibly take in during a Marrone style training camp. It’s great to be home again!