PITTSFORD – Doug Marrone is doing his best to adhere to the first rule of Fight Club – that being, don’t talk about Fight Club – but his team is leaving him no choice.
Another scuffle broke out Thursday during the Bills’ final practice of training camp at St. John Fisher College. Early in team work, receiver Marquise Goodwin and cornerback Sam Miller went facemask to facemask after competing for a throw. Marrone then stopped practice after the next play. There didn’t appear to be any punches thrown, but the coach was clearly fed up with something he saw or heard on the field.
“Get your (expletive) right,” he screamed at the team as he ordered them to line up on the sideline to run a sprint.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes said something back to the coach, leading Marrone to direct a string of expletives at him, saying at one point “you don’t have to play on this team.” Hughes’ teammates implored him to step away from the confrontation.
Following practice, Marrone pulled Hughes out of the defensive line’s huddle for a conversation.
“I told Jerry that I love the way he practices and I love the way he plays special teams – how he goes about it,” Marrone said. “We’ve got to get some other guys who are starters to do that, too. That was my conversation with him.”
Marrone denied that he was talking directly to Hughes during his outburst.
“That’s directed to anyone that doesn’t want to be a part of the team,” he said.
At Wednesday’s practice, a full-scale brawl erupted, with center Eric Wood and defensive end Bryan Johnson at the center of it. Wood, who suffered a cut on his nose, yelled “I’ll (expletive) kill you!” at Johnson several times.
Marrone made it clear then his disdain for fighting. So why did it happen again Thursday?
“Lack of respect,” the coach said.
Respect for the game, respect for coaches or respect for other players, Marrone was asked.
“All. Check one, check two and check three,” he said.
Marrone then said he’d “handle it myself, personally,” when asked how he’d go about changing that.
“Guys I’m going to say it again, and I’m not going to answer another question. We’re responsible for the integrity of the game,” he said. Can you figure it out? Figure it out. We’re responsible for the integrity of the game. There is no use for fighting in the game of football. Period. End of discussion. Move on.”
That’s something his team hasn’t been able to do up to this point.
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams – who did not practice Thursday because of a leg injury – spent considerable time talking with Marrone after the blow up.
“I think it was important for him to voice his point of view and his opinion on what was going on, and make sure he got that across to the team, which he did,” Williams said. “And make sure that everybody understood, you know, what’s at stake here.”
Williams, 31, is a team captain and one of the most respected voices in the locker room. He also pulled Hughes aside at one time.
“We just talked about being a pro and making sure we keep it that way all the time,” Williams said.
The Bills opened camp July 20. They’ve had more than 20 padded practices since then. The most common explanation among players is that tensions start to run high in that amount of time.
“We’ve been here awhile. We’ve been hitting each other awhile. That kind of thing spills over from time to time, but at a certain point, you have to be a professional and understand that there are guys here trying to make the team that are out here competing,” Williams said. There are times that you’ve just got to walk away from it.”
What was unusual about Marrone’s outburst Thursday is that it came in a public setting – albeit without fans – in front of media members.
“I mean, he’s a fiery guy. That’s not the first time that he’s been adamant or passionate about anything. He’s like that all the time,” Williams said. “That’s nothing new – it’s just a different subject.”
Cornerback Leodis McKelvin sat out practice with a groin injury. Marrone said he hasn’t been cleared by doctors to play in Saturday’s home preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that could change prior to kickoff.
Tight end Tony Moeaki (hamstring), cornerback Mario Butler (ankle), cornerback Bobby Felder (groin) and safety Jonathan Meeks (neck) also sat out practice Thursday.