Inside The Bills

What comes after reps to build rapport with WRs

Posted by Chris Brown on July 17, 2014 – 1:19 pm

Bills QB EJ Manuel is about to begin his most important training camp. Big things are expected from him after a rookie season that included three different knee injuries that cost him six starts. And he’ll need to do it while getting used to a pair of new wideouts in Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams. Obviously reps on the practice field will be the most important way to build the chemistry between himself and the two receivers in the passing game. As for the next most important way to build the rapport, Manuel has a thought on how to most effectively get on the same page.

“I think the biggest thing for us is to watch the film together,” Manuel told Buffalobills.com. “I think that’s one thing that we’re excited to do. Obviously with coach Hackett being the OC he kind of goes over everything, but I think it helps me to watch film together because everybody can be on the same page. Instead of receivers saying, ‘Hey what was EJ thinking here?’ Or, ‘What was C.J. thinking here on this run?’ We can all just talk about it right then and there and it goes back to our rapport getting stronger as a team being together for year now and it’s easier to hold everybody accountable.”

Today in our Camp Countdown we took a look at the three ways EJ Manuel can become a difference maker for Buffalo’s offense.


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Duke learning from & competing with Searcy

Posted by Chris Brown on July 15, 2014 – 10:43 am

Positions battles are commonplace in every NFL training camp, but the dynamics with the one for the strong safety role with the Bills are a bit different. One of the candidates for Buffalo’s strong safety job alongside Aaron Williams, Duke Williams explained how the circumstances of the competition between himself, Da’Norris Searcy and Jonathan Meeks give the battle a different vibe.

“Me and Meeks came in as rookies and Da’Norris has been here three years before we have,” said Duke Willaims. “So we try to learn from him and compete against him at the same time.”

Williams has taken that learning part to the next level as he’ll often sit in with Searcy to study film.

“Me and Da’Norris are neighbors so we go to each other’s house and watch film together and go over plays and just talk football together,” said Williams. “It’s a great competition and a healthy competition and we’re all trying to help each other and in the end the better guy is going to take the position.”

As we profiled in our Camp Countdown the strong safety job looks like it’s Searcy’s to lose heading into camp.


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DBs coach Henderson big mentor for Aaron

Posted by Chris Brown on July 15, 2014 – 9:45 am

His first two seasons with the Bills were a little rocky. A second-round pick, Aaron Williams was expected to be a solid cover corner. What Williams battled more than the receivers he faced was his own self-confidence. In less than a season under defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson, Williams in his own words, ‘got his mojo back.’

On Buffalobills.com’s Camp Countdown we covered some of the reasons Aaron Williams will excel in 2014. While Henderson was not listed in terms of what will help him succeed in the future, Williams largely credits him for rebuilding his self-confidence, and the results last season were obvious. In addition Henderson also aided Williams in his transition to safety, teaching him some of the nuances of the position.

“Being with Coach Henderson, he really helped me out with how to be rangy like Jairus has been for us the last few years,” said Williams. “It takes repetition and practice. I think my rookie year I played safety for our scout team for a little bit. It’s never just been about cornerback. I’ve always tried to help my craft out anyway possible. I think moving to safety, it helps me. My man coverage is a lot better, I’m obviously good in the box and my range, and I’m perfecting it a little more. I keep studying film and seeing other players like Jairus and Earl Thomas and other great safeties like Troy Polamalu. See what they do and what makes them great. Match my game and how can I increase my value in the backfield.”

Retaining Henderson on his staff was huge for Doug Marrone after some of the other defensive staff defections to Cleveland with Mike Pettine. Marrone considers Henderson one of his most valuable assistants.


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Pundits predicting heavy run year for Bills

Posted by Chris Brown on July 14, 2014 – 11:26 am

The Bills were one of the most run heavy offenses in the league last season. They led the league in total rushes and ranked second in rushing yards per game (144.2). The pundits in trying to predict the run-pass balance of the league’s 32 teams believe the Bills will be one of the most run heavy teams in the league this year.

Rotoworld predicted the passing percentages of every team in the league and categorized teams as pass heavy, balanced and run heavy. Not surprisingly Buffalo was predicted to be run heavy after being very reliant on the run game in 2013. Here’s what Mike Clay wrote in his prediction for the Bills.

Bills – 2014 Projection: 56% pass (2013: 54%) 
In Doug Marrone’s first year as Buffalo’s head coach, we saw a clear inclination to lean heavily on the running game. The Bills ended up calling pass 54 percent of the time, which ranked them as the league’s No. 3 run-heaviest team. Of course, had they been more competitive, no team would’ve called run at a higher rate. Adjusted for game flow, the Bills called pass seven percentage points below expected.  With an underwhelming quarterback (EJ Manuel) and a strong one-two-three punch at tailback (C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown), the Bills will, once again, contend for the league lead in rushing attempts.  

In our Camp Countdown on Buffalobills.com we profiled how OC Nathaniel Hackett might take advantage of the improved depth at running back and believe it or not Buffalo may throw a bit more to their backs either out of the backfield or when they’re lined up as wideouts. The Bills will certainly be run heavy, but with Buffalo’s backs expected to be scattered all over the formation it’s hard to say all their touches will be carries.


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Depth of talent has EJ excited

Posted by Chris Brown on July 12, 2014 – 10:31 am

There are a lot of reasons why EJ Manuel is expecting Buffalo’s fortunes to be much more fruitful this season. There’s familiarity with the offensive system and little change in personnel on offense. What has him most excited however, is the depth of talent on his side of the ball, something that didn’t exist across the board last season.

“Running back, I think we have some great backs. All four of those guys I feel like could be starters on any team in the league, so I’m very excited to have them in the backfield with me,” he said. “But at receiver we have so much firepower out there I really just can’t wait to get into live action to see what we do out in a real game.”

We listed depth as one of the main reasons the Bills will be able to run their offense at a breakneck pace throughout the season in our latest Camp Countdown installment.


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EJ not shy about getting on a teammate

Posted by Chris Brown on July 12, 2014 – 9:28 am

For the most part he’s squarely focused on raising his game, but entering year two EJ Manuel has made it clear that he won’t hesitate to hold teammates accountable on offense.

As we profiled in our Camp Countdown on Buffalobills.com today (Saturday), there are reasons why Buffalo’s offense should be able to return to the up tempo pace it enjoyed early last season with Manuel at the controls. Manuel also sounds more willing to call out a teammate if they’re not living up to expectations and vice versa.

“It’s about holding each other accountable,” Manuel said. “If you have a rough day, it’s not like we’re going to come down on you.  We’re going to critique what we need to critique. Just like if I had a rough day, my receivers or a running back will say, ‘Hey, you should have done this.’ I think it’s just holding each other accountable and that just comes with having a relationship with each another.”


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Schwartz feels corners will be key to run ‘D’

Posted by Chris Brown on July 9, 2014 – 9:44 am

Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has a long track record of success defending the run with his defensive units. What’s interesting is what he feels is a key to a strong run defense. It’s not a mammoth nose tackle or a top flight middle linebacker. It’s top end cornerbacks. That’s why he’s excited about what he can do with this Bills defense. Here’s his explanation.

“I think what gives me confidence there is the fact that we have corners who can cover,” said Schwartz in his belief that the run defense can be much improved this season. “It’s hard to stop the run unless you have some corners that can win on the outside. It’s hard to get an extra safety in the box if you’re trying to protect your corners. With Gilmore and Leodis and also Corey Graham and Brooks has had an outstanding run in OTAs. We have some real talent at corner, guys that can win one-on-one on the outside part of the field. I think if you look across any run defense that’s a common ingredient and I’m excited for those guys.”

With corners who can cover in one-on-one situations the defense can commit a safety to the run front more often than not. Add in some of the other factors we covered in our Camp Countdown on how much the run defense will improve and Buffalo’s defense stands a good chance of being in the top half of the league in that all important category.


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Touchback percentage made returns difficult

Posted by Chris Brown on July 1, 2014 – 9:13 am

The Bills did not have a good season on kick returns last year. We profiled who the team’s kick returner might be for the 2014 season in today’s installment of our daily Camp Countdown series on the home page. No matter who it is it will be interesting to see if circumstance and return philosophy has the impact it did on their productivity last season.

Buffalo’s kick return unit was largely the victim of circumstance last season. In facing a lot of the league’s big legged kickoff specialists the Bills far and away had the highest touchback percentage in the NFL in 2013. A whopping 71.8% of their kickoffs received went for touchbacks, good for most in the league.

The only other teams that were close were Atlanta (70.7%) and New Orleans (68.1%), which wasn’t surprising with both being dome teams. The league average for touchbacks however, was less than 50 percent (49.9%).

The Bills also had the second-highest number of kickoffs received that reached the end zone (91.8%). Only Atlanta had a higher percentage.

Now not every kick that reaches the end zone means it should be at touchback, but it at least appeared more often than not that anything more than five yards deep in the end zone the Bills would take a knee. Other teams chose to be more aggressive and paid the price for it so it’s not an easy call as to where the line of demarcation should be to take a knee or bring it out.

Either way it’s going to be interesting to see the steps Buffalo’s kick return unit takes in year two under Crossman.


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Spikes: Pepper will boost D-line performance

Posted by Chris Brown on June 23, 2014 – 11:09 am

As we began our Camp Countdown series today we asked just how dominant Buffalo’s defensive line can be in 2014. Bills MLB Brandon Spikes is very familiar with the level of talent that will be playing in front of him on Buffalo’s defensive line. Three Pro Bowlers and a 10-sack guy last season are projected as the front four for the Bills. Spikes also knows the man who will be coaching them this year very well in Pepper Johnson. Here’s where Spikes feels Johnson will best help in making Buffalo’s defensive line truly elite.

“I think he can just kind of provide the wisdom part of the game,” Spikes told Buffalobills.com. “He played at a high level playing and coaching. I think he has stuff that some coaches don’t get because he’s seen it in the past with the helmet on. He has a great deal of experience. I think showing up the D-line is already great. I think they’re pretty good right now, but with him giving the extra fundamentals and small little things that can tip the game I think it can take them to the next level. I’m anxious to see those guys get out there and take some of that coaching from him and put it on the field. I can’t wait to see it.”

The boost will be needed most when it comes to run defense, an area where both Johnson and Spikes figure to be of help this fall.


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