QB Trent Edwards, DE Chris Kelsay at Bills camp (Courtesy twoeightnine)
The Buffalo Bills held their first night practice of 2008 training camp last night at St. John Fisher College, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the festivities. With pen and pad in hand, I spent the majority of my night frantically taking as many notes as possible. It was a beautiful night, but unfortunately, I was not overly impressed by what I saw from our team. Here are some observations, from units to players to coaches, that I hope you'll find useful (this could get long):
For all the good that we've heard from Trent Edwards this early in camp, I saw a guy who struggled a lot last night. He did mention post-practice that what the team was running last night was a whole bunch of new plays, which may have been the reason he looked so poor. But he was missing receivers high, he was bouncing throws off the turf, and he was very obviously distraught at last night's misgivings. He didn't show emotion like J.P. Losman used to, but you could definitely tell he was frustrated. He did, however, make some very nice throws, including a couple nice deep balls.
Losman did not practice; his right thumb was taped up heavily. He's also grown a very lovely beard this off-season. Maybe he thinks Edwards' rookie beard is what caused him to lose his job?
Lynch (and Jackson) Looking Impressive
I absolutely loved what I saw out of Marshawn Lynch last night. He looks more powerful and more agile than he was as a rookie. Put aside anything you hear about Lynch's breakaway speed - I'm going to chalk that up to Lynch being beaten down by the rigors of his first NFL season. The guy looked like a superstar in the making. He also dove into the end zone for a touchdown (probably unnecessarily), drawing a big cheer from the gigantic crowd.
Interestingly, Turk Schonert had Lynch split out wide in a couple of formations. He looked good catching the ball, but his understudy, Fred Jackson, looked better.
Jackson won't ever be a guy who can carry a full rushing load, but he's got that Kenneth Davis feel about him - he's above average at everything he does, especially catching the football. He looked smooth and confident last night, and his style is different from that of Lynch. They're going to complement each other very well.
Receiver/Tight End Notes
I came away with the impression on James Hardy that I thought I was going to come away with: this kid is going to struggle in a big way between the twenties this year. He's still not a great route-runner, and looks positively sloth-like getting out of some of his breaks, especially on out routes. But the dude is just straight up huge. He'll make plays simply because he's big. But from the looks of things right now, Josh Reed (who looked good as usual) seems like he's got a lock on the starting spot. My guess is that Reed will play between the twenties, with Hardy being a mainstay on the field in the red zone.
Out of all of Buffalo's receivers, I came away most impressed by undrafted rookie free agent Jason Jones. He comes from a very small school (Arkansas Pine-Bluff), but he was making some of Buffalo's corners look silly in one-on-one drills. He's a smooth route-runner and shows great hands; he even blew past Will James on a beautifully executed deep route at one point. I'm very interested to see how he performs in pre-season games.
At tight end, Derek Schouman and Robert Royal are light-years ahead of the competition. They're easily the two most fluid athletes at the position. Yes, Robert Royal makes Derek Fine and Courtney Anderson look unathletic. I liked the way that Schouman and Royal played when they were together on the field. Together, they might be productive enough to make us not hate the fact that they didn't draft a more athletic tight end this past April.
O-Line... well, they just need Jason Peters
Kirk Chambers better not be Buffalo's starting left tackle come opening day; I don't think I saw him successfully block Aaron Schobel in one-on-one drills once. He's a tough blocker in the running game, but his pass protection is, well, poor. Here's hoping that Jason Peters is back in camp before long...
The line struggled a bit in pass protection. In 7-on-7 and 11-on-11, Edwards had the pocket collapse on him a couple times; he was forced to throw the ball away once or twice, and made some bad throws while pressured as well. There were some holes for the team's running backs, though.
Offensive line coach Sean Kugler was working hard with rookie Demetrius Bell on his stance and pass pro technique. Langston Walker was chipping in with some advice as well. Bell looks ultra-athletic, but he was the greenest guy on the field by a long shot. He's certainly a practice squad player at this point, but he's got big upside if the coaches can harness some of that athleticism.
D-Line Looks Fantastic
Buffalo's revamped defensive line looked outstanding, including the much-maligned (here, at least) starting defensive ends. The unit was fast, powerful and disruptive - and that included the second unit line as well.
Marcus Stroud can't be blocked by one guy. He just can't. He's not a big guy, but his center of gravity is low, and he got a significant push every single play. He pancaked Brad Butler in a one-on-one drill, and in some double team drills, he was able to slip blocks and get a push in most instances.
I loved the fact that John McCargo was following Stroud around like some sort of gigantic puppy. Stroud was working with McCargo for a few minutes on block-shedding moves; it's good to see a vet helping out a talented youngster. Those two looked great working together inside when they got to play together. (For the record, Edwards and Evans were seen throwing off to the side as well. They looked rather chummy.)
Copeland Bryan ran with the twos, pushing Chris Ellis to third team end, but I don't expect that to last long. Ellis is green - he lacks lower body strength, so he certainly won't be playing on early downs - but Bryan was pedestrian. Ellis should pass him on the depth chart by the end of camp.
Crowell Sits; Young LBs Looking Good
Angelo Crowell missed the practice; he had a wrap on his left knee and came out in shorts. He watched the entire practice from the sidelines. Keith Ellison replaced him on the strong side; Marcus Buggs took Ellison's spot with the second unit.
Speaking of Buggs, he has a very realistic shot at making this team. He made one or two very nice hits in punt coverage drills, and while he's small, he looks like a very good athlete. He's another young guy to keep your eyes on during pre-season action.
Paul Posluszny looked good. He looks like he's in the best shape of his life, and, to be frank, like he could snap most of the Bills' receivers in half with a good lick. He and Lynch are easily the team's most popular players.
Defensive Back Notes: Simpson Dinged
Ko Simpson left practice early with an apparent injury to his surgically repaired ankle. He was walking on it fine on the sidelines, but he clearly was uncomfortable. We'll see if he practices today. To no one's surprise, George Wilson took his place with the top unit; he looks far more comfortable back there than he did last season. He was making a few hits as well.
It was only his second practice, but Leodis McKelvin continued to struggle. He looked better than what we heard in one-on-one coverage drills, but you can tell his ball skills are lacking. He'll blanket a receiver, but he's not instinctual in knowing when to turn his head. He's very good at making plays coming forward, however. He also looked great returning punts (even earning the very loud praise of Bobby April on one return), and in positional drills, you can tell just how good an athlete the kid is. He's very technical in his agility (read: amazing footwork), and when that can translate better to covering receivers, he should be outstanding.
Will James struggled. A lot. He repeatedly got burned deep covering receivers in single coverage. He's still probably a lock to be the team's nickel corner on opening weekend. Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer seem entrenched as the starters, and that shouldn't change any time soon. Reggie Corner was actually playing ahead of McKelvin in dime packages; McKelvin played outside with the second unit. I expect McKelvin to take James' nickel spot early in the season, and Corner is a bigger factor in this equation than many people tend to believe.
Ashton Youboty is very clearly the team's sixth corner - and I thought he looked very good. He blatantly held Jason Jones in single coverage during one drill, but also made a nice break to intercept a pass in front of Felton Huggins. He's much more physical than some of Buffalo's young guys, as well. I hope he stays on the team - he's still got a world of talent.
I love watching Perry Fewell and Bobby April coach. They're loud, funny, and they get their guys moving hard. Their units were easily the two strongest on the field last night.
The offense struggled mightily last night, but you can tell that Turk Schonert's offensive system will be better than Steve Fairchild's. The tempo is faster, Edwards looks much more comfortable, and more guys are getting involved in the passing game (most notably Roscoe Parrish).
Overall, I wasn't a huge fan of the night practice experience. Perhaps it was the idea that I had to go to work the next morning. But it was good seeing the guys in Bills colors, and it was even better to hear the crowd chanting and reacting to what was going on on the field. It was a good time.
The Bills practice from 1:00 to 3:05 today. Buffalo Rumblings will recap the day's action later this afternoon.