I was in attendance at the Buffalo Bills training camp night practice on Thursday, and boy was it a hot and humid evening.
But I have more than just weather observations... promise.
First things first — Although there was an accidental collision you’ve probably already heard about between Dez Lewis and Aaron Williams — which was the loudest pop I’ve ever heard at camp — the Bills weren’t in pads, so, by nature it was a “lighter” practice. Also, Sammy Watkins, Charles Clay, Stephon Gilmore and LeSean McCoy were given (planned) rest days.
On the quarterbacks — Based on what we’ve heard throughout the summer, Tyrod Taylor has been his accurate down the field. Not so much last night. I witnessed him zing about four or five deep balls in team drills, and only one maybe could have been caught (by Marquise Goodwin). On all but that singular throws, Tyrod wasn’t able to fully step up, thanks to mounting pressure. Cardale Jones and EJ Manuel weren’t any better down the field either. Props to Corey White, Sterling Moore and Mario Butler who were there to break up -- but not intercept — some of the slightly underthrown deep tosses. Manuel’s best throw came on a deep dig to Lewis — which had plenty of heat on it -- and Jones’ most impressive pass was a laser to Greg Little on a deep comeback. Taylor’s finest touch pass was a wheel route touchdown to Reggie Bush in red zone work, and he dropped is arm down a pitcher-like 3⁄4 delivery to find Woods between zone coverage after he negotiated the pocket well by drifting up and to his right.
Pressure — As I alluded to above, on those long-developing routes down the field, Taylor didn’t have ample time to move up into the pocket, which, I think was mainly a byproduct of not having Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito on the left side of the offensive line. Ryan Groy had his work cut out for him against a steady rotation of Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams and had a rough evening. Cyrus Kouandjio held his own against Jerry Hughes, but the explosive edge-rusher certainly created some heat on Taylor on a few occasions.
Sideline work — I saw a fair amount of targets (and most became completions) on timing routes to toward the sidelines, with Robert Woods, Goodwin, Lewis and Hankerson the recipients. While Taylor connected on a handful of dumpoffs to running backs (and Jerome Felton) as well as a slant to Hankerson over the middle, it seemed like perfecting the timing — and anticipation from the quarterbacks — on those out-breaking routes was a point of emphasis on Thursday.
The Collision — Standing behind a row of colossal NFL players, I didn’t have the greatest view of the actual collision between Lewis and Aaron Williams. However, I saw Taylor scan from the middle of the field into the right flat where he located an open Reggie Bush on a swing pass. Williams was in a full sprint to cover the running back, and Lewis was running a slant on that side. It was a totally innocent play by both players but was easily the most thunderous boom I’ve ever heard at camp. Lewis got up about 30 seconds later. Williams stayed down for another minute or so but did walk off under his own power and is being evaluated for a concussion. While concussions are undoubtedly serious, no news on any re-injury to Williams’ neck is a significant positive sign.
Lewis, Zimmer stand out — I made a concerted effort to watch Zimmer’s reps Thursday night. He was easily the most disruptive second or third teamer, and he typically won with speed off the snap and a strong rip move to keep his blocker off him. He had at least two or three would-be sacks on Jones in team work. He was also there to blow up a few runs in the backfield. By taking all of his reps with either the second or third team, it’s hard for Zimmer to get noticed, but if his practice on Thursday is any indication as to what he’ll do in the preseason, he’ll make waves in the second half on Saturday against the Colts.
As for Lewis, his large frame is what immediately grabs your attention. No, he’s not Brandon Marshall big, yet he’s clearly taller, wider and longer than all Bills receivers outside of Greg Little... and all that really helps him. He made four or five catches on the night and most of them came in tight coverage. Because he wins the physical matchup with every cornerback, he’s able to shield them with his body and make hand catches with his arms extended. Buffalo needs that “power forward” receiving element in its offense.
Miscellaneous plays — Duke Williams had a last-second pass breakup on the Jones-to-Gragg attempt. Brandon Spikes made his presence felt by emphatically filling a running lane Boom Herron was trying to squeeze through but dropped an interception on tipped pass near the end zone. Tyrod scrambled to his left to avoid an oncoming Adolphus Washington rush, kept his eyes downfield and found Jonathan Williams open in the left flat which went for a sizable gain. In one of the more creative plays of the night, Taylor caught the shotgun snap, looked left then dumped to Gragg on a designed tight end screen to the right with Jordan Mills leading the way. The short pass ultimately went for 25 yards. James Wilder caught a swing pass and dove in for a touchdown on a pass from Manuel but later fumbled a handoff exchange. Practice was cut short after Cyrus Kouandjio pancaked a second-team defensive lineman — couldn’t see the number — and few other players piled on the two. Rex allowed a short red-zone period after that but with the preseason game right around the corner, the night session was complete by 7:35.