By Michael J. Thomas
It was Day 9 at Buffalo Bills Training Camp and a scorcher outside, easily the hottest day since the team arrived at St. John Fisher in late July. The stands were packed, the players were in full pads and fans got to enjoy the first live hitting goal-line work of the year. Coach Gailey gave the players four chances for both the #1 and #2 teams to score at the goal-line and allowed full contact. The team also spent extra time working on red-zone drills, plus the usual 1-on-1′s, 7-on-7′s, 11-on-11′s and special teams drills.
As always, the team started off with a few light paced drills and because of the heat, took it easy at the beginning with a few warm up drills together with their own units. Following that drill, the team worked on fundamentals for special teams, including lining up for a punt and practicing gunner drills. The team did this for a short time and then had both kickers practice field goal kicking. Both Rian Lindell and John Potter tried field goals from 33, 38, 43 and 48 yards and both of them appeared to make them.
The horn sounded at the end of the drill and then the team worked on some one-on-one matchups. I watched the passing drills to see how the wide receivers were doing while missing two of the top receivers in Stevie Johnson and David Nelson. They did alright. Derek Session made one nice catch against Isaiah Green, but then he dropped a couple too. I was impressed with Kamar Aiken on one play where he juked to make Cris Hill miss. Rookie TJ Graham also hauled in a nice 40-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick. But my favorite play was one that Marcus Easley made over Ron Brooks, where he leaped in the air for it and then was hit as he fell to the ground, but he still held onto the ball the whole time. On the negative side for the offense, Leodis McKelvin swatted the ball away from Naaman Roosevelt on one play. But Roosevelt caught the next one later on.
Following the 1-on-1 drills, the safeties, running backs and tight ends joined in for the 7-on-7 passing drill. The team worked in the red zone, as that seemed to be a focus part for the day. Ryan Fitzpatrick started it off with a 12-yard pass to Derek Hagan. He then connected with Donald Jones for 15-yards. On the next play, Fitzpatrick hit Scott Chandler for 5-yards. He then found Ruvell Martin for 6-yards. Fitzpatrick then had his pass batted down by Aaron Williams. On the final play of the series, Fitzpatrick connected with Chandler again, this time for 8-yards. Tyler Thigpen then came in to lead the backups and overthrew Kevin Brock. He then found David Clowney for 20-yards. On the next play, Thigpen overthrew Ruvell Martin. He then hit Kamar Aiken for 12-yards and followed it with a pass to TJ Graham for 9-yards. On the final play of the series, Thigpen threw a 10-yard pass to Clowney.
Ryan Fitzpatrick came back on the field and immediately connected with Donald Jones for 11-yards and followed that with a 13-yard pass to Jones. He then hit CJ Spiller for 16-yards. On the next play, Fitzpatrick found Scott Chandler, who catches everything, for 10-yards. He then hit Derek Hagan for 5-yards. On the final play of the series, Fitzpatrick went back to Chandler, this time for 12-yards. Vince Young came on the field next and started out by overthrowing Dorin Dickerson. He then hit Lee Smith for 4-yards and followed that with a 10-yard pass to Derek Session. On the final play of the series, Young found Fendi Onobun for 8-yards. Brad Smith came in next and threw floater to TJ Graham, but he dropped it. On the final play of the drill, Smith thought he had Marcus Easley, but Delano Howell knocked the ball down.
The linemen then came over and the team worked on 11-on-11 drills in the red zone. They started out with the ball on the 15-yard line. Ryan Fitzpatrick started it off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Scott Chandler. The coaches then moved the ball to the 10-yard line and Fitzpatrick felt major pressure from Mario Williams and threw it quickly to Donald Jones, but he dropped it. It most likely would have been a sack. On the next play, the coaches moved the ball to the 5-yard line and Fitzpatrick hit Jones again, but he was stopped 1-yard short of the goal-line. Tyler Thigpen and the #2 team then got 3 tries to score. With the ball at the 15-yard line, Thigpen underthrew Naaman Roosevelt. He then connected with Roosevelt for a 10-yard touchdown and followed that with a 5-yard touchdown to Roosevelt to end the drill.
After the red zone work, the team went to the other side of the field to spend practicing regular 11-on-11 drills with more room. On the first play, Ryan Fitzpatrick was pressured by Mario Williams and would have most likely been sacked, but he dumped it off to Scott Chandler for 7-yards. On the next play, Fitzpatrick felt even more pressure from Mario Williams and the Bills defensive line as he was rushed in his throw, which resulted in an incompletion. He then connected with Ruvell Martin for 16-yards. Tashard Choice got the ball next and showed off his speed as he ran up the middle for 8-yards. On the next play, Fitzpatrick continued to feel pressure from Mario Williams who dominated against Sam Young. This time, Fitzpatrick threw a interception to Stephon Gilmore who then returned it 50-yards for a touchdown. On the final play of the series, Fitzpatrick tucked the ball and ran with it for 10-yards.
The backups came onto the field and Zach Brown started it off by running around the right tackle for 4-yards. Tyler Thigpen then connected with Dorin Dickerson for 23-yards. He then found Kevin Brock, but he dropped the ball. Zach Brown got the ball again and this time was stuffed right at the line. On the next play, Thigpen felt pressure from Alex Carrington and threw an incomplete pass. On the final play of the series, Thigpen hit Ruvell Martin for 15-yards. Vince Young came in next and immediately connected with Derek Hagan for 11-yards. He then felt pressure from Kyle Moore and overthrew Marcus Easley. Zach Brown then tried to run up the middle, but was stuffed for no gain. On the next play, Young connected with Dorin Dickerson for 7-yards. Brown then got one last chance to carry the ball and this time he exploded thru a hole for 10-yards. On the next play, both Sean Ferguson and Jay Ross came in to sack Brad Smith.
The starters came back on the field and Tashard Choice tried to get around the right tackle for 3-yards until he was popped out of bounds by Aaron Williams. On the next play, Mario Williams batted a pass out of the air from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tashard Choice then got to carry the ball again and this time fumbled it, the ball was recovered by Kelvin Sheppard who returned it for a 45-yard touchdown as Ryan Fitzpatrick chased him down. Fitzpatrick then connected with CJ Spiller for 18-yards. However, on the next play, Spiller was stopped by Shawne Merriman for no gain. On the final play of the drill, Choice burst thru the middle for 16-yards.
During a break from 11-on-11 work, the team spent some more time on special teams. This time they had both Brian Moorman and Shawn Powell work on punting the ball from the 30-yard line and try to pin the punt returners inside their own 20-yard line. Both Leodis McKelvin and Naaman Roosevelt were the punt catchers. Moorman did what he does best and was kicking them 70+ yards every time. He even had one where it went so high in the air and so far that McKelvin had to keep going backwards another 10-15 yards before he finally caught it, then it bounced off his shoulder and he lost the ball. Powell had one where the spiral threw Roosevelt off and he dropped it. I will also add that Powell got better as the drill went on and was eventually pinning the punt returner inside the 10-yard line several times, where Moorman had some touchbacks. Both punters also shanked a few for only 30-yards as they tried coffin corner kicks.
Following the special teams drills, the team went back to work on the 11-on-11. CJ Spiller started it off with a 2-yard run up the middle until he was tackled by Kyle Williams. He then ran around the right tackle, but only gained about 3-yards. On the next play, Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Spiller for 6-yards. He then hit Donald Jones for 12-yards. Fitzpatrick then saw Spiller down the field and threw a nice 35-yard pass to him. On the final play of the drive, Fitzpatrick hit Ruvell Martin for 7-yards. Tashard Choice got the ball next and ran around the left tackle for 4-yards. Zach Brown then ran up the middle for 8-yards. Tyler Thigpen found Naaman Roosevelt for 6-yards on the next play. He then hit Kevin Brock for 7-yards and followed it with a 3-yard pass to Zach Brown. On the final play of the drive, Thigpen threw a 5-yard pass to Tashard Choice.
Ryan Fitzpatrick came back on the field with the starters and threw a screen to CJ Spiller, but Kirk Morrison snuffed it out for a short gain. He then tried a screen to Donald Jones who gained 5-yards. On the next play, Fitzpatrick had his pass tipped at the line. He then had a pass broken up by Jairus Byrd. Fitzpatrick then found Marcus Easley, but he dropped the ball. On the final play of the series, Fitzpatrick underthrew Naaman Roosevelt. Vince Young then came in and thought he had David Clowney, but he dropped the ball. Then he tried to connect with Derek Session, but he also dropped the ball. On the next play, Young found CJ Spiller for 14-yards. He then was almost intercepted by Chris White, but he couldn’t quite haul it in. Brad Smith then came in and threw an ugly pass that was almost intercepted by Delano Howell. He then had no open and ended up throwing the ball away.
Coach Gailey then had the team work on one scoring from the 10-yard line. Ryan Fitzpatrick started it out with a 10-yard pass to Derek Hagan for the touchdown. But the coaches weren’t sure if he made it over the goal-line, so they brought the ball to the 1-yard line. CJ Spiller then carried the ball over the goal-line for the touchdown. Tyler Thigpen got his try next and connected with Dorin Dickerson on his pass for a 10-yard touchdown.
To end the day, Coach Gailey allowed the team four live hitting goal-line plays from the 2-yard line. Tashard Choice started it off with a nice 2-yard touchdown right up the middle. However, on the next play, Kyle Williams was in the backfield quickly and then Nick Barnett came flying in and tackled CJ Spiller for a loss. On the third play, Ryan Fitzpatrick tried throw a touchdown pass, but ended up running for 1-yard out of bounds due to no one being open. On the final play of the series, CJ Spiller found a nice hole and burst up the middle for the touchdown. Tyler Thigpen got his chance next and started it off by overthrowing Fendi Onobun on the first play. He then handed it off to Corey McIntyre who powered thru the middle for a 2-yard touchdown. On the third play, Zach Brown was stopped for a short loss by Danny Batten. On the final play of the drill, Corey McIntyre was stuffed up the middle, short of the goal-line.
1. Mario Williams is a stud! I’m so excited about watching him in real live game action this Thursday. I have a feeling we’ll see at least 1 sack from him. If I’m RG3, I’d be a little nervous about stepping onto the field this week. Mario Williams seems like a man on a mission right now. If Fitzpatrick wasn’t wearing a red jersey, I have no doubt that he would have been knocked out several times already.
2. Look out for Tashard Choice. I’ve seen some depth charts that people have made where they selected Johnny White as the #3 Running back on the roster. I don’t see it. Choice has had a great camp so far and has really showed off his speed. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this week against the Redskins.
3. Aaron Williams may be finally getting it. Saturday was his best day at camp. He knocked a couple passes down and he had great coverage on his receivers. Sure he played against some lesser talent than earlier in camp with both Stevie Johnson and David Nelson out, but he still made some plays. Hopefully that will help him mentally get back to what we saw glimpses of last year.
4. Scott Chandler will be a major part of the offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick uses him like a security blanket and I don’t blame him at all. At 6’7, 260 lbs, he’s a huge target in the middle of the field and he had very good hands. I’m sure he will be used in the red zone quite a bit.
5. I said that there is no punting competition, but I might be wrong. Shawn Powell is not going down without a fight. He did shank a couple, but he seemed to get better as he gained more confidence and did a great job pinning the punt returners inside their own 10-yard line a few times. I’m curious to see how he looks at the Ralph this Thursday.
6. Props go to all the Buffalo Bills fans (#BillsMafia) that came out to watch practice in that sweltering heat. It was in the mid 90′s and with the humidity, felt like it was 100 degrees outside. Yet, there had to be over 2,000 people in the stands. It was impressive.
Overall, it was a great day at St. John Fisher. The action on the field was enjoyable and the live tackling drill at the end was a nice bonus. It made me really excited to see what this defense can do in a real game. I can’t wait til Thursday when the team plays at the Ralph against the Redskins! Discuss this and other topics here…