PITTSFORD – Chris Gragg and Dominique Jones may not be familiar names for even the most loyal soldiers of Bills Mafia, but fans watching Sunday night’s preseason opener against the New York Giants can expect to see plenty of them.
Gragg and Jones are the only healthy tight ends on the Bills’ roster after Lee Smith joined Scott Chandler and Tony Moeaki on the sidelines for Thursday’s practice at St. John Fisher College. Smith has a lower-body injury, coach Doug Marrone said afterward, while Chandler has been out since Sunday with a groin injury and Moeaki is sidelined by a hamstring problem.
Gragg also missed time earlier in camp after heat-related cramping issues left him hospitalized for two days. But Marrone said afterward he’s hopeful the second-year tight end will be ready for a full workload against New York.
“I hope so. He did a good job today coming back,” the coach said.
Offensive lineman Chris Hairston, who left Wednesday’s practice with a back injury, did not participate Thursday. Starting left guard Chris Williams suffered a toe injury during practice and did not return.
In his place, Cyril Richardson, Antoine McClain and J.J. ‘Unga rotated in.
In reviewing film of the 2013 season, Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel didn’t limit his study to his own tape.
“I watched Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Cam Newton – quite a few guys,” Manuel said. “And Colin Kaepernick, who I worked out with, as well. That was just simply seeing what they do, good or bad. Whether they have a great game or bad game, I wanted to see how they would bounce back the following week. There wasn’t anything specifically that I was looking at technically as far as what they do, but I just wanted to see how they work week-in, week-out. Those are some of the most successful quarterbacks in the league and I see a little bit of my game in each of those guys.”
Manuel said the review has benefited him “tremendously.”
“I think throws that I’ve started to make this year, at least attempted to make, are throws I wasn’t doing last year,” he said. “Instead of being more cautious – not that you’re being dangerous with the ball because you still want to take care of it – but our receivers want to make plays. They want the opportunity to make a big catch. I think watching a guy Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, they cut it loose. They allow their receiver to go out and make a play and earn their money. That’s what I think I’ve started to do this past camp.”
Manuel was asked whether he felt the Bills needed to open up the offense more by taking shots down field.
“Yeah, I think so. I think we’ve done that these past couple weeks,” he said. “I think we’re throwing the ball vertically down the field, hitting the seam, throwing the deep ball very well and the guys are doing a great job tracking the ball and catching it. The ball is not always perfect, so that’s what football is about. It’s a game. You’ve got to go out there and make plays and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Buffalo native Corey Graham had a rough stretch during 7-on-7 work in the red zone near the end of practice. Graham was first beaten by receiver Robert Woods for a touchdown, then a short time later missed a jam at the line of scrimmage on receiver T.J. Graham, who also got into the end zone.
Other highlights from Thursday:
• Linebacker Ty Powell made an athletic, leaping interception of quarterback Jeff Tuel during 7-on-7 work, then ran 100 yards to the end zone as his teammates encouraged him.
• Cornerback Bobby Felder made a diving interception of a throw from Thad Lewis that was intended for receiver Chris Summers. On the next play, Buffalo native Naaman Roosevelt went up in traffic to make a catch between two defenders.