As the excitement continues to build surrounding the 2012 Buffalo Bills chances at finally ending their long playoff drought, I drove the necessary seven-plus hours from Connecticut to see the Bills Sunday evening practice at St. John Fisher College first hand.
The practice was sold out on Sunday night, and the crowd was into the drills when the offense was going up against the defense in the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 plays. There was one fan that was trying to get the crowd into a "Let's Go Buffalo" chant, but the crowd ignored him, as they were there to watch the team and focus on specific players, not to follow along with chants from other fans.
The practice was well organized and Chan Gailey and his coaching staff had the team hopping around, as the Bills utilized both football fields for the practice. The assistant coaches had ample time to work on fundamentals and various drills with all of their position players, and things escalated from there.
There was a number of 7-on-7 drills, 11-on-11 plays and some situational work that Gailey wanted to address with special teams. The only problem with the 11-on-11 is that you have 22 players involved in the play, and roughly 68 players standing around watching, but I don't believe training camp has ever been reduced down to a perfect science.
The Bills depth on the defensive line was demonstrated as the defense sent wave after wave of their linemen at the Bills quarterbacks and offensive line—who were practicing without starters Erik Pears and Eric Wood.
My attention was drawn to the defensive line drills and trying to get as many glimpses as I could at Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, since they are so new to the team. In addition, I watched Cordy Glenn in drills, along with other rookies such as Stephon Gilmore, T.J. Graham and Ron Brooks.
Since this is the opening week of training camp, the rookies are fitting in well, and they look like they will be contributors—especially Gilmore, Glenn and Graham (the three G's).
During the spirited 7-on-7 battles featuring the wide receivers versus the cornerbacks and safeties, there was some real give and take going on between both units. On Sunday evening, both Marcus Easley and T.J. Graham were able to collect some nice long throws, beating Aaron Williams, Ron Brooks and Stephon Gilmore. However, Gilmore and Williams had their hands on more than a few passes, as did Brooks, who dropped at least two passes that should have been intercepted.
Speaking of rookie defenders that showed really good hands, Tank Carder impressed with some nice catches in the drills involving the passing game.
Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick looked good on a number of passes and inconsistent on some others, but he was clearly more accurate than not. Vince Young had some nice throws and showed off his quickness by tucking the ball and running with it. Tyler Thigpen had a couple of nice throws as well, but I didn't get to see much of either Thigpen or Brad Smith throwing many passes during this practice.
There were a number of Bills players that sat out some or most of the Sunday night practice. Those players were Terrence McGee, David Nelson, Justin Rogers, Erik Pears, Kellen Heard, Joshua Nesbitt and Mike Caussin. Shawne Merriman had his helmet off but then later rejoined the team for drills.
The biggest bright unit for the Bills still looks to be the defensive line. When Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson line up together, they look like they will be an intimidating group. If you can add a healthy Shawne Merriman to that group, that ups the intensity even more.
Kyle Williams looked to be just fine after recovering from his 2011 foot injury, and was moving well. Stevie Johnson was another key Bills player coming off of a 2011 injury and was looking good at times. It's too soon to tell yet on players like Eric Wood, Merriman and Terrence McGee.
John Potter showed off a big leg, as did the veterans Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman. The other punter in camp, Shaun Powell from Florida State, looked horrendous and it wouldn't surprise me if he was released shortly. He just didn't look like he belonged out there.
You can only tell so much from one practice, but for the two-and-a-half hours that we observed, the Bills have a high-energy team that appears to be spirited and focused. The coaches have their act together and now in his third year and with a full training camp to prepare, it looks like Gailey has an excellent idea of what he wants to work on and how he wants to bring the team along in camp.