5 Biggest Takeaways from the Buffalo Bills OTAs
After more than five months, the Buffalo Bills are back on the practice field and have begun preparations for the 2014 season. Last week was the first time that rookies, offseason acquisitions and returning players from last year were practicing together under the direction of the Bills coaching staff.
The tough part of organized team activities (OTAs) is not to overreact to what is happening on the football field. It is easy to jump the gun and make conclusions and forget the season is still three months away. A lot can change between now and the start of the 2014 season.
I found five takeaways from the first OTA that could develop into key storylines heading into training camp and the 2014 season.
Right Tackle Battle Is Very Close
When the Bills drafted Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round, the Alabama Crimson Tide product was expected to be the future right tackle.
But he may also be the present.
The thought was that veteran Erik Pears was not going to give up his spot willingly. The coaching staff, however, seems excited to see what the rookie can do. WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia noted that Kouandjio and Pears were already splitting first team reps. This does not bode well for Pears' chances of retaining his spot on the offensive line if the coaching staff is already giving reps to Kouandjio.
By no means is this an open-and-shut case but Kouandjio brings an element to this offensive line that Pears doesn't have. He has the physicality necessary to clear running lanes for the team's running backs and be a force in this part of the offense.
The reps between these two players will be something worth monitoring through OTAs and into training camp.
Nickell Robey Could Have a Reduced Role in 2014
There was a possibility when the Bills signed former Bears and Ravens cornerback Corey Graham this offseason that incumbent nickelback Nickell Robey might get bumped. That possibility seems to be growing after the first week of OTAs, during which Graham—and not Robey—participated with the first unit.
Mike Rodak of ESPN.com discusses this as one of his early trends coming out of the first OTA, though he immediately advised not to count out Robey:
It could mean that Jim Schwartz doesn't value the 5-foot-7 Robey in the same way that Mike Pettine did. Would that mean Robey's roster spot is in jeopardy? Probably not, but it could indicate reduced playing time for him. The other possibility is that the Bills are simply tinkering with their personnel, seeing what they have in Brooks in what could be a make-or-break training camp, while getting Cockrell on the field as much as they can.
It is hard to make a definitive conclusion because Robey did play well last year. The issue is though that this is a new defense with a new leader in coordinator Jim Schwartz, and there may not be a role for Robey.
It is going to be interesting to see whether Graham or Robey will be lining up in the nickel position.
EJ Manuel Looks Ready for Year 2
In no way does this mean EJ Manuel is going to break out in his second season, but the early signs look good for No. 3.
First, Manuel articulated what many thought last season when he said in a recent press conference: "Obviously, being a young guy, sometimes you would look past somebody in a progression when you could’ve just held on a half-second longer and he may have come open."
If the Bills hope to get back to the playoffs this season, they will need to see improvement from Manuel, which is not asking a lot considering the weapons they have put around him this offseason.
C.J. Spiller Is Healthy Again
It is no secret that C.J. Spiller was not his dynamic self in 2013 after battling an ankle injury over the final three quarters of the season. He is putting the injury woes behind him and says he hasn't felt this good since 2012, the year he had his breakout season.
For this offense to be successful this coming season they will need Spiller to be the explosive runner he was two years ago. It should force defenses to focus on him, which should open the passing game up and give Manuel more opportunities.
Tough to Get a Read on New Defense
Aside from the absence of cornerback Nickell Robey, it is tough to draw any conclusions about the Bills new defense under coordinator Jim Schwartz. The biggest reason is the fact that the team is dealing with numerous injuries on that side of the ball. The Bills were missing five starters including Kiko Alonso, Marcell Dareus and three quarters of their secondary (Leodis McKelvin, Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams).
The Bills defense saw an impressive turnaround under Mike Pettine last year, and the hope is that a veteran defensive mind like Schwartz can build off that. It shouldn't be a concern that this many starters are out, however, it is hard to get a gauge on what this defense may look like.
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