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NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT
The Bills kicked off week two of voluntary organized team activities under new coach Doug Marrone on Monday, May 20, and pity the players who weren't there.
While the few players who are missing have valid excuses, they are missing a heavy dose of installation by the new coaching staff. All three phases - offense, defense and special teams - are being emphasized.
Marrone said the excitement of a new beginning for everybody is important for keeping the energy level on a natural high. But eventually, motivation to prepare has to come from within.
"I was very pleased with the way we got off to a start as far as the OTAs and practicing, the first three practices," Marrone said of last week. "A lot of that was we as coaches are excited, the players are excited and everything has a newness to it, which creates some excitement. I think this is very critical for us as far as OTAs. Obviously the installation is heavier now than it was in the beginning.
"I can get up there every day and give them the great 'Let's go get 'em speech,' but in the end that is not going to be good enough. A lot of this has to come from within. That was my challenge to them today. To make sure that here we go with practices four, five and six, which is really right in the middle of what we are doing OTA-wise."
Among the veterans missing were free-agent linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive tackle Alan Branch, who have not attended any OTAs to date. Marrone said each player has a very valid family related excuse and he's not worried.
"They have to be supportive of their families. Again it is a situation where these workouts are voluntary. You know when a voluntary OTA or a voluntary lifting session, again for me as a coach I appreciate the players that are here," Marrone said.
While veterans may be familiar with the NFL, they don't have an edge on younger players when it comes to what Marrone and his coaches are trying to build. There is a learning curve for everyone and everyone is running on high octane.
"There's no question. Everybody's hungry," said free-agent quarterback Kevin Kolb, who is with is third NFL team. "And everybody's ready to prove something, including the older guys that are here because some of us are new and there's a new coaching staff. They're new eyes and the coaching staff is trying to prove stuff to us as well: prove their systems work, prove their methods work, so that makes for a competitive camp and competitive OTAs. And that's good for everybody. And I think that if you guys can't see it we're really progressing every day. And I feel that we've gotten a lot better today than we were yesterday and so on."
The Bills are installing an up-tempo West Coast offense under coordinator Nate Hackett, one that is heavy on a lot of no-huddle and attacks vertically. Defensively, Buffalo will play a hybrid 3-4 with so many combinations and fronts it will be difficult to label. That's how coordinator Mike Pettine likes it.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel is doing his best to keep up, making the best of his opportunities and learning how to watch.
"That's exactly what it is, just having to take those mental reps. When you hear a play being called you might say it out loud just like you would in the huddle and treat it like you're actually out there playing," he said.
Veteran defensive end Mario Williams, who led Buffalo last year with 10.5 sacks but didn't have the impact many expected after signing a record contract, said he's looking forward to being used in multiple ways. In OTAs, some plays he has his hand on the ground, other times he's standing up.
"If I had to guess, I'll probably be all over the place," Williams said. "But it comes with working out and things like that being able to just move and know whenever you're in a different position that you kind of have to switch it up a little bit. I feel comfortable and am just ready to go and get out there.
"It's fun though ... this coaching staff is phenomenal. I really like the way we're doing things, going about stuff and I look forward to it."
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
--Wide receiver Stevie Johnson participated in the Bills' OTA practice Tuesday despite suffering a strained back during April offseason workouts.
Said Johnson, "It definitely feels good to just be out there on the field, even through the little pains I have. It's getting better every week. They gave me a six-to-eight-week thing to even get on the field, and it's only been about three, so I feel good."
--The Bills announced they have signed second-round draft pick Robert Woods of Southern Cal, leaving just one of their eight picks unsigned, first-rounder EJ Manuel. Woods, a wide receiver, was the 41st overall pick. He set a Trojans record with 252 career catches and 32 touchdowns. He's expected to win a starting job alongside veteran Stevie Johnson.
--The Bills hosted Jacksonville free-agent running back Montell Owens on Monday during the start of their second week of organized team activities. Owens, 29, a seven-year veteran, is being looked at as a special teams ace; he's a two-time Pro Bowl pick as a special teamer.
"You can add depth at the running back position and really be a core special teams player for you," said coach Doug Marrone, explaining his interest in Owens. The coach planned a meeting with the player later in the afternoon, he said.
--Defensive end Mario Williams, speaking to reporters for the first time since an explosive story broke over the weekend detailing a lawsuit against his ex-fiance over an engagement ring, denied he's ever had suicidal thoughts and that text messages released by his ex-fiance's attorney, Tony Buzbee, were taken out of context. Williams has sued Erin Marzouki for return of a $785,000 diamond ring. She has countersued.
"Obviously it's just a tactic to cover up the point of the whole thing," Williams told The Associated Press. "It is what it is. I could really care less. All it is (is) allegations and text messages and what not, whatever information blown out of proportion. I mean, it's completely out of context."
Some text messages revealed that Williams took pain killers before a game last season against New England. Williams said they were prescribed to him coming off wrist surgery.
--Marrone said the transition from Buddy Nix to Doug Whaley as Bills general manager will be seamless. Whaley was Nix's top assistant and was in the interview process when he was hired last January. He also worked closely with Whaley through free agency and the draft.
"He has been there step by step with me, Buddy and (president/CEO) Russ (Brandon). It has really been a fine transition," Marrone said. "I think if it was from the outside, I think that you have to work through things a little bit tougher, but Doug has been there from day one the first time I was ever introduced to the Bills organization. From an interview standpoint Doug has been there and he has been there every step."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no magic formula and if there was I wouldn't be able to tell you because 31 other teams would want it. But if you're committed to accountability and hard work I think the sky's the limit." -- New Bills GM Doug Whaley on his approach to building a winning team.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Bills' picks:
Round 1/16 -- EJ Manuel, QB, 6-4, 237, Florida State
No team studied quarterback prospects as hard or thoroughly as Buffalo in what was considered a weak class. But in making Manuel their starter of the future, perhaps this season if he can beat out veterans Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson, the Bills get the biggest, fastest (4.55) and one of the smartest quarterbacks available. Manuel will need work, like developing the ability to read the entire field and make his progressions. But his size and versatility as a runner and passer gives new coach Doug Marrone a major building block.
Round 2/41 -- Robert Woods, WR, 6-0, 190, USC
On the heels of taking their quarterback, the Bills added one of the elite receivers in college football in Woods, who finished as USC's career receptions leader with 252. After a monster junior year (111 receptions, 1,292 yards, 15 touchdowns), his production dropped as a senior but that was more a product of team injuries and quarterback Matt Barkley's struggles. Runs a 4.43 forty and should be able to step right in and contribute in Buffalo's spread offense that will utilize three and four wides.
Round 2/46 -- Kiko Alonso, ILB, 6-3, 238, Oregon
The Bills desperately need to get stronger up the middle (31st vs. the run) and were willing to take a chance on Alonso, who wasn't a full-time starter until his senior year and has a history of off-field problems. Had 81 tackles including 14 for loss last fall. With his size and foot speed, Bills hope he can run and cover and be a three-down player while helping their run defense improve.
Round 3/78 -- Marquise Goodwin, WR, 5-9, 179, Texas
A very intriguing player who adds to the team's overall speed. Was the NCAA long jump champion who competed at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Clocked a 4.34 dash time for scouts and also impressed the Bills with his desire and ability to block, which will earn him playing time if he can do that at the NFL level. Was a four-year football player at Texas and wound up playing 50 games. Joins a team where jobs are open at wide receiver.
Round 4/105 -- Duke Williams, S, 5-11, 201, Nevada
A sure-handed tackler who appeared in 50 college games and recorded 292 tackles, including 18 that saved touchdowns the past two seasons. He has a very good chance of making the roster with Bills parting ways with strong safety George Wilson and because of his versatility. He can play either strong safety, corner or nickel corner. Plays with an "edge" and Bills' 22nd-ranked defense desperately needs to get meaner.
Round 5/143 -- Jonathan Meeks, S, 6-1, 210, Clemson
Another player to add to the competitive mix at safety, either free or strong. Has great foot speed (4.49) to go with his size. Notched 62 tackles and two interceptions at school where Bills scouts have a lot of connections.
Round 6/177 -- Dustin Hopkins, K, 6-2, 193, Florida State
NCAA career points leader with 466 who has the potential to replace veteran star Rian Lindell. Converted 88 of 112 field goals for the Seminoles, including 9 of 15 on tries from 50 yards and beyond. Strong on kickoffs with average hang time of 4.5 seconds. A freak athlete, who ran 4.71 and did 20 bench press reps at 225 pounds.
Round 7/222 -- Chris Gragg, TE, 6-3, 244, Arkansas
With veteran Scott Chandler recovering from ACL surgery, the Bills covered their bases by using a pick obtained in the Rams trade. Gragg was a top prospect entering his senior year but was limited to five games due to a knee injury of his own. Had a breakout junior year, averaging 12.6 yards on 41 catches and was a strong blocker. Can fill the H-back role in Buffalo's scheme. Very good value at this spot.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: S Jairus Byrd (tendered at $6.916 million).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (5)
--DE Spencer Johnson is a backup quality talent, who has just 14 sacks in nine NFL seasons, the last five in Buffalo. He has been a part of some of the worst defenses in Bills history. They can do better.
--WR Ruvell Martin is a 6-4 target who has just 24 catches over the past four NFL seasons bouncing between four teams. Not a high priority to retain.
--FB Corey McIntyre is a powerful blocker for the team's strong runnng game who does his job with no complaints. Should return for his sixth season.
--LB Kirk Morrison was a healthy inactive for 12 games before being released and re-signed. His career is at a crossroad and he's not likely to return.
--QB Tyler Thigpen has thrown just 13 passes in a backup role for two seasons. The team is revisiting its entire quarterback situation and Thigpen probably falls no better than fourth on the depth chart.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--WR Robert Woods (2/41): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Kiko Alonso (2/46): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Marquise Goodwin (3/78): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Duke Williams (4/105): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Jonathan Meeks (5/143): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--K Dustin Hopkins (6/177); 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--TE Chris Grass (7/222): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Colin Brown: Potential RFA; $1.445M/2 yrs, $25,000 SB.
--RB Tashard Choice: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Dorin Dickerson: ERFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--QB Tarvaris Jackson: Potential UFA; $2.25M/1 yr, $500,000 SB.
--CB/KR Leodis McKelvin: Potential UFA; $20M/4 yrs.
--LB Bryan Scott: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--DT Alan Branch: UFA Seahawks; $3M/1 yr.
--LB Jerry Hughes (trade Colts).
--QB Kevin Kolb: FA Cardinals; $6.1M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$1.25M RBs.
--LB Manny Lawson: UFA Bengals; $12M/4 yrs, $3M SB/$4.6M guaranteed.
--LB Nick Barnett (released/failed physical).
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (released/post-June 1 designation).
--DE Chris Kelsay (retired).
--WR Donald Jones: Not tendered as RFA/Patriots; $4.155M/3 yrs, no SB/$435,000 report/RB each year.
--G Andy Levitre: UFA Titans; $46.8M/6 yrs, $10.5M SB.
--CB Terrence McGee (released/failed physical).
--LB Shawne Merriman: UFA; retired.
--DE Kyle Moore: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR David Nelson: Not tendered as RFA/Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T/G Chad Rinehart: UFA Chargers; terms unknown.
--LB Kelvin Sheppard (traded Colts).
--S George Wilson (released).