There's no question that the quarterback battle is the most intriguing story to follow at Buffalo Bills training camp, but three practices into the new season, there may not be a position more wide open than the second cornerback spot.
When camp opened on Sunday night, Justin Rogers took the first-team reps across the field from top cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He did so again on Monday afternoon, but projected nickel cornerback Ron Brooks stole some reps outside. On Tuesday morning, the little-known T.J. Heath took starters' reps.
Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine told John Kryk of the Toronto Sun on Monday that the race for the No. 2 cornerback job is "completely up for grabs," with Rogers, Brooks and Leodis McKelvin singled out as contenders in the race. Heath's involvement may also have been circumstantial, with WIVB's Steve Vesey pointing out that Rogers may not have participated in full-team work today.
Still, the position is clearly up for grabs - but for now, McKelvin (who has not yet taken first-team reps after missing spring work recovering from groin surgery) remains the front-runner. It seems only a matter of time until he's working with the ones, but it's interesting nonetheless that even Heath is sneaking in ahead of him at this point.
Mario still missing
Mario Williams was not in attendance for a second straight day, and Bills head coach Doug Marrone once again abstained from offering anything tangible on the matter. In fact, it's sounding like he's already fed up with questions about the subject:
Marrone's media session will be a story. Mario drama. Frustration. High level of contentiousness for day three.— Jeremy White (@JeremyWGR) July 30, 2013
This story won't be going away any time soon, and for our money, we're hoping that Williams' doctors are able to offer up some sort of diagnosis to the coaching staff sooner rather than later. You can bet your bottom dollar that a lot more will be written about this particular subject today.
Injuries start to accumulate
Aside from Williams and the aforementioned Rogers, tight end Scott Chandler also missed team work today. Chandler had reportedly been humming along as usual until coming to the sideline to ride a bike during 11-on-11 work. Pass rusher Jamie Blatnick was also spotted working off to the side with trainers by several reporters, and undrafted rookie linebacker Keith Pough also came off the field with a trainer late in the practice.
The first scuffle
Bills players donned full pads for the first time in training camp, and as a result, spectators were treated to their first fight of the 2013 season. The showdown pitted rookie wideout Robert Woods against cornerback Crezdon Butler, with the defensive back apparently coming out on top. Jack Haley, a local photographer, captured a good image of the dust-up and posted it on Twitter.
Stevie Johnson comes and pushes Crezdon Butler off of Robert Woods #firstfight #bills #billsmafia pic.twitter.com/cgYJmwPeSM— Jack Haley (@jackhaley42) July 30, 2013
Some attention for the kickers
Rian Lindell and rookie Dustin Hopkins received some attention from reporters on hand for the first time in camp, with both Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com and Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 charting the two statistically during their kicking session. Buscaglia, for the record, opined that Hopkins came out on top on Tuesday.
While this is technically being labeled a competition in camp, the writing has been on the wall for months: it would take a terrible camp from Hopkins for him to lose the job to Lindell. Teams don't draft kickers in the sixth round with an aging vet on the roster just for kicks (no pun intended); Hopkins is the clear front-runner here. Still, this is a position worth watching to see if the rookie slips up at all during his first NFL pre-season.
New linemen moving up the depth chart
Marrone told reporters after practice that the team is working on getting new offensive linemen Antoine Caldwell and Tony Hills up to speed in coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's offense. As such, both players saw second-team reps on the offensive line today; Caldwell supplanted Keith Williams at guard, with Hills bumping Sam Young out of that particular lineup. (Both Williams and Young were worked back in with the twos.) Much like the team did with Doug Legursky in June, Caldwell and Hills appear to be in the midst of a crash course.
Hills is not expected to make too many waves at tackle - particularly when Chris Hairston returns from Active/PUP - but there is still buzz out there that Caldwell may eventually work himself into the left guard race, which is currently being dominated by Colin Brown.
We'll have more on today's practice as we see it.