Everyone who has gone to training camp has commented on how fast-paced and intense the sessions have become under Doug Marone. Tonight must have been an exception. It was, if anything, a laid-back practice with the new head coach wearing his hat backwards for fun and ending the festivities an hour early at 8PM. Apparently he wanted to take it easy on his players to avoid tiring them out for Friday night's game.
The quarterback competition continued to be unpredictable. Kevin Kolb, after having had a shaky start to camp, was clearly the best quarterback out there, throwing the ball with a fair amount of authority. By and large he kept his throws short, although there was one deep ball to Marquise Goodwin (now apparently known as "Flash Goodwin" or "The Flash") that was batted away at the last moment in a great play by Nickell Robey, who was the starting cornerback with the ones tonight with both Leodis McKelvin and Crezdon Butler nursing injuries.
EJ Manuel had a very uneven night. In one sequence he badly underthrew Robert Woods, then came right back with a laser slant to Chris Hogan. A little later he threw a total duck, then a laser to Easley (who made a neat catch), followed by a bad overthrow to Hogan who had run deep and was wide open. Manuel did have the pass of the night, when he stepped up into the pocket, then stood on his toes to fire the ball over a crowd into the hands of The Flash in full stride, who headed straight for the endzone. All in all, one got the impression of a talented rookie who still needs a lot of time to develop. Talk of the quarterback competition being all but over seems like wishful thinking to me.
As for Jeff Tuel, I'm sure he wishes his performance tonight could be erased from memory forever. There were some good throws early in 7-on-7 work, but once things moved on to 11-on-11 and he had to rely on the porous protection of the third string line he was running for his life and ended up making a number of terrible mistakes.
On the receiving end, the two standouts were clearly Marcus Easley and Goodwin (who were also the two paired punt returners tonight). Easley especially seemed to catch anything thrown his way, and in some cases had some nice runs after the catch. Those who had given up on him need to rethink. Goodwin is incredibly dangerous once he gets his hands on the ball (which he does with some skill), but I was struck by how tiny he is and how helpless he looked on one play when surrounded by taller defensive backs who easily picked off a ball meant for him. Hogan had a number of nice receptions, but also a few drops, and Da'Rick Rogers was mostly quiet except for a tipped ball that he alertly grabbed and ran with.
I was planning to turn my binocs on the defense in the final hour of practice, but it never took place thanks to Marrone's kindness to his team. In general, I thought the defense looked very impressive, especially Jamie Blatnick, who had two sacks on the night and seemed to be a permanent resident in the offensive backfield. There were also a number of "rejections" -- balls firmly batted down by defensive backs running aggressively toward the ball rather than sitting back hoping to pick it off. Bryan Scott had a terrific rejection play while moving at high speed, as did Nigel Bradham. Aaron Williams came up at high speed as if to reject a Tuel pass and then intercepted it instead, running it in for a score. This seems to be the in-your-face style of play we are going to see out of our new Mike Pettine defense.
The kicking competition occupied a very large amount of practice time. Net result: Dustin Hopkins and Rian Lindell were just about even in the number of field goals they made, but Hopkins displayed a much stronger leg (at one point he nearly killed the cameraman up in the lift truck behind the goal posts). But he also had one horrible mishit.
Finally, a few observations on the coaches. Again, this may have been an unusual night, but Marrone struck me as very casual and relaxed. He hardly looked like the guy in charge, and seemed to spend much of his time on the sidelines schmoozing with either a coach or players (most notably Eric Wood and Tuel). He also had an extended and animated conversation with Hogan in which the coach frequently patted his receiver on the back. Some coaches shy away from that sort of show of affection with a player to avoid the impression of favoritism, but Marrone doesn't appear to care about that.
Pettine, by contrast, came across as very intense, using short, choppy motions as he speaks. He is clearly all business. Hackett was Hackett.
That's what I observed. Be aware that Kiko Alonso has a minor injury and was held out of practice (and will apparently not play on Friday).