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Day four: Night practice is a hit for team and fans

By Jay Skurski

PITTSFORD -- For purely selfish reasons, I'm not a big fan of night practices at Bills camp. The reason is simple: They force newspaper reporters like myself to scramble to meet our first edition deadline, and if truly big news were to happen at one of them (like an injury to a starter), we'd have to scramble to put the paper together.

But that's a Jay problem, not a you problem. And I can certainly understand the appeal for both the team and fans. Tonight's first such practice had an estimated crowd of 4,500 at St. John Fisher College. All the tickets, which are free, were distributed, as I expect they will be for the other three remaining night practices (the next one is Wednesday) of camp.

“I know it was good for the fans and I know it was good for our team,” coach Chan Gailey said. “Our guys love coming into the night practice and the atmosphere. It’s a lot of fun.”

It helps, too, that the temperature is much more comfortable, both for fans and reporters like myself who, as seen above, find plenty of things to complain about.

Anyway, here are some highlights and observations from the Bills' fourth training camp practice:

- Marcus Easley stood out to me in 7-on-7 drills. He made five catches, including one on a pretty over-the-shoulder throw from Tyler Thigpen. Easley also grabbed a ball that was batted up in the air by cornerback Williams.

- Speaking of Williams, he got beat badly on a double move by Derek Hagan on the first play of 11-on-11s.

- Vince Young took his first snap during 11-on-11s off the left side for a huge gain. Young's an amazing athlete to watch in person. So very big and strong, yet maddeningly inconsistent as a quarterback.

- Rookie cornerback Ron Brooks had a tough night. He dropped two should-have-been interceptions, on throws from Thigpen and Young. Brooks also got beat cleanly off the line by rookie T.J. Graham, who caught a perfect pass from Young down the left sideline and was off to the races.

- Rookie left tackle Cordy Glenn had a tough night going up against veteran Chris Kelsay. With Shawne Merriman not participating in team drills, Spencer Johnson saw some time as a reserve defensive end. 

David Nelson gets good news on knee injury

By Jay Skurski

PITTSFORD – The injury news isn’t too bad for Buffalo Bills receiver David Nelson.

He’s got a strained tendon in his right knee, an injury that should keep him out just four or five days, according to coach Chan Gailey.

“It’s nothing serious. No long-term damage. The way it looked on film, the way it felt on the field, I’m very lucky to have the diagnosis I got,” Nelson said Sunday, after the Bills completed their first night practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College.

Nelson was hurt Saturday, when he made contact with defensive end Mario Williams, then got his leg rolled up on.

“When it first happened, I thought it was blown,” he said. “… You see that happen a lot, so I thought I was done. Coming in, we did some different testing on it, and it all came back negative, so that’s a positive sign and I should be back in a few days.”

The Bills have their first day off of camp Monday.

Bills talk with Syracuse's The Score 1260

By Jay Skurski

PITTSFORD -- Mike Lindsley was kind enough to have me on as a guest this week on his show, "Mid Day with Mike Lindsley," talking about, of course, the Buffalo Bills.

Talk centered on the addition of Mario Williams and what he can do for the defense, Stevie Johnson and even a little golf at the end. The clip can be heard in full below.

David Nelson a spectator at walk-thru; Torell Troup not in attendance

By Jay Skurski

PITTSFORD -- Receiver David Nelson was at this afternoon's walk-thru, but did not participate a day after suffering a right knee injury. Nelson left with a trainer a few minutes before the walk-thru ended, without speaking to the media. An update should be available after tonight's practice, which runs from 6:30-9, either from Nelson or coach Chan Gailey.

Right tackle Erik Pears also watched this afternoon, as he's suffering from a groin injury. Defensive end Shawne Merriman, who missed Saturday's practice with a sore ankle, took part in the walk-thru.

Defensive tackle Torell Troup was not seen on the field. He's had a difficult recovery from back surgery. An update on Troup's condition should also be coming later from Gailey.

Day Three: Defense keeps wraps on offense

By Mark Gaughan

PITTSFORD -- The Buffalo Bills' defensive line asserted its presence during 11-on-11 work in the first padded practice of training camp Saturday at St. John Fisher College.

“I thought the defense dominated the practice,” coach Chan Gailey said. “We got a lot of work to do on offense to meet their level of play right now. So it’s a little bit different than it has been, and it’s good for our football team.”

Defensive end Mario Williams pressured quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to force an incompletion on the first play of 11-on-11 work from the middle of the field. Receiver Derek Hagan dropped a Fitzpatrick pass on the second play. Then WIlliams got by right tackle Sam Young, filling in for injured Erik Pears, to force an incompletion on the third play. Fitzpatrick rolled out but found no one open on the fourth play. C.J. Spiller got a decent gain on the fifth play. On the sixth play, defensive end Kyle Moore got by Young and Fitzpatrick into a scramble.

Both Rian Lindell and John Potter drilled 49-yard field goals during special teams work.

Then it was back to more mostly good defense. Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones on an out route, but cornerback Aaron Williams read the play and let an interception go through his hands and into the receiver's. Then Fitz had to scramble again.

Tyler Thigpen was the No. 2 QB Saturday. Rookie cornerback Ron Brooks picked off a Thigpen pass down the right sideline intended for David Clowney. Brooks had it covered all the way and made a leaping catch. On the next play, Thigpen was pressured and forced a throw over the middle that was picked off by safety Nick Saenz.

Back came the starters. Fitzpatrick had to fall on a bad snap. Kyle Williams burst up the midde for a would-be sack. Nickel linebacker Bryan Scott smartly read a draw play and smothered it. Rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore blanketed Spiller on a deep route and batted the pass away.

Quarterback Vince Young, working with the third team, had a really good scramble up the middle on one play. Wildcat QB Brad Smith beat the blitz with a nice deep pass to receiver Kamar Aiken.

Fitzpatrick did look pretty good in 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 passing drills. He continues to show promise on deep throws. He hit Donald Jones on a perfect deep strike down the left sideline vs. Aaron Williams. He had good downfield strikes to Stevie Johnson (twice), David Nelson and Scott Chandler. ... Safety Da'Norris Searcy did well in 1-on-1 work vs. tight ends and backs. ... In 1-on-1 pass rush work, Mario Williams again was a force. Andy Levitre had good snaps vs. Kyle Williams. ... Chad Rinehart held his own vs. Marcell Dareus. ... Defensive end Mark Anderson worked well with Marcell Dareus. ... Mario Williams and Dareus combined for a sack in 2-on-2 work. ... Rookie tackle Cordy Glenn false started two stright plays but then rebounded and shut down Chris Kelsay two straight snaps.

David Nelson hurt, but not serious

By Mark Gaughan

PITTSFORD -- The Buffalo Bills had a scary moment midway through Saturday's padded practice when slot receiver David Nelson went down after banging his knee with another player on an innocent-looking incompletion in the flat.

Bills coach Chan Gailey, however, said the injury does not appear serious.

"They said it's like a bruise," Gailey said. "They don't think it's any kind of ligaments or anything like that. We'll see what the determination is tomorrow, probably."

Nelson sat in the end zone behind the practice session for several minutes but was able to walk off the field and into the locker room under his own power.

Elsewhere on the injury front, defensive end Shawne Merriman did not participate in practice due to a sore ankle.

"He rolled an ankle yesterday late," Gailey said. "He taped it up and finished but we held him out today. He went through the walk-through this morning so it's not like it's a hobbling thing. We're gonna make sure he's ready to go before we bring him back."

Right tackle Erik Pears sat out due to a sore groin. "They don't think it's much but they were being precautionary and we'll see how soon we can get him back," Gailey said. "Hopefully tomorrow night, if not Monday."

Defensive tackle Kellen Heard walked off and into the locker room early in the session. His injury might be more significant.

"Kellen's ankle bothered him all offseason," Gailey said. "They're going to run some more tests. They don't know exactly what's wrong with that."

Run game suffers in today's NFL

By Mark Gaughan

I'm convinced the running game in the NFL suffers these days due to limitations on hitting in training camp, the necessary emphasis on pass blocking in today's game and a general lack of depth along the offensive lines compared with past eras. Throw in the reluctance of coaches to practice the run game enough. It's just harder to develop a smash-mouth mentality on the offensive line unit than it used to be. Today's Bills practice at St. John Fisher College will be the first in pads. In terms of player safety, it's obvious the current limitations on padded practices are a good thing, and there's no question that justifies the limitations. But I doubt ex-Bills coach Chuck Knox would be happy about the kind of camp he'd have to run in today's NFL.

Bills coach Chan Gailey, however, never seems to have any interest in complaining about NFL rules. No matter what the policy issue is, his answer invariably is: We'll work with what we have.

Asked about the challenge of creating a tough-running mentality, Gailey said: "If you look at the statistics over the past couple years it’s been growing the number of passes we throw percentage-wise each year. So obviously a lot of people are not spending time on the running game. I think we can get the job done. We’ve got the time and we’ve got enough pads practices and enough preseason games to get where we want to get to. I don’t have an issue about that."

Video: Report from Day Two of camp

Camp Day 2: T.J. Graham gets birthday catch

By Mark Gaughan

Rookie receiver T.J. Graham caught a deep pass down the right sideline from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at the start of practice Friday to highlight 7-on-7 work for the Buffalo Bills.

"The only reason i threw it to him today is because it's his birthday," Fitzpatrick said. "He didn't tell any of us that. Somebody told me walking out to practice. So I figured I'd give him one little softball that he could catch out there today, get the fans cheering. He's obviously a speedster. He's really improved from the first day he stepped on the field in OTAs."

Receiver David Nelson remains a favored target of Fitzpatrick. Nelson had numerous good catches on the second day of training camp at St. John Fisher. The best may have been a bullet over the deep middle in 7-on-7 work that Fitzpatrick put into tight coverage. Fitzpatrick was sharp in 7 on 7 drills. He hit tight end Scott Chandler on a great thrown down the middle. He even hit fullback Corey McIntyre deep on a sideline route out of the backfield, to the cheers of a couple hundred watchers. 

The Bills rotated starters at several positions, as advertised. Rookie Cordy Glenn started at left tackle, a day after Chris Hairston started there. Vince Young was the No. 2 QB and Tyler Thigpen was No. 3, reversing roles from Friday. Chris Kelsay started at right defensive end in place of Mark Anderson. WIth Terrence McGee sitting out team drills, Aaron WIlliams started again at one corner spot, opposite Stephon Gilmore.

Neither Thigpen or Young have stood out yet in passing drills. It's clear it's going to take Young some time to get comfortable in Chan Gailey's offense.

Interceptions early on were made by safety Da'Norris Searcy while covering tight end Lee Smith and by linebacker Chris White while covering tight end Kevin Brock. Cornerback Prince Miller jumped a flat pass for a running back from Thigpen and made the interception. ... C.J. Spiller showed great burst off right tackle on a run in 11-on-11 work. ... Stevie Johnson had two drops in a three-play stretch on short throws from Fitzpatrick. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus stuffed Spiller on a shotgun handoff. Mario Williams fouled up a Spiller run up the middle a few minutes later.

Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard and Kirk Morrison were the starting linebackers against regular personnel. Arthur Moats got some snaps again with the starters in some passing situations. Sam Young spelled Erik Pears at times at right tackle. Otherwise the second team offensive line often was: Hairston, Michael Jasper, Colin Brown, Keith Williams and Zebrie Sanders. Leodis McKelvin sat out the second half of practice after feeling ill.

What's poppin'? The Bills in pads, starting Saturday

By Tim Graham

PITTSFORD -- We stand corrected.

Buffalo Bills training camp did not begin Thursday. They didn't have real sessions today either.

Head coach Chan Gailey says it all starts Saturday.

That's when the Bills get popping.

"Tomorrow is the start of camp," Gailey said after this afternoon's apparently fake practice at St. John Fisher College. "When you can put pads on, that starts camp.

"This other stuff is good and important. It helps us. But you really start to find out about your football team when you put pads on."

The NFL's collective bargaining agreement prohibits contact for the first two days of training camp -- as well as offseason workouts.

Tackling is a no-no. Collisions between linemen are verboten, causing some position battles to be more about guesswork than actual scouting analysis.

"It's hard to tell anything right now," Gailey said. "We start real football tomorrow. We'll find out a lot more in the next week."

The Bills' offensive and defensive lines stand to gain the most from contact. One of the benefits of having players such as Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Kyle Williams on the defensive front is to help the O-linemen sharpen their skills.

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said the players are eager to see what they have.

"It's something that we've been excited to see just because there's no contact in OTAs and minicamp and the first couple days of camp here," Fitzpatrick said. "To get the pads on, we'll get more run-game stuff going tomorrow just to see how everybody's doing.

"But it's nice to have a couple days before you get the pads on just to get your feet under you and to get going. ... The first couple days, I don't want to say they've been boring, but they've been very vanilla in terms of what we’ve been doing. As camp progresses it gets more exciting."

That, of course, comes from a guy who wears a no-contact red jersey every day.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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