AFC East: Buffalo Bills

Bills Camp Report: Day 11

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:00
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Thunderstorms in the area caused a rain delay about in hour into practice. That lasted about an hour before players came back onto the field to complete the full-length session. Players were in full pads for the seventh consecutive practice, highlighting what has been a physical training camp for the Bills. It will be interesting to see if coach Doug Marrone dials it back at all in the final two practices before the preseason opener in Canton, Ohio.
  • The offensive line carousel continued to spin Wednesday with Chris Hairston leaving practice with a back injury. Hairston had been in the mix at right guard, where there is an open competition that includes incumbent Kraig Urbik. That battle added another participant Wednesday when fifth-round rookie Cyril Richardson received some reps with the first team. Urbik continues to get the majority of reps in team drills, but for a player whom the Bills signed to a four-year extension in 2012, he can't feel comfortable lining up alongside younger players on the second team, as he did at one point Wednesday.
  • The Bills have picked up the pace in the red zone. Marrone has implemented a 7-on-7 period at the end of practice dedicated to red-zone work, and results were impressive Wednesday. Although it was against the second-team defense, EJ Manuel completed four touchdowns in his five reps. Two went to Robert Woods, and tight ends Chris Gragg (returning from a week-long absence) and Lee Smith snagged the others. Jeff Tuel then stepped in and completed his first two passes for touchdowns. With some success in the 7-on-7 look, it might be time for Marrone to switch to an 11-on-11 drill and add a pass-rush element for Manuel to face in the red zone.
  • Tight end Scott Chandler (groin) remained out of practice for a second straight day, as did tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring). Their injuries don't appear to be serious, but it has thinned the position for practices. The key for both players -- Moeaki especially, given his injury history -- will be to stay healthy once the regular season begins.
  • Chris Hogan continues to get significant playing time with the first-team offense and has become a reliable player in the slot. The Bills got in some 11-on-11 third-down work Wednesday and Hogan cut across the middle of the field for Manuel's biggest gain of the drill. Secondary coach Donnie Henderson, always vocal from behind the play, made it a point for his safeties to keep an eye out for No. 15.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The potential for Jon Bon Jovi to be part of a group owning the Buffalo Bills continues to be a sore subject for the team’s fans.

Count former wide receiver Andre Reed, who will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday, among those irked by Bon Jovi's likely bidding on the franchise.

In a feature piece published Tuesday by New York Magazine, Reed offered a strong opinion on the rock star who is part of a Toronto-based group that also includes Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum.

"Man, f--- Bon Jovi!” Reed said. "You might as well just take this city, throw it in the river, and let it go down Niagara Falls."

Since Bon Jovi's group has close Toronto ties, there is a fear among Bills fans that it would try to relocate the team to Canada.

Reed's comments were apparently part of a conversation with the co-founders of the "Buffalo Fan Alliance," a fan group with the aim of keeping the Bills in the region. The magazine later provided more details from the conversation.

“Now, I ain't gonna lie to you,” Reed said. “One year I went up to Toronto, and man, I had a good-ass time up there.”

“Off the record,” [Buffalo Fan Alliance co-chairman Matt] Sabuda said.

“Off the record -- I had a great time,” Reed said.

A representative for Reed told ESPN that Reed had no further comment on the subject.

While the Toronto Sun reported recently that the Bon Jovi-fronted group wouldn't relocate the Bills to Toronto, the Associated Press reported last week that the group had commissioned a study of possible stadium sites in the Toronto area.

Bills Camp Report: Day 9

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
9:45
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Sammy Watkins did not participate in team drills for most, if not all, of Monday night's practice. A team official said that Watkins wasn't injured, but that it wasn't a "rest day," either. He took part in one-on-one passing drills and also got some work in with the quarterbacks after practice.
  • Safety Aaron Williams missed practice with an illness. He had been in and out of practice for the last several days and at one point last week had his shoulder examined by a team doctor. Williams had shoulder surgery this offseason and was eased back into action during organized team activties. He wore a large black pad on his arm in a practice this weekend and, besides his illness, appears to be a little banged up.
  • Tight end Scott Chandler (groin) remained out of practice after leaving Sunday's session early. In addition to Chandler, the Bills were also without tight ends Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Chris Gragg (heat-related symptoms). The trio watched practice from the sideline. In their place, the Bills used plenty of Lee Smith, but also turned to other position groups for help. At one point, guard Kraig Urbik and fullback Evan Rodriguez were lined up at tight end. Urbik, who caught a touchdown in goal line work Sunday, committed a false start penalty.
  • The Bills tried their first two-minute drill of training camp Monday night. Against the second-team defense, EJ Manuel found Fred Jackson on two crossing patterns to push the ball past midfield. But on a second down throw from the plus-45, he tried to push a pass to Robert Woods near the sideline and was intercepted by cornerback Ron Brooks. The second-team offense didn't fare much better. Thad Lewis was sacked twice on his first three plays, which should have ended the drill, but the Bills went back to a first-and-10 and kept playing. An apparent unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Mario Williams moved the ball 15 yards into plus-territory, where Lewis found T.J. Graham on a deep ball to cap the drill.
  • Speaking of Graham, he's had an inconsistent camp and may be hard pressed to make the roster. He hasn't shown to be a more reliable pass-catcher, one of his bigger problems in his first two seasons in Buffalo. He had two more drops Monday on well-targeted passes. The Bills are getting another good training camp from Chris Hogan, who has run with the first team at points. Hogan was Graham's main competition but it isn't a contest right now.
  • In addition to his interception to Brooks, Manuel was also picked off by linebacker Brandon Spikes on his first play of a 7-on-7 third down drill. But otherwise it was a good practice for Manuel. The best play, in our view, came when he faced double A-gap blitzes from linebackers. He took a quick drop and got rid of the ball quickly, but accurately, lofting a pass directly into Mike Williams' hands along the sideline. Williams saw increased playing time in Watkins' absence and performed well.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Earlier Monday, we released our latest 53-man roster projection for the Buffalo Bills.

What about the players who didn't make the cut?

Here are some thoughts on the "last five" cuts for the Bills:
  1. OL Chris Hairston -- We'll call him the 54th man. Hairston is currently battling for the starting right guard spot, although he saw less reps with the first team in Sunday's practice. If he can't beat Kraig Urbik for that job, Hairston could still be a valuable piece as a backup guard and swing tackle. Much will depend on the health of Cordy Glenn. If Glenn is placed on the reserve/non-football illness list, which would knock him out for at least the first six weeks, then Hairston could have a much better shot at cracking the squad. If Glenn returns, then Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio become the top two options at tackle beyond Glenn and Erik Pears. Inside, Doug Legursky is undersized but brings value as a backup center and guard. Fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson would be a developmental player. Teams usually carry seven active linemen on their 46-man game day roster and 8-10 on their 53-man roster. I pegged the Bills with nine, with Richardson and Kouandjio as game-day inactives. That doesn't leave room for Hairston.
  2. TE Chris Gragg -- His roster spot could depend on the health of the tight end position. Tony Moeaki could miss a large chunk of training camp with a hamstring injury. Since Moeaki already practiced, he's not eligible for the PUP list, so that's not an option. Scott Chandler suffered a groin injury in Sunday's practice and we don't yet know when he will return. Gragg is out of the hospital and likely to return to practice this week. If Chandler and/or Moeaki have long-term absences, then Gragg's chances of making the 53-man roster are increased. But if the Bills go into the regular season healthy at tight end, it's unlikely they carry four at the position.
  3. FB Evan Rodriguez -- Despite bringing value last season on special teams, I don't think Rodriguez can carve out enough of a role this summer to stick. This is a pure numbers game. It will be tough to carry both four running backs and two fullbacks. Frank Summers should have a roster spot as a short-yardage and goal-line blocker, leaving Rodriguez out of the mix.
  4. LBs Jimmy Gaines and Stevenson Sylvester -- We'll consider these two as a group right now. Both are challenging for playing time on defense following the loss of Kiko Alonso. They'll face more competition now that rookie Randell Johnson has returned from the PUP list, and ultimately the Bills are unlikely to carry more than seven linebackers. If one of these players sticks, it will probably mean they leapfrogged Johnson or Ty Powell on the depth chart.
  5. DT Corbin Bryant -- It never hurts to have an extra big body on the defensive line, and Bryant filled that role last season. Teams that run a 4-3 defense typically carry around eight or nine defensive linemen, and Bryant would likely be the ninth. If the Bills go with nine offensive linemen, as we have them carrying in our latest projection, then that could shave one player off the defensive line. Bryant would be the most likely casualty.

Buffalo Bills' projected roster

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:00
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Examining the Buffalo Bills' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

No changes here. Tuel and Lewis are battling for the No. 2 quarterback job, but I still think the Bills will keep three quarterbacks this season.

RUNNING BACKS (4)
No changes here. Jackson was banged up in practice last week but is back in action. The Bills are giving Brown and Dixon plenty of reps and they add valuable depth to the backfield.

FULLBACKS (1)

No changes here. Evan Rodriguez is a tough cut after he finished last season on the 53-man roster, but the added depth at running back -- including a burly runner in Dixon -- lessens the need to keep two fullbacks.

RECEIVERS (6)

No changes here. T.J. Graham has been inconsistent through the first week of camp and will need a strong preseason -- and then some help -- to make the cut. Hogan has practiced well and is in very good position to make the final roster.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

No changes. The Bills have been hit with injuries at this position early in camp, with Moeaki, Chandler, and Chris Gragg sidelined by the end of Sunday's practice. We have the same group making the cut, though. No room for Gragg as a fourth option.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

This position group continues to be in flux. Glenn's status is up in the air as he remains on the non-football illness list. That has thrust Henderson into a starting role at left tackle and puts him back in the mix after he was left off our last projection. Ditto for Erik Pears, who is holding onto his starting right tackle job. Kouandjio and Richardson look to be more developmental pieces right now.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

We're keeping an extra offensive lineman in this latest projection, so Corbin Bryant misses the cut here.

LINEBACKERS (6)

No changes here. Undrafted rookie Jimmy Gaines looks to be making a push, but we'll need to see more before he makes the cut on this projection.

CORNERBACKS (6)

No changes here. This is a deep group with plenty of talent.

SAFETIES (4)

No changes here. Plenty of youth here but not a lot of experience. Depth is an issue.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Moorman has punted well so far in camp, so we'll keep him over Jake Dombrowski after going the opposite way with our first projection. There will be five preseason games for the punter battle to play out. With needs elsewhere on the roster, Dustin Hopkins doesn't make the cut as a kickoff specialist.

Bills Camp Report: Day 8

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
8:10
PM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • Sunday's practice was long and physical. Up until this point in camp, we've seen the Bills hone their passing game in 7-on-7 drills, even in full pads. Sunday saw a heavy dose of 11-on-11 work, including one stint at the goal line with live tackling. The 2 hour, 52 minute-practice was the longest of training camp to this point. They've gone five straight practices in full pads and will practice again Monday before a day off. Some teams have just start camp, but the Bills are deep into theirs.
  • What we're seeing emerge is two different "versions" of the Bills' offense. One is an up-tempo, shotgun-style offense with option elements and a lot of speed. This when we'll see C.J. Spiller, Marquise Goodwin, and Chris Hogan on the field. But there's another side of the offense that saw plenty of action Sunday. That's a "heavier" set with EJ Manuel under center, Lee Smith at tight end, Anthony Dixon and Frank Summers in the backfield, and Mike Williams at receiver. It's not just a goal line package; it's a physical unit that the Bills have used in a variety of situations. It has a similar physical makeup to the Steelers' teams of the mid-2000s when Doug Whaley was coming up through the ranks as a scout.
  • The Bills offensive line had a better day in protection than their nightmare Saturday night. "We don’t necessarily game plan for our own defense, obviously it’s still practice, but they got the best of us yesterday with some different looks and things like that," Manuel said after Sunday's practice. "We went back and worked on the protection aspect of things so we could protect the pocket a little better and each one of those guys did a better job today." The Bills focused more on first and second downs and the running game Sunday, which gave the defense less opportunity for sacks. Still, the blocking was better. We counted only two sacks in 11-on-11 work.
  • Sammy Watkins continues to put on a show. His latest act was a catch down the left sideline when he stopped on his route and reached over the cornerback to haul in the pass. He made it look smooth. I might compare it to a basketball player who is a natural finisher under the rim, finding the right bounce or angle to get the ball in the hoop. Watkins has excellent concentration and can adjust his body and pluck the ball out of the air.
  • Doug Marrone confirmed Sunday that the Bills' offense has made the red zone a point of emphasis and are holding an extra red zone period after practice, as we noted Saturday night. Sunday's results were better than what we saw last week. Manuel found Williams three times for touchdowns while Robert Woods and Chris Hogan also snagged passes for scores. It was a considerable improvement.
  • Cornerback Leodis McKelvin hasn't participated in 11-on-11 team drills for the last three practices. He's coming off hip surgery and the Bills still want to ease him back in. Corey Graham has been taking first-team reps in his place.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills can't catch a break at tight end.

Already down Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Chris Gragg (heat-related symptoms), top Bills tight end Scott Chandler left Sunday's practice early with a groin injury. He did not return.

There isn't an immediate prognosis on Chandler's injury. He was the team's leading receiver last season, catching 53 passes for 655 yards.

Moeaki is expected to miss "significant" time with his injury, while Gragg is expected back by next week. The Bills signed 270-pound Dominique Jones on Saturday to add another player to the mix, and Jones received plenty of reps in Sunday's practice after Chandler left.

In fact, the Bills were down to just Jones and burly blocking tight end Lee Smith by the end of Sunday's practice, so fullback Evan Rodriguez took a few snaps at tight end in a 7-on-7 drill late in the session.

"I don't really get concerned too much about the injury aspect of it," coach Doug Marrone said. "In a way, I look at it as we're going to try to put some different people in there without having to go out and bring another person in."

Sunday's full pads practice spanned 2 hours and 52 minutes, the longest of training camp so far. Marrone said the loss of Chandler plus the afternoon heat caused the offense to slow down and take more time between reps.

The Bills also lost wide receiver Kevin Elliott to concussion-like symptoms during Sunday's practice.

Gragg, Moeaki, and undrafted safety Kenny Ladler (hamstring) watched practice from the sideline.

Bills Camp Report: Day 7

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
10:15
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • The Bills held Fred Jackson out of Saturday night's practice as he recovers from a lower leg injury. It's not considered serious and he isn't expected to miss much time. On the other hand, tight end Tony Moeaki is expected to miss "significant" time with a hamstring injury, according to coach Doug Marrone. It shouldn't keep Moeaki out for all of training camp, but the feeling is that his return might take a few weeks. With Chris Gragg still working his way back -- he was hospitalized for heat-related symptoms earlier this week -- the Bills signed tight end Dominique Jones on Saturday. The Bills waived offensive lineman Mark Asper to make room. Jones is a hefty 270 pounds and is built like a fullback. He's a different style player than Moeaki or Gragg.
  • We documented the offensive line's struggles in Saturday night's third-down drill earlier, but the issues weren't relegated to that portion of practice. When the offense reconvened for 11-on-11 work later, the results weren't much better. EJ Manuel's first series included a handoff to Anthony Dixon, a sack, a scramble, a pass batted down and an option run that ended in Manuel being stopped in the backfield by safety Da'Norris Searcy. His next set of reps started with a sack, then continued with a handoff, a completion to Marquise Goodwin, another handoff, and a throwaway on a rollout. It wasn't pretty, and all the blame can't go on the offensive line. There were a few plays in which I believed Manuel could have gotten rid of the ball and driven it downfield instead of waiting, tucking and running.
  • Saturday night featured the first live tackling drill of training camp. The 11-on-11 session featured a heavy dose of the running game, with Ronnie Wingo and Bryce Brown taking the majority of the carries. Wingo ran hard Saturday night. He has an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster but could get a heavy dose of touches in the preseason. Meanwhile, cornerback Ron Brooks and wide receiver Robert Woods collided on a pass route in the live tackling drill, with Brooks staying down on the field for several moments. He later returned to practice.
  • Undrafted rookie linebacker Jimmy Gaines received some first-team reps in team drills in place of Nigel Bradham, who stepped in with the second team for some parts of the drill. Gaines made his presence known on one play, diving to break up a Manuel pass to Brown in the flat. The Bills are trying to piece things together after losing Alonso for the season, and Gaines is the latest player in the mix. The favorite, and the most experienced of the bunch, remains Bradham.
  • For the second consecutive night, the Bills pushed practice a little longer -- to about 2 hours and 45 minutes -- and added a 7-on-7 red-zone drill at the end. Manuel received four reps, with the following results: a touchdown catch by Sammy Watkins (first down), a scramble to the pylon (second down), a catch by Woods out of bounds (third down), and scramble to the pylon with a defensive penalty (first down). Thad Lewis then stepped in for another four snaps, missing Kevin Elliott on two passes before connecting with Marcus Easley and Brown for back-to-back touchdowns. Given the Bills' struggles in the red zone last season, that phase of the game seems to appropriately be a point of emphasis this training camp.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- There was a point in a practice earlier this week when Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone turned to offensive line coach Pat Morris and threw up his arms in frustration at the offensive line's performance.

Marrone didn't repeat that gesture Saturday night, but he would have had plenty of reason.

The Bills' offensive line had an awful 16-play stretch in 11-on-11 third-down work that defined the practice. It was so bad that after one rep with Thad Lewis under center, that period of practice was cut short.

Here is our log of the drill:

EJ Manuel, first play: Screen pass to Anthony Dixon
Manuel, second play: Sacked
Manuel, third play: Sacked
Manuel, fourth play: Sacked
Manuel, fifth play: Hand-off to Bryce Brown

Jeff Tuel, first play: Defensive offside penalty
Tuel, first play: Sacked
Tuel, second play: False start against Cyrus Kouandjio
Tuel, second play: Completion to Marcus Easley for first down
Tuel, third play: Completion to Marcus Easley for first down
Tuel, fourth play: Sacked

Manuel, first play: Completion to Chris Hogan
Manuel, second play: Sacked
Manuel, third play: Pressured and scrambled
Manuel, fourth play: Pressured and completion to C.J. Spiller on dump-off
Manuel, fifth play: Scramble, good protection

Lewis, first play: Sacked

The Bills in particular had problems at right tackle, where both Erik Pears and Kouandjio had a rough night. But pressure on Manuel came from both inside and outside, depending on the play.

"We're putting a lot in and we have some individual breakdowns right now where 10 guys are doing the right thing and one guy [is] not," center Eric Wood said after practice.

As for whether the protection problems could be attributed to Manuel holding on to the ball too long, Wood didn't place blame on his quarterback.

"No, I think the only time he's holding on to it is when the progressions are more downfield," Wood said. "We just have to do a better job protecting."

What didn't help the Bills' struggling offensive line was the Bills' defensive line, which is now back to full strength with the return of Marcell Dareus on Friday.

"We understand that if we can block our front four, we'll be able to block about anybody," Wood said. "For my money, I think they're the best in the league. But that's no excuse. We've got to be able to do our jobs, and we've got to do a better job.

"I think in regular down and distance, we're doing a good job of understanding situations, but when we do all third downs and all third-and-long, we're not executing as well right now."

Buffalo Bills camp report: Day 6

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
10:10
PM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • The Bills didn't waste time inserting Marcell Dareus back into the lineup. After passing his conditioning test and being removed from the active/non-football injury list Thursday, Dareus received a healthy dose of reps with the first-team defense in team drills Friday night. He didn't have any noticeable hiccups, and proved a load to block for the Bills' offensive line. In the second play of a 9-on-9 drill, Dareus fought through two blockers for a "sack" of quarterback EJ Manuel. While Darus excelled in Mike Pettine's three-man front last season, he could be an even better fit in Jim Schwartz's four-man line this season. Dareus' issue is with staying disciplined and out of trouble off the field.
  • Running back Fred Jackson left practice early with a lower leg injury. It didn't appear to be serious but is obviously something worth monitoring as camp wears on. I don't have an exact count, but the general feeling from looking over my notes is that we've seen more of Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon than Jackson in team drills through the first week of camp. That's expected. At 33, Jackson is the oldest running back in the league and just one of seven running backs over 30 currently on an NFL roster. There won't be much reason to rush back Jackson from this injury. We're still in July. He's a veteran who knows the offense and, if fresh, can give the team quality carries in November and December.
  • This wasn't the best night for Bills quarterbacks. I walked over to the far practice field early in the session for a routes-versus-air drill with receivers. It wasn't crisp, especially on deep patterns. Thad Lewis has shown the best arm for deep balls and continued with that Friday night. Manuel and Jeff Tuel both were off the mark more than once. When the quarterbacks re-convened for team drills, Manuel and Sammy Watkins had trouble connecting on their first two deep balls. There was also a pass later on where Manuel hit Watkins in the chest on a slant but Watkins had a rare drop. The best two throws of the night came in Manuel's final two third downs of 11-on-11's, when he hit Robert Woods in stride on crossing patterns for first downs. Third downs have been an issue for the Bills, so that was a positive sign.
  • After struggling in their first red zone work Wednesday, the Bills' first-team offense stepped it up Friday night. The final period of practice featured a total of eight plays -- four from Manuel and four from Tuel -- from inside the five-yard line. Manuel hit Mike Williams and Chis Hogan for touchdowns, while Hogan was stopped short of the end zone on a good tackle by cornerback Ross Cockrell on another play. Tuel, meanwhile, targeted Kevin Elliott three times in the end zone but failed to connect.
  • The Bills shuffled around their linebackers Friday night. There was one 11-on-11 drill where the top unit consisted of Nigel Bradham, Preston Brown, and Stevenson Sylvester -- with veterans Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers watching from the sidelines. We also saw different combinations of nickel linebacker packages, which has been the case throughout camp. With the loss of Alonso, it's a position that will see a complete overhaul this season, so it's not surprising to see the Bills tinkering with their personnel at this point in camp.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson left Friday night's practice early with a lower leg injury.

Jackson walked off the field under his own power during a team drill late in the session. He did not return.

Tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Kenny Ladler both left practice with hamstring injuries and did not return.

Friday night's practice also saw the return of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. After passing his conditioning test Thursday, Dareus was in full pads and participated in team drills Friday, recording a "sack" of quarterback EJ Manuel early in practice.

Dareus was joined in practice by defensive tackle Alan Branch, who also passed his conditioning test Thursday.

Tight end Chris Gragg, who was released from the hospital after being treated for heat-related issues, was on the sidelines but did not participate. Linebacker Randell Johnson, who was activated from the physically unable to perform list, also did not participate.

Fullback Evan Rodriguez returned to practice after being released from the hospital earlier week.
Spiller Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesC.J. Spiller and the Bills are an NFL anomaly: a run-heavy offense that likes to push the tempo.
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Last season, the Buffalo Bills' offense only hurried up to get off the field faster.

Preaching an up-tempo pace, the Bills had the NFL's second-quickest offense, averaging 24.7 seconds of possession per play. Only the Philadelphia Eagles were faster.

Yet the Bills' speed didn't translate into points. They had the NFL's most offensive drives (214) but ranked 25th in points per drive. Moreover, the Bills had the NFL's seventh-highest percentage of drives that ended without a first down or touchdown.

It's a problem that put stress on the defense. The Bills' defense played the seventh-most snaps in the NFL, while opposing offenses possessed the ball for an average of 31 minutes, 59 seconds per game, fourth-most in the league.

The sputtering offense and overworked defense were two key ingredients in the Bills' 6-10 record and fourth-place finish in the AFC East.

Despite their issues last season, the Bills still intend on pushing the tempo this summer -- but will also stick with their run-first philosophy. In doing so, the team risks the same fate.

Teams found success at either extreme of offensive pace last season. Six of the eight clubs that advanced to the divisional playoffs were either in the top five or bottom five in seconds of possession per offensive play, a measure of the speed at which offenses operate.

At one fringe were the NFL's up-tempo, no huddle attacks: the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, who squared off in the AFC Championship Game. At the other end of the spectrum were the ground-and-pound styles of the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, and San Diego Chargers.

The Seahawks and 49ers met in the NFC Championship Game, with the Seahawks then knocking off the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Both offensive approaches, then, have been proven to work in the modern NFL.

What didn't work last season was the Bills' offense. Much of its inability to convert drives into points traced back to failures on third down. Only three teams had a worse conversion rate on third down than the Bills last season, while only one NFL quarterback -- Oakland's Matt McGloin -- had a lower third-down completion percentage than Buffalo's EJ Manuel (47.5 percent).

The Bills' hope is that a second year in the system for Manuel, plus the additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams at wide receiver, will allow for an offense that can move the ball through the air and put up points.

"[Watkins] is a dynamic playmaker. That's what this game is all about," general manager Doug Whaley told ESPN in May. "We got to score touchdowns."

The Bills aren't backing down from their vow to hasten their offensive pace, either. Coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nate Hackett brought a no-huddle system from Syracuse, and they are sticking with it this season.

"It needs to be moving a lot faster," Marrone said Wednesday of the offense's pace. "Obviously we’re installing again, so we’re reinstalling, and in the back of my mind that might tend to slow things down a little bit, but my expectation is to be right on the money with it, so we need to be faster."

In an ideal world, the Bills' 2014 offense would be a carbon copy of their early 1990s attack: a quick pace with both explosive receivers (e.g., Andre Reed, James Lofton) and a more than capable running game (Thurman Thomas).

Last season, however, showed the danger of falling short of that goal: the offense was efficient -- but efficiently bad. The Bills gained the NFL's second most rushing yards, but the offensive pace only served to negate the ball-controlling effects of a good ground game.

Whaley comes from a run-first background with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has brought in maulers across his offensive line in Buffalo. When we gathered data in May, the Bills' offensive line had an average weight of 325 pounds, by far the heaviest in the NFL.

This offseason, Whaley added two running backs to his backfield: Bryce Brown, who he long coveted in Philadelphia, and Anthony Dixon, who was lost in the 49ers' crowded backfield. Added to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, the Bills have stocked their shelves to ground-and-pound their way through opposing defenses.

"The sky is the limit for that group. You have four true guys who I think can start or play for any other team in the league," Manuel said Tuesday. "When you have great talent like that on the backfield, it’s always a huge friend to the quarterback. If the running game is great, the passing game should open up as well."

Yes, the enhanced backfield should benefit the passing game. But there is no requirement that the Bills must try to maintain their breakneck offensive pace.

In fact, the Bills were a somewhat of an anomaly last season among teams that ran an up-tempo offense. They gained 42.6 percent of their offensive yards by running, the highest percentage in the NFL. The 49ers (42.5 percent), Seahawks (40.3 percent), and Panthers (40 percent) ranked second, fourth, and fifth, respectively.

Yet those three NFC juggernauts were among the four slowest offenses in the NFL last season. They didn't try to be the high-flying Broncos. Instead, all three of those teams controlled the ball, shortened games, played quality defense, and advanced deep into the playoffs.

That is not to say the Bills' up-tempo, run-first offense can't work this season. If everything clicks, it will be a thing of beauty.

But is that realistic, and are the two approaches truly compatible? Or will the Bills simply run into the same problems their offense created last season?

Bills Camp Report: Day 3

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
9:00
PM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • After weather-related delays kept him in Alabama through Monday night, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus returned to St. John Fisher College on Tuesday afternoon. Coach Doug Marrone said earlier in the day that Dareus would immediately begin working with the strength and conditioning staff. It's unclear when Dareus will re-take his conditioning test. The Bills practice at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and it's highly unlikely Dareus will join his teammates on the field at that time. They have a day off Thursday before returning to practice Friday evening.
  • Tuesday was the Bills' first padded practice, and it proved problematic for the offensive line. They allowed at least five sacks, while EJ Manuel had several other throw-aways and scrambles. Moreover, Manuel struggled with his accuracy as the Bills transitioned into third-down situations during team drills. Manuel was first to the podium after practice and was immediately asked to sum up what a reporter called a "rough" day. "No, it was a good day," Manuel responded. "I thought we had a good day." Minutes later, Marrone came to the podium and was asked a similar question. "Yeah in the beginning [it was sloppy]," he said. "They finished strong, but it was not what we wanted." I don't think the difference in assessments represents as much a disconnect between head coach and quarterback as much as it does a difference in approaches. Manuel has been even-keeled with the media since arriving last season and tends to present hiccups as part of a process in getting better. Marrone, especially after some losses last season, typically expresses a greater sense of urgency. It's better if both are on the same page, but both leadership philosophies have their benefits.
  • We've seen both Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel take reps with the second team in team drills through the first few days of training camp. Lewis was the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback last season, but his status his now in doubt. "We have a battle for the second team quarterback," Marrone said Tuesday. "We’re trying to find out who it’s going to be, and Jeff did a nice job in OTAs and he’s earned himself some more reps." This could be more important than the backup battle on most teams. Manuel missed six games last season, allowing Lewis to start five games and Tuel to start one. The Bills decided not to bring in another experienced quarterback to compete this offseason, so it will be either Lewis or Tuel again this season if Manuel suffers another injury.
  • Rookie offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson left the field with trainers following practice and looked to be dealing with heat-related issues. Alone that's not a major problem; several players have cramped up over the past few days. But Henderson is under increased scrutiny given his issues at the University of Miami. He cut short his pro day because he was "overheated," while he also had some issues with the heat at one point during OTAs. He passed the conditioning test, but is Henderson in his best possible shape? If the Bills offense wants to up the tempo, they'll need their offensive linemen to be mobile. Any long-term absence from Cordy Glenn could thrust Henderson into the starting lineup and bring his physical condition into further focus.
  • The Bills made a pair of minor roster moves Tuesday. They signed undrafted rookie linebacker Xavius Boyd out of Western Kentucky, who was in spring camps with the Baltimore Ravens. To make room for Boyd on the 90-man roster they waived/injured rookie linebacker Darrin Kitchens, who was carted off the field Monday with a "lower body" injury.
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- In his prime, Randy Moss made it look easy.

With long arms, big strides and blazing speed, Moss both towered over defenders and blew past them. He had a way of making downfield catches seem effortless, the football equivalent of Yao Ming grabbing a rebound.

Through three training camp practices, I can't help but think of Moss when I watch Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Physically, Moss had the edge. He's 6-foot-4, while Watkins is 6-foot-1. Moss ran a 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds; Watkins checked in at 4.46 seconds.

But when Watkins cut through three defenders with the stride of a gazelle during Monday's practice, I saw Moss. When Watkins had three steps on cornerback Leodis McKelvin on a fly pattern Monday -- and again Tuesday -- and reached out, snagged the ball and walked into the end zone, I saw Moss.

If Watkins keeps that up, it will be a much-needed shot in the arm for an offense that scored just 16 passing touchdowns last season, tied for second-worst in the NFL.

One of many culprits of the offense's ineptitude last season, quarterback EJ Manuel has looked his best when throwing to Watkins this week. It's not quite Moss catching passes from Daunte Culpepper, but the potential is there.

The rookie receiver and second-year quarterback were shaky at the end of spring practices, but Manuel has been nearly perfect on passes intended for Watkins this week, whether they've been short, deep or anywhere in between.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Bill WippertThrough three training camp practices, Buffalo Bills first-round pick Sammy Watkins has excelled on the field.
That's been a high point of Watkins' performance thus far. He doesn't just excel at catching flashy deep balls. The Bills have sent Watkins across the middle and he's executed in that part of the field, using his long arms and soft hands to reel in one pass over a linebacker on Monday.

"He's made a very good career for himself, in college, being able to go over the middle. That's always a big test when you get to this level to make sure you can come over the middle," coach Doug Marrone said. "He’s a fearless player and, again, at the same time you have to be smart when you do that."

Later on Monday, Watkins came over the middle again, leaping to grab a tipped pass and coming down hard. He was slow to get up, and teammates quickly surrounded him. He came off the field with a trainer and was down on one knee on the sideline.

As it turned out, he was poked in the eye. Crisis averted.

But for those few minutes, the crowd at St. John Fisher College was silent. Twitter was buzzing. Marrone walked over to check on his first-round pick.

That's the impact Watkins has brought to the Bills. Losing him to an injury would be catastrophic.

"He's made plays in this camp," Marrone said Monday. "I think a lot of people are excited."

While Watkins' play early in camp has been reminiscent of Moss, his persona off the field hasn't. Moss was one of the more quotable players in recent NFL history, drawing attention for often the wrong reasons.

Watkins' approach has been different.

"There's a gentleman on that (Clemson) staff that I worked with that I have a great amount of respect for," Marrone said Monday. "He said to me that, '[Watkins] is one of the most humble superstars that I've been around.' "

There is a long way to go -- most teams haven't even started training camp yet -- but the early returns on Watkins have been decidedly positive.

He's been making it look easy.

Bills Camp Report: Day 2

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
8:30
PM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • There has been a throng of national media watching Bills camp through two days and they've seen Sammy Watkins put on a show. After catching every pass thrown his way in Sunday night's practice, Watkins continued to impress on Monday. He strode past Leodis McKelvin for a would-be touchdown grab early in practice and made a catch over three defenders look effortless later on. It's not just the deep game, either: he used his long arms to snag a pass on a crossing pattern, through traffic at one point as well. Watkins has that rare size and speed combination that can make him a dangerous weapon against opposing defenses. His height, long arms, and make-it-look-easy strides remind me of Randy Moss.
  • Speaking of height and speed, I've been impressed with Bryce Brown thus far in camp. The 6-foot running back has long legs and shows some burst getting into the second level. The Bills coveted Brown for more than a year before acquiring him in May. It remains to be seen how many carries the Bills can siphon from C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to Brown, but he adds depth to a backfield that didn't have much of it last season.
  • Nigel Bradham continues to see first-team reps at linebacker, a surprise given how his role virtually evaporated under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine last season. Even coach Doug Marrone has noticed a change in Bradham's work ethic. "Honestly, I think last year Nigel struggled at times with us," Marrone said Monday. "I saw a change, more of a commitment from him when we came back, which I give him a lot of credit for." The Bills are giving Bradham the first crack at replacing Kiko Alonso and he seems to have impressed the coaching staff. The issue with Bradham may be his abilities in stopping the run: The Bills turned to Arthur Moats last season against heavier offenses and rookie Preston Brown is knocking on the door for playing time on defense. It's a battle we'll continue to monitor closely.
  • After missing all of organized team activities and minicamp, T.J. Graham is back practicing this week. The results have been up-and-down. He made the play of Sunday's practice when he caught a deep bomb from Jeff Tuel, but in one of his first routes Monday he had a pass fall right through his hands after beating a defender on a similar deep route. Graham is the top "bubble" player for the Bills and can't afford those sort of plays.
  • Cordy Glenn remained out of practice Monday and the Bills are still mum on what landed him on the non-football illness list. "It’s a medical condition. I’m preparing to go on as if he’s not playing, which he’s not," Marrone said. "I’m just waiting for the doctors and I can’t speak about the condition because it’s something that happened outside of football. I’m planning on playing and right now he’s not there, so I have to play with him not being there. When they tell me he’s there then obviously we’ll plug him back in."

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