Buffalo Bills: 5 Things We Learned from OTAs
The Buffalo Bills ended their 10 days of organized team activities on Friday afternoon, which was the first opportunity for the coaching staff to install new schemes. A lot has happened in the three weeks since rookie camp ended, and veterans joined the crowd at 1 Bills Drive.
Buddy Nix stepped down from his perch in the general manager position, and the Bills replaced him with hand-picked candidate Doug Whaley. Young receivers have stepped up in the absence of a true option opposite of Stevie Johnson, as the Bills transition to Nate Hackett's West Coast offense. The quarterback position is just as jumbled as it was a month ago, with no finalized option in sight.
For a team that has plenty of new faces in key positions, OTAs are just the beginning of building a foundation for success. Mandatory camps are on the not-so-distant horizon, and there are plenty of stories to be watching as the offseason moves forward.
Doug Marrone Thinks Highly of EJ Manuel
EJ Manuel was third on the depth chart during OTAs and received the least amount of snaps with the first-team offense. However, that did not stop his head coach from giving him a healthy serving of praise following his first four weeks with the team.
In a post-practice interview with BuffaloBills.com reporter Chris Brown, Marrone commented on the fact that Manuel is farther ahead than planned.
As far as EJ is concerned along with Jeff Tuel, who wasn’t on the field a lot, but I got to watch, both those quarterbacks from a mental standpoint and a physical ability standpoint being able to go out there and do it have done better in my experience than any other young quarterbacks that we’ve brought in with any of the organizations I’ve been involved with in the NFL.
The national media had a bit of fun with this quote after the fact as each major outlet published a blog post about Marrone's statement. Marrone's comment was pretty much fluffy "coach-speak" because there is not much to compare Manuel to at this point.
Marrone has been around several professional organizations before heading to Syracuse, but keep in mind that the only rookie quarterback he has been around was Brooks Bollinger. This isn't saying much, but I would hope that Manuel would be better than Bollinger, who is now a coach with the Pittsburgh Panthers.
T.J. Graham Will Put Up a Fight
The buzz surrounding the Bills' shiny new toys at wide receiver was pasted over every message board immediately after the draft. Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin being drafted early sent the current receivers a message, but the team adding Da'Rick Rogers in undrafted free agency officially sent fans into a frenzy.
Forgotten in all of the hubbub is second-year receiver T.J. Graham, the track-star receiver out of North Carolina State. Graham had a mostly forgettable rookie season, as Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled to hit the speedster with the deep ball consistently.
Making matters worse for Graham was that Russell Wilson—who went only a few picks after—was putting on a show for playoff-bound Seattle. Given the Bills’ issues at quarterback, Graham’s name was not mentioned in a ton of pleasant conversations in Western New York.
A full offseason of NFL workouts has looked to pay early dividends for a receiver who is quietly fighting for his job. Graham won't be a release candidate, but the selection of Goodwin has created a bit of a jam on the outside.
Graham took advantage of Goodwin and Woods missing the first week of OTAs by reeling in a couple of long passes from Tarvaris Jackson and EJ Manuel.
Chris Brown named him a standout of OTAs, which might be a sign that Graham is prepped to make sure fans do not forget about the young receiver.
The Kicker Spot Is Still Rian Lindell's to Lose
For the second straight year, the Bills selected a kicker toward the end of the rookie draft. Last year, the team picked kickoff specialist John Potter to complement Lindell's weakening leg on the roster. He lasted a couple of games before getting released.
In 2013, the new regime selected super-accurate Dustin Hopkins, who finished as the all-time leader in points in NCAA history. Hopkins seems like a natural fit to replace Lindell sooner rather than later, but that could be put on hold for at least another year.
Aside from the C.J. Spiller debacle, the other huge issue that plagued beleagured Chan Gailey was his mistrust in Lindell.
Gailey would often leave Lindell on the bench in critical situations, choosing to either go for it or punt the ball away in the short field. Even more puzzling was letting Lindell kick longer field goals earlier in games, but refusing to allow him tries over 45 yards late in games.
Lindell had his two career lows in attempts for a 16-game season during Gailey's three years with Buffalo, including only 24 last year. He made 21 of those attempts and had only missed one all season until the Week 17 win against the New York Jets.
For Lindell, the selection of Hopkins could spell the end of a 10-year career in Buffalo, but misuse instead of decline over the past three season should give him a reason to stick around for just a while longer.
The Bills Will Be Prepared to Tote the Rock
Doug Marrone has been an open book since the draft ended, and one of the biggest questions he has had to answer recently is his direction for the running back position.
According to an Associated Press report on BuffaloBills.com, Marrone plans to have no restrictions on his dynamic duo this upcoming season.
"Obviously, I don't really know the whole situation from last year,'' said Marrone, who was hired in January after spending the past four seasons at Syracuse. "I think we have an opportunity to have two backs back there than can be productive.''
A year after C.J. Spiller led the league in yards-per-carry average, while receiving merely 202 carries, the new coaching staff is obviously aware of the talent they have at their disposal.
Fred Jackson is a year older, but he is looking to prove that back-to-back injury-plagued seasons can be put behind him. Jackson earned himself a new contract at age 30, but has not completed more than 10 games since the signing. He is still a great luxury to have as a backup, although I am not entirely sure that a designation will be placed on the position.
Marrone sounds pretty set on giving both players as many carries as he can, which is good news for the success of his new offense.
Jairus Byrd's Contract Situation Is Approaching the Danger Zone
Jairus Byrd was slapped with the franchise tag in the offseason after his second Pro Bowl effort and would like to be rewarded with a long-term deal. Sounds like a reasonable request, but the two sides have yet to come to terms on compensation for the high-flying safety.
Byrd's situation is similar to the Jason Peters' debacle that happened prior to the 2009 season, and ironically, the two players share the same agent, Eugene Parker. Tim Graham of The Buffalo News revisited the situation and compared how similar the two could play out.
Parker admitted to Graham that Byrd would like to stay in Buffalo and get a long-term deal done sooner rather than later. However, it is going to take both sides meeting at some middle ground before that comes to fruition.
Last time we heard, during The John Murphy Show on WGR 550, Mark Kelso's comments implied that Byrd and the team were at least $2 million apart in negotiations.
Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings had an accurate assessment of the situation in his weekly mailbag segment last weekend.
Circle July 14-15 on your "when I should worry" calendar. July 15 is the deadline for franchise tagged players to sign long-term contract extensions; if the Bills and Byrd (and agent Eugene Parker, he of the infamous 2008 Jason Peters holdout) don't have a new deal worked out by then, things will get very interesting.
Byrd is free to sign the franchise tag at any point - he won't for the foreseeable future, as it's his leverage point in negotiations right now - but if there's no July 15 deal and he still refuses to sign, we'll be looking at a holdout that could last for quite a while.
The difference between now and then is approximately 45 days, but that can creep up awfully quickly if the two sides are not in constant contact. It may not officially be time to worry about Byrd's contract status, but it is getting dangerously close.