Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Brad Butler, a key figure on a re-structured offensive line, left practice on Monday holding his back. He walked off of the field on his own power, but was moving very slowly. Kirk Chambers replaced Butler in the lineup.
Aside from what could be a key injury, however - and let's hope it was minor - there was a lot of intrigue on the Growney Stadium field at St. John Fisher College, as the Bills returned to practice after getting Sunday off. Many young players impressed, including a handful of prominent rookies (does the picture at right give anything away?), and there were some developments in how players rotated in and out of the lineup that gave us a better look at the depth chart, as well.
If that's not enough for you, we've also got some very welcome news on the backup quarterback front. That's always worth a read, right? If you skeptically read reports that Ryan Fitzpatrick had improved throughout last week over the weekend, it's time to drop the skepticism.
It wasn't an overly eventful practice on Monday, but the intrigue levels were high. MattRichWarren covered the practice live. Our recap appears after the jump, including some injury updates worth noting (aside from Butler).
The Bills were fortunate enough to have TE Shawn Nelson, OG Kirk Chambers and DT John McCargo return to the practice field on Monday. All three played relatively well on the day; we'll have more on Nelson's day in a moment. Leodis McKelvin, Steve Johnson, Copeland Bryan and Marcus Smith remain sidelined with their respective injuries (in McKelvin's case, a tight hamstring). Johnson told Matt that he'd be ready to return to the field later this week. Butler's back injury will be monitored, and was the only significant injury on the day.
Keeping track of the O-Line
For those of you who have been on Demetrius Bell Watch, waiting for the second-year pro to lock down a starting tackle job, you may have been surprised to hear that when Butler went down, it was Chambers who replaced him at right tackle. This is perspective, folks - as good as Bell has looked in camp thus far (and it's worth noting that he was beaten cleanly by Chris Ellis on one play today), he's nowhere near ready for significant playing time. Buffalo's coaches realize that, and we should too.
Andy Levitre took nearly ever first-team snap at left guard, and every snap when Chambers took over at right tackle. Eric Wood is clearly (and unsurprisingly) ahead of Seth McKinney at right guard. Along with center Geoff Hangartner, Buffalo's new-look interior offensive line performed well on Monday, generating solid push in the running game and looking fairly athletic on pulls and the like. Hangartner struggled with DT Kyle Williams in pass protection once, but held up well enough to allow QB Trent Edwards to deliver the ball in about three seconds.
It's also worth noting that the Bills practiced rushing against a 3-4 defensive look. Marcus Stroud, Kyle Williams and Spencer Johnson made up the front three, and the line blocked the look well. Expect to see that more as the team slowly begins gearing up for their AFC East foes this season.
Nelson, Fitzpatrick impress
Shawn Nelson returned to the practice field after missing several days with a minor foot injury, and Buffalo's coaches wasted no time working him back up to speed. Nelson spent a lot of time with the first unit on Monday, particularly in pass sets, and looked great - his blocking is slowly coming along, and he caught several balls, including a long touchdown pass down the left sideline from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Fitzpatrick - much-maligned after a more-than-shaky start to camp - looked great today. True, he threw an interception to rookie cornerback Ellis Lankster, but he looked far more comfortable than he has, his offensive unit clicked, and he threw a few touchdowns as well (to Nelson, Derek Schouman and Justin Jenkins). He's coming along nicely. Believe it when you hear it elsewhere.
Hardy, Byrd work on the side
Two players remain on Buffalo's PUP list - second-year WR James Hardy and rookie FS Jairus Byrd. Both could be ready in the not-too-distant future, and both were working on their own on the sidelines on Monday. Hardy has been doing this all week, and he reports himself that his knee is feeling much better. (He's also been spotted following Terrell Owens around like a starving puppy.) Byrd worked out on the sideline as well, and should be back on the field in around a week.
Depth Chart Watch
Even before Chambers replaced Butler at right tackle, Andy Levitre was getting the majority of the first-team reps at left guard. He appears to hold the lead there at the moment. Eric Wood has all but nailed down the right guard job. Again, no surprises there.
With McKelvin on the sideline and Drayton Florence still working in the slot, Reggie Corner replaced McKelvin opposite Terrence McGee. We feel confident that Florence would have lined up outside in a traditional 4-3 set (i.e. no nickel), but the Corner "promotion" is significant in that he got the call over Ashton Youboty. For now, at least, Corner appears to be ahead of Youboty on the depth chart.
Nic Harris worked as the second-team strong-side linebacker. His chances of unseating Keith Ellison for the starting role there, however, are small; Ellison has actually looked pretty good in camp.
The Bills will hold yet another night practice tomorrow night at 7:00 PM. We're currently working on getting representation there; in the event that we're unsuccessful, we're willing to listen to anyone's report from camp tomorrow night. The team holds another night practice on Thursday, and in that case, we'll definitely have live coverage. More on that later in the week. Once the first pre-season game is concluded, the Bills will be practicing full-contact for the following entire week.