PITTSFORD – The frustration was evident in Doug Marrone Tuesday morning after the Buffalo Bills went through their first padded practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College.
Normally one to fill a reporter’s notebook, most of the coach’s responses were limited to a sentence or two, including the first one he was asked about his offense looking sloppy.
“Yeah, in the beginning,” Marrone agreed. “They finished strong, but it was not what we wanted.”
Marrone then glared as a reporter asked whether that could be expected in the first workout with pads, replying, “I want them to perform better, no doubt about it.”
Marrone chalked the problems up to execution. On at least a couple of occasions, there appeared to be confusion between the quarterback and wide receiver on the play call. One time, it led to an easy interception by cornerback Ron Brooks, as Thad Lewis threw the ball short and receiver Tori Gurley was running a go route.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had pads on, and for a lot of guys, since they hit last. The last three weeks or so of the season you’re not allowed to have contact during practice, and the next time other than games you have contact is today at training camp, so you have to work yourself in,” Marrone said. “You obviously don’t start right where you left off. It takes some time. That’s why I’m glad we’re in early. We’re not even close to where we’d like to be, and we have got plenty of work ahead of us, as you witnessed today.”
Quarterback EJ Manuel, however, had a different take when he was asked whether it was a “rough day.”
“No, it was a good day. I thought we had a good day. It was the first third-down day. We just have to continue to get better,” he said. “It was the first full-pad practice. I thought we ran the ball well. I thought we threw the ball well. So, it was a good day.”
Manuel’s best pass came on the first play of 7-on-7 drills, when he hit Sammy Watkins for a long touchdown reception. But there were other times when he had to pull the ball down and run during 7-on-7s.
“We’re a progression-based offense, and you always are going to go through your progressions someway, somehow,” he said. “So if nobody is open, do a realistic thing, throw it away or take off and run.” Later in practice, Manuel and Watkins got their signals crossed, with the quarterback throwing deep and the receiver stopping his route short.
“During practice, you have to move past it,” Manuel said of the miscommunication. “I try to treat practice like a game and I think the rest of the team does. So if you have a miscommunication, like I said, we’re still putting new players in the thing, so if a guy didn’t get a signal or if he forgets what he has on a certain route, just move on to the next one. Try not to let one mistake become two.”
The Bills signed linebacker Xavius Boyd on Tuesday. Boyd, 6-foot-2 and 243 pounds, replaces Darrin Kitchens on the roster.
Kitchens was released with a waived/injured designation after suffering a left-leg injury during a special-teams drill Monday.
Boyd, 23 and a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., previously was an undrafted free agent signing of the Baltimore Ravens out of Western Kentucky. He led the Hilltoppers with 103 tackles, including 15.5 for loss, and 8.5 sacks during the 2013 season.
Marrone said cornerback Brandon Smith is expected to miss some practice time after suffering a lower-body injury Monday.
Tight end Chris Gragg and fullback Evan Rodriguez joined Smith in missing practice Tuesday. Gragg and Rodriguez were suffering from cramps, Marrone said, and should be back to work soon. Marrone reported no new injuries following a steamy morning practice that lasted about two-and-a-half hours.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes returned to practice after leaving early Monday because of cramps. Also, Marrone said defensive tackle Marcell Dareus’ return to training camp was delayed by weather issues Monday night, but he was expected back on campus by Tuesday afternoon. Dareus was to then begin working with trainers in an effort to pass his conditioning test and return to the active roster. He remains on the active/non-football injury list.
If 2013 sixth-round draft pick Dustin Hopkins is to stick with the Bills this season, it will be as a kickoff specialist only.
That was the word from Marrone following practice, meaning the kicking job belongs to Dan Carpenter, who has followed up a rock-solid 2013 season with a similarly strong start to camp. Carpenter went 7 of 8 on field goals Tuesday, starting by hitting from 32 yards away and working his way back to 51 yards out. His lone miss came from 37 yards. So far in camp, he’s 15 of 16 on field goals.
Last season, Carpenter finished tied for the single-season franchise record with 33 made field goals, and was rewarded in the offseason with a four-year contract that could be worth nearly $10 million.
Hopkins, who spent last season on injured reserve, will continue to try and convince the coaching staff it’s worth keeping two kickers.