Buffalo Bills rookie wide receiver Robert Woods is expected to step into the starting lineup by the start of the season. This weekend, he's laying the foundation for success with fellow rookie EJ Manuel at the team's rookie minicamp. Getting acclimated to each other is very important in the timing of the passing game, and it was the first thing head coach Doug Marrone talked about after the first practice.
"Well, you know what I was curious about, honestly, coming out here was that a lot of times - and you see this - that these guys have never worked with each other before," said Marrone after on Friday. "One of the things you see is just kind of how they have a feel for each other."
It's not always an easy process, but the Bills' rookies did an acceptable job, says the coach.
"I have been in places sometimes where it is natural. Guys go out there and throw the ball around like they did today," Marrone said Friday. "I thought they did a good job. Sometimes you go out there and you have to get to a better feel of where they are going to be and where they are going. I thought both sides did a nice job of that."
Bills fans have seen chemistry at work a lot in recent years. In the summer of 2009, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Stevie Johnson first started playing pitch-and-catch running with the second team in training camp. Trent Edwards was Dick Jauron's starter and Terrell Owens and Lee Evans were running with him at receiver, while Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish played in the slot.
A year later, Johnson established himself as a starting receiver when Owens and Reed left as free agents. Still the second-team quarterback, Fitzpatrick developed a relationship with two undrafted free agents in David Nelson and Donald Jones.
When Fitzpatrick took over the starting job, Johnson immediately became his favorite target and exploded for 82 receptions and more than 1,000 receiving yards. Parrish was injured midway through the season, and Nelson and Jones contributed, too, catching a combined 49 passes as Nelson was fourth on the team in receptions less than a year after not being drafted.
In this year's minicamp, the biggest knock on the passing game has been the lack of timing between Manuel and third-round burner Marquise Goodwin. In Saturday's practice, Manuel underthrew Goodwin twice before finally connecting on a long ball.
"We’ve just got to get the timing down," said Goodwin Saturday. "The quarterbacks are doing tremendous out here as well as my other teammates. We’re just working hard day in and day out and we’ll get the timing down and it’ll be perfect. We got it perfect out here a few times."
"Chemistry, I think we started off pretty good," Woods said following the second practice. "[Manuel]'s already a good friend, but out here we're just working now, getting it done on the field. I think we had a good start."