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NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - INSIDE SLANT
The Bills' quarterback competition has become a two-man race between veteran free agent Kevin Kolb and first-round draft pick EJ Manuel.
After the release of Tarvaris Jackson a day earlier, Kolb and Manuel saw their practice repetitions logically increase over what they were during organized team activities when the Bills kicked off a three-day mandatory mini-camp on Tuesday.
Kolb, Manuel and rookie free agent Jeff Tuel are the quarterbacks left on the roster. Even though he'll get more repetitions, too, Tuel is a project player and not a factor.
The Bills re-signed Jackson, the former Vikings and Seahawks starter, early in the offseason as part of a shakeup at quarterback that also saw them release Ryan Fitzpatrick. It became clear during OTAs how difficult it is, however, for the coaches to get a good look at three players competing for one job and Jackson quickly became the odd man out.
Jackson's release means Manuel's development can be accelerated heading into training camp in July.
"I think in all of the quarterbacks, including Kevin who is a veteran, you never start where you left off," coach Doug Marrone said. "Even for the better QBs I've been around you start from the beginning and grow a foundation. With EJ, we just want to make sure he's taking a natural progression. He's not seeing the same things Kevin is now and we're working on building him up."
Manuel said he knows how important it is to take advantage of his increased practice time. He said he could definitely feel more into the flow of things not having to wait around as much.
"I'd say the only difference is that your body stays warm, you get some continuity with the offense and you get in a groove unlike taking three plays and resting," he said. "It's a lot different (that way)."
Manuel said that even though there is one less person to beat out for the starting job, he can't ease up, not with Kolb in his way.
"It's not anything I have to remind myself of," he said. "I'm just trying to get a feel and earn the respect of my teammates. The best way to do that is to keep producing. You are only as good as your last snap."
Manuel had good things to say about Jackson, who in their brief time together helped him get acclimated to the NFL.
"Someone great in the room, a great teammate and I looked up to him because he's a veteran who has been a long time in this league," Manuel said. "I heard the news and it's tough, but it's part of this league."
Jackson, 30, was obtained in a trade with Seattle last August for a seventh-round pick. He never saw action in a game last season and was unable to even unseat Tyler Thigpen as Fitzpatrick's backup.
Jackson was due to earn a $1.25 million base salary had he made the 2013 roster. He was given virtually the same amount of snaps as Kolb during the course of 10 OTAs, all at the expense of Manuel, who the team would like starting sooner or later. Manuel was the 16th overall pick in the draft and is viewed as the Bills' quarterback of the future.
Jackson has a .500 record (17-17) as an NFL starter.
"I've been in this league going on eight years now," he said. "Hopefully, I'll make it eight. But I know how it goes. Like I said, I just come out here and do my best. In certain situations, your best might not be good enough. They invested a lot in a player in the first round."
Meanwhile, the first day of minicamp saw tight end Scott Chandler practicing on a limited basis. He's just five months removed from major ACL surgery, so his progress is very encouraging to the Bills.
All players under contract were in attendance. Safety Jairus Byrd, who was given the club's franchise tag but has yet to sign his tender, was not in attendance. He and the team remain locked in contract talks. Since he's unsigned, Byrd is not subject to being fined.
Marrone is taking Byrd's absence in stride.
"You have rights and he has the right not to be here and I respect him for that," Marrone said. "I'm not going to worry about things out of my control and I'll concentrate on the players here. I have great admiration for Jairus -- but I've never met him. I look forward to meeting him in the future."
--Competition for the vacant left guard spot just got a lot more intense with the signing of free-agent veteran Doug Legursky, who played four seasons for the Pittsburgth Steelers with 17 starts.
Legursky, just 26, will compete with a host of candidates for the left guard job and will also challenge David Snow for the backup spot at center behind Eric Wood. Legursky started Super Bowl XLV for the Steelers at center for an injured Maurkice Pouncey.
New coach Doug Marrone had felt comfortable with his line and no blockers were selected in the April draft. That didn't mean he wasn't looking to upgrade or add to the competition level if the opportunity arose.
Buffalo lost ironman left guard Andy Levitre to the Tennessee Titans in free agency and no fewer than six players are being considered as his replacement. Colin Brown ran with the first unit through recent OTAs, followed by Sam Young. Others include guard/tackle Thomas Welch, Chris Scott and Zach Chibane.
Now add Legursky, who at 6-1 raises eyebrows that he could get the job done in the NFL trenches. But he's proven himself against some very stout competition in the AFC North. He's a prime case of someone who has learned to use leverage, technique and his brains to his advantage. He's also exceptionally strong, squatting 705 pounds.
"I think it's using my brain, being a cerebral type player," Legursky told Buffalobills.com. "Thinking through stuff, trying to know what the defense is doing at all times and knowing what we need to do to execute plays right. Then using my technique as well. I've always tried to be a technician as much as possible. Those two things combined have helped me to be the player that I am."
Legursky, who played at Marshall, can also move.
This season, the Bills are placing heavy emphasis on their linemen being agile, mobile and in shape as Marrone and coordinator Nate Hackett introduce an up-tempo West Coast offense that is expected to feature a heavy dose of no-huddle.
Installation is complete and the team will begin refining things when a mandatory three-day mini-camp commences on June 11.
"You're putting a lot more yards under your feet and just getting ready for an offense that's not gonna stop," tackle Chris Hairston told The Buffalo News of what the offensive linemen are going through. "We're going to try to put pressure on all the teams and dictate the tempo and pace. We've done that since we've gotten back here. You're just really pushing yourself to go as fast as possible."
Nobody, not even the coaching staff, can predict how much no-huddle the Bills will run but the advantages - and disadvantages - are well known. When an offense can dictate tempo, it can slow down an opponent's pass rush by limiting their ability to substitute players. Tired defenders can't rush to their full ability. Conversely, quick three-and-outs by an offense puts pressure on its own defense. The Bills will have to give a lot of thought to running up-tempo against a team like New England and it's high-powered attack. Last year, Tom Brady had good success with a no-huddle. The Patriots averaged a league-best 75 plays a game.
"Conditioning will be a key, and we've stepped it up already," said Wood. "Since April 1 our strength training and conditioning has been completely different than it had been in the past. A lot more up-tempo, less about functional movements and stuff and more about just kind of getting after it. More sprints and more agility work."
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - NOTES, QUOTES
--Free safety Jairus Byrd plans to skip the Bills' mandatory minicamp this week.
Byrd, designated the franchise player of the Bills on March 1, said he'll stay away from the team until he has a contract.
Byrd can't be fined for missing the minicamp because he is an unsigned franchise free agent. That means he cannot practice, by virtue of not signing his one-year, $6.9 million franchise tender with the Bills. Byrd and Denver Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady are the lone unsigned franchise players, who have until July 15 to reach a long-term extension with their team.
Byrd is seeking a long-term contract, but the two sides have yet to reach an agreement. The franchise tag will ensure Byrd's one-year salary and keeps him in Buffalo another season while discussions continue on a new deal.
A second-round draft pick in 2009, Byrd has played his entire career with the Bills. He started all 16 games last season and had five interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
In starting 57 of 62 career games, Byrd is second in the league since 2009 with 18 interceptions and has been selected to a pair of Pro Bowls.
--Wide receiver T.J. Graham, a third-round pick in 2012 who caught 31 passes as a rookie in limited playing time, was among the more impressive players during the team's organized team activities. He certainly has caught the eye of the new coaching staff.
"Last year was kind of tough on tape to see the production, knowing it was his rookie year," coach Doug Marrone said. "I think it's very difficult, and we have to be very conscious of rookies, because it gets to be a long year for them. The one thing I've been very, very pleased with is his performance and his results. I've seen a player that has been producing and has done more now than what I've seen on tape. Now I'm looking forward to that converting when we put the pads on and we start playing."
--The team announced its training camp dates for St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester, N.Y. Camp will run from Sunday, July 28 to Wednesday, Aug. 21.There are five evening practices scheduled, something the Bills have done for many years to accommodate fans that work and want to see the team practice. But it's also proven a productive way for players to beat the summer heat and get a maximum workout in.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The effort and the enthusiasm were there (during OTAs). That is a credit to this team, because when you get through a season that is what you're going to need. You are going to need a lot of people internally demanding excellence and then the motivation will come from me, the coaches and the rest of the team when we need it." -- Coach Doug Marrone.
NFL Team Report - Buffalo Bills - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Bills signed offensive lineman Doug Legursky Wednesday.
Legursky, who plays center and guard, has started 17 of 51 games the past four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 6-1, 315-pound Legursky signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and became an unrestricted fere agent in March.
In his first season with the Bills, Legursky could vie for a starting guard spot with Colin Brown, Chris Scott, Thomas Welch, Zach Chibane and Sam Young.
The Bills also announced that linebacker Greg Lloyd has been waived to make room on the roster for Legursky.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: S Jairus Byrd (tendered at $6.916 million).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--DE Spencer Johnson (not tendered as UFA).
--WR Ruvell Martin (not tendered as UFA).
--FB Corey McIntyre (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Kirk Morrison (not tendered as UFA).
--QB Tyler Thigpen (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--WR Robert Woods (2/41): $4,866,769/4 yrs, $1,919,468 SB/$2,900,685 guaranteed.
--LB Kiko Alonso (2/46): $4,300,401/4 yrs, $1,507,564 SB/$2,463,037 guaranteed.
--WR Marquise Goodwin (3/78): $2,853,876/4 yrs, $598,876 SB.
--S Duke Williams (4/105): $2,630,252/4 yrs, $470,252 SB.
--S Jonathan Meeks (5/143): $2,358,000/4 yrs, $198,000 SB.
--K Dustin Hopkins (6/177); $2,272,000/4 yrs, $112,000 SB.
--TE Chris Grass (7/222): $2,219,172/4 yrs, $59,172 SB.
--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.
--C/G Doug Legursky: Not tendered as UFA by Steelers; terms unknown.
--LB Nick Barnett (released/failed physical).
--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (released/post-June 1 designation).
--QB Tarvaris Jackson (released).
--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).