Editor's Note: One last Buffalo Bills training camp report for the summer. Thanks for your hard work, Macktruck! - BG
It was a near thing, but my grandsons, who are very nice, finally gave me permission to head for St. John Fisher for the last practice of the 2012 training camp, and so off I went, binoculars in one hand and a pen in the other.
Tonight I focused on the backup quarterback and wide receiver competitions, on the backup offensive tackles, on Mark Anderson versus the run, and on the general atmosphere. Let me share my observations in that order.
Vince Young has had some very strong practices in a row now, and tonight was yet another. He hops a bit on his toes before getting his feet set, but he is now throwing off his back foot pretty consistently, and the result is greatly improved accuracy, at least in the practice setting. I had the chance to see him on a bad night a few weeks ago when there were wild throws all over the place. Tonight there was only one, and that was a deep ball to the back of the end zone that he may have intentionally overthrown. He is definitely NOT the equal of Fitz, who was making solid throws consistently all night. Fitz is clearly more decisive and has a quicker release than Young (Fitz also seemed to be doing a good job of setting his feet when I looked through my binocs). But if Young can maintain the level at which he is currently playing, especially during the preseason games, we will not have to worry about having a capable back-up.
Thigpen by contrast was very wild at times, with David Lee rushing to him in obvious alarm. Unless Young regresses (which is perfectly possible), the contest may be over. Brad Smith, for his part, kept throwing into open space during his snaps at QB. I'm not so sure about having him as the No. 3.
As for the WR's, if a visitor arrived from Mars tonight and watched what was happening on the field, he would surely have concluded that Marcus Easley was winning the competition for the last WR slot hands down. Easley had the highlight of the night with a gorgeous catch on a 40 yard pass from VY that he wrestled away from Gilmore, who had him tightly covered. That was followed a few plays later by another work of art catch deep down the sideline near the endzone and then a perfect reception for a TD in which VY threaded the ball perfectly between two receivers. Easley kept impressing all night, while Hagan had only nice grab. Kamar Aiken had only one catch as well, but it was a beauty -- he simply overpowered the defender (who I believe was Searcy), grabbing the ball away and heading like lightning down the sideline. Aiken looked a bit tentative coming back from his injury, but he is very powerful and fast and has a lot to recommend him.
It seems to me that the starting OTs -- in fact the starting o-line -- is settled, so I tried to observed the second and third string o-lines as much as possible. The twos had Hairston at RT and Glenn at LT, so in a way they weren't the real twos. The threes, who are probably the real twos, had Sam Young at LT and Zebrie Sanders at RT. Young was mainly going against Merriman, while Sanders was lined up in front of Jarron Gilbert most of the night, but on occasion the DEs switched. I did not detect one play in which either OT lost control of his assignment. Sanders had Gilbert neutralized, although Gilbert did back him up on a couple of plays. Merriman never got by Sam Young -- or Sanders for that matter. And on run-blocking both Young and Sanders were violent and effective. I think the coaches are going to have a tough choice deciding between those two.
When the 1's were on the field my focus turned to Mark Anderson, who kept switching between RDE and LDE. In fact, when Mario wasn't out there he would stand in the backfield next to the Mike LB until the instant before the snap and then move to whatever DE position he was going to occupy on that play. On two different running plays he was quickly behind the LOS to stop Fred Jackson for a loss. Tell Fred Jackson that Mark Anderson can't play the run and I suspect Freddie would take issue with that.
Some other random observations: Prince Miller was the dime CB with the 1's, switching off with Terence McGee who was being used sparingly. McGee looks like he is limping, but the instant he starts to cover a receiver he becomes by far the best cover CB on the field.
On one play I could hear George Wilson, our Field General, screaming to his fellow DB's "They're throwing it right," but no one listened to him. They (Fitz) did throw it right, and it was an easy completion for a long gain. His fellow DB's and the LB's really need to pay attention to George back there.
There seemed to be a playful mood at times. Fitz was chewing bubble gum and blew some nice bubbles. Marcel Dareus kept bumping into people for fun.
As his been the case all training camp, Buddy Nix was nowhere to be found. The last two years Buddy was almost always at Fisher, but not this year.
Finally, a few comments on the Bills social scene -- in other words, who was hanging out with whom. Stevie and Fitz tend to be inseparable, and are occasionally joined by Donald Jones and Chan Gailey. Tonight Fred Jackson was hanging out with Dareus, Kyle Williams and Nick Barnett. I have noticed in the past that Freddie often likes to chat with defenders when he is on the sidelines. But most striking, Vince Young was hanging out with no one. After seeing him by himself during a special teams segment I started keeping track, and every time I checked he was alone. It might be interesting to see what happens during the game Friday at the Metrodome. He is going to be the main QB. Will he keep to himself when he is not on the field? He also has some of the thinnest legs I have ever seen on a football player. A real sprinter.
All in all, the team looked a lot better to me than they had during the early practices I attended. But the real test is not how they practice, but rather what happens during the three remaining preseason games and then on September 9 in the Meadowlands.