Buffalo Bills Training Camp: Observations from Team's First Night Practice
After the first night practice of the Buffalo Bills 2012 training camp, yours truly, the legitimate football geek, has plenty to talk about.
Sure, it was only the team's fourth practice and there's a lot more to process before the season-opening showdown with the New York Jets on September 9. But each training camp outing is undoubtedly important and carries its own respective value in terms of player assessment.
Some of you followed my barrage of live tweets, but for those who didn't, here's a comprehensive run-down of the night's occurrences.
First Impression: Stephon Gilmore
The first player I noticed when I arrived was cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was participating in individual drills with the defensive backs.
Why did I notice him?
Gilmore is the most menacing cornerback on the roster, and it's not really close. Leodis McKelvin is probably about 6'0'', but he's much lankier than the filled-out rookie from South Carolina.
For most of the evening, he lined up against fellow rookie T.J. Graham outside and in the slot, and the battle was a push. Graham got the best of Gilmore on an intermediate out and a few short comebacks, but Gilmore had tight coverage on many plays that forced Ryan Fitzpatrick and Vince Young to look at other receiving options.
He did take a few snaps against Steve Johnson, and the newly-minted wideout got the best of Gilmore, but none of his catches were for significant yardage.
The most impressive moments of the night for Gilmore were turned in on two nearly identical plays. First, Fitzpatrick lofted a perfectly-thrown bomb to Johnson down the sideline. Johnson reeled it in over the turned-around corner, but Gilmore, aware that Johnson caught the ball, ripped it away at the last second.
Moments later, Derek Hagan actually had a step on Gilmore on a deep ball, but the ball was again ripped away after Hagan had the reception.
A solid outing for the Bills' first-round pick, but he certainly has much to learn, especially covering the short-to-intermediate routes.
Vince Young Shaky, Better Than Tyler Thigpen
Young was hit-or-miss during his 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. He'd calmly deliver three or four superbly-placed passes and hit his receiver in stride, then throw two errant passes and a few that should have intercepted.
There were a few planned bootleg runs that Young took for huge gains.
He's one of those long striders who doesn't appear to be moving swiftly with great acceleration, but he runs by a lot of people.
When Young faced pressured a few times, he sporadically threw dangerous passes that fell incomplete.
He was better and less flustered than Tyler Thigpen, who had one or two nice throws of his own. I'd be surprised if Young doesn't win that No. 2 job.
Defensive Line Domination
A famous training-camp cliche held true on Sunday evening at the Bills' training camp. The defense is a few steps ahead of the offense, and much of that has to do with the defensive line.
I counted about five or six would-be sacks, and the bolstered unit rarely needed to blitz a linebacker or secondary member.
Getting to the passer solely with the front four is a staple of Dave Wannstedt's 4-3 defense.
Actually, Chris Kelsay was the most productive pass-rusher, for two reasons.
First, he was beating rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn, who took first-team reps, with speed rush that was much more explosive than I remembered. Secondly, the enormous amount of attention paid to Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario William was evident, leading to many one-on-one matchups for the veteran.
Mario wasn't absolutely dominant, but he was far from invisible. After Kelsay, the best defensive lineman was Dareus, by a wide margin. He's simply too big to move and too agile to keep out of the backfield. The second-year DT blew up a few run plays, batted down a pass and sniffed out a screen to C.J. Spiller.
The sky's the limit for him.
From what I saw, the defensive line really has the ability to live up to all the hype.
Everyone can agree that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick could easily make or break the Bills' 2012 season. He worked on footwork and general throwing technique with quarterback guru David Lee this offseason, but the reports have been scarce as to how much those coaching sessions have helped Buffalo's signal-caller, if at all.
At first glance, Fitzpatrick finally looks the part of an NFL starting quarterback in his drop-backs. The tweaked footwork was smoother and allowed him to deliver the ball more confidently than I've seen in quite a while.
However, his lack of arm strength is still apparent and probably won't change. It forces him to exert a great deal of energy when zipping a bullet across the middle or down the field.
There were at least four throws that traveled a good 30 or 40 yards in the air that found their intended target. Gilmore ripped two away, and the others were completed to Marcus Easley (Fitz's best throw of the night between three defenders) and Hagan.
Fitzpatrick also found Scott Chandler on two straight intermediate gains, one a 25-yard completion down the seam.
Bills fans haven't seen that in years.
There was a moment in which Fitzpatrick reverted to his old ways. On a bubble screen to Naaman Roosevelt, he unnecessarily faded away from his target. Not surprisingly, the quick pass drifted high and wide and was nearly intercepted.
Overall, Fitzpatrick was assertive and in sync with the majority of his pass-catching targets, especially Johnson and Graham.
Practice MVP: T.J. Graham
No question here.
Graham, donning Roscoe Parrish's old No. 11, had himself a fantastic practice from start to finish. Because he's a smaller and skinnier receiver, some believed he'd have trouble getting off the line.
Not on Sunday.
Gilmore frequently played press man, and using some Johnson-esque jukes, Graham didn't have trouble handling bump-and-run coverage.
Fitzpatrick found him on a few intermediate comeback routes, but his downfield prowess was the most notable aspect of the evening.
He made a fine 30-yard leaping grab on a back shoulder thrown down the sideline with coverage draped all over him.
Soon thereafter, he burned what looked like Cover 2 on a bomb from Vince Young. He caught the ball at around the 35-yard-line and easily won a footrace to the end zone.
The reports about Graham's acceleration aren't exaggerated. It's clear he has a track background.
From my perspective, the former N.C. State standout passed all the rookie wide receiver tests, and though he didn't have an abundance of catches, he made the most of the balls thrown his way.
- During the beginning of 11-on-11 drills, Arthur Moats took first team reps at LOB instead of Kirk Morrison.
Who will win the No. 2 receiver spot?
- David Nelson didn't practice, but wasn't limping on the sideline. Shawne Merriman, who rolled an ankle Saturday, was limited. Justin Rogers and Torell Troup didn't finish practice, but they didn't suffer major injuries.
- Ron Brooks, playing with the second team, had two pass breakups, both of which he should have intercepted.
- Dorin Dickerson was used in an Aaron Hernandez/James Casey H-back role. He had two receptions and almost reeled in a deep bomb when playing against the second team defense.
- Donald Jones didn't stand out, but outside of one tough drop, he was consistent throughout. Marcus Easley caught three passes but had two bad drops. The "No. 2 receiver battle" is still up in the air. Don't count out Derek Hagan.
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