PITTSFORD – Veteran guard Kraig Urbik found himself in a tight-end position as the Buffalo Bills lined up for a live goal-line play in Sunday’s practice. The offense was short on healthy tight ends, and Urbik was pressed into unfamiliar duty.
“They told me to run a corner route,” Urbik said. “I didn’t know what that was, but I was wide open. They didn’t see it coming.”
The 328-pound Urbik made a sure-handed catch in the end zone on a pass from EJ Manuel and then delightedly executed a spike of the football. The spike left a little to be desired, but the play punctuated a successful session for the offense before a throng of more than 2,000 at St. John Fisher College. The Bills scored touchdowns on 5 of 8 full-tackling plays run from the 1- or 2-yard lines.
The Bills were not good enough on goal-to-go situations last season, ranking 29th in the NFL in touchdown percentage. Sunday’s practice was the first chance to set a new tone for this season.
“In order for us to win games, it’s huge for us to put seven on the board instead of three,” said fullback Frank Summers. “So it’s a point of emphasis for us.”
“There was the Cincinnati game last year on the goal line where we weren’t successful,” said Urbik, referring to a game the Bills lost in overtime, 27-24. “But there were other games that we were successful. It’s an attitude when you get down on the goal line. You’ve got to be tougher than them. You’ve got to drive them into the end zone. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”
On Sunday the Bills scored on their first play, as Manuel threw a play-action TD pass to tight end Dominique Jones. On the second play, Summers plunged over the goal line. On the third, linebacker Brandon Spikes filled a hole, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams burst through the line to take down Anthony Dixon for a 2-yard loss.
“I definitely was looking forward to my first chance, and unfortunately on my first one I didn’t get it in there,” Dixon said. “I was very upset about that because I pride myself on being fresh in that area. But we got it going. We gotta get it going faster next time.”
Manuel had no chance on the fourth snap, getting swarmed in the backfield by defensive end Jarius Wynn before he could even begin a bootleg maneuver.
But then Urbik had his TD catch, and Dixon and Evan Rodriguez plunged into the end zone for the last two scores.
The Bills had TDs on 61 percent of goal-to-go situations last year and only 48 percent of red-zone (inside the 20) possessions. That ranked 29th, too.
Coach Doug Marrone said the team is practicing more in those situations.
Most of the practices have ended with a 7-on-7 passing session from inside the 10. Newly acquired receiver Mike Williams has looked very good in those periods.
“I think what you’ve seen early, at the end of practice you see us in the tight red zone, getting the extra work in there,” Marrone said. “So from a practice standpoint, we’re trying to make an emphasis about that part of it, and scoring. It’s just a matter of you keep repping it, you keep working it.”
“Obviously you’ve got to work extremely hard to get down there. We did that at times last year and didn’t come away with exactly what we want. We talk to our players all the time about what we need to do to get us to the playoffs. Statistically it’s on paper. You know how much you have to score, how many third downs you have to get, and just keep hammering away about the execution.”
The Bills have moved today’s practice to 6 p.m. No tickets are needed for admission.
Tight end Scott Chandler left practice halfway through the session with a groin injury. That left the Bills down to two healthy tight ends, Lee Smith and Jones. Chris Gragg (heat stress) and Tony Moeaki (hamstring) are out. ... Cornerback Leodis McKelvin sat out team drills for a third straight day. He had offseason hip surgery and the Bills simply are being careful not to overwork him. … Running back Fred Jackson was back after sitting out a day with a sore ankle.