If there is one thing you can say about Buffalo Bills fans in July and August, it's that they are an optimistic bunch.
When the offensive players ran out onto the field for the first practice of the 2013 season, the fans cheered. When the rest of the players entered the field, including most of the defensive players, the fans cheered some more.
The practice marked the first training camp for Doug Marrone, the new head coach of the Bills. (Marrone coached the Syracuse University football team before leaving the Orange to coach the Bills.) He was very involved at practice. I noticed early on he was working with the punt returners. Later in the practice, he worked with the offensive linemen.
It was much different than when Dick Jauron was the coach. I remember Jauron strolling around the field wearing one of his straw(?) hats and just observing what was going on. That's not my kind of coach. I like to see a coach get his hands dirty and get involved. Marrone was doing that Sunday night.
Here are five other observations from Sunday's practice:
(1) One-on-one drills were awesome. The most exciting part of practice was the wide receiver versus defensive back drills that allowed the fastest guys on the field showcase their abilities. The segment also allowed the quarterbacks to show off their arms and accuracy.
A couple of notes from this drill:
- E.J. Manuel connected with T.J. Graham for two touchdown passes. Manuel showed nice down the field accuracy on both throws, while T.J. Graham got the separation he needed to make both receptions.
- Corner Stephon Gilmore was strong. While he would have been penalized in a game for his grabbing and takedown of Stevie Johnson, he was aggressive and made it difficult for receivers to get their hands on the ball. If he's going to be the Bills' top corner, he needs to play just like that this season.
(2) No, the starting quarterback wasn't decided after the first day of camp. E.J. Manuel, Kevin Kolb and Jeff Tuel each had plenty of snaps to showcase their abilities. All had some good and bad moments. I thought Manuel looked good at times, but lacked consistency. He did miss some short throws, but so did Kolb. But it was only the first day. As camp progresses and the Bills start playing preseason games, we will have a better idea of who deserves the starting job.
(3) Injuries. No one was injured during the first day of camp, at least from what I saw. I know a couple of players, including defensive end Mario Williams, sat out practice due to injuries. Chris Hairston spent a lot of his time pacing up and down the sideline.
(4) The defense looked, well, different. I'm going to make a bold prediction after only one day of practice. This defense will be a lot better than last year's unit. Last year's defense was very passive. Expect this year's unit to be very aggressive. The unit registered a couple of takeaways and got good pressure on the quarterbacks. I have a lot of faith in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. I think he will be able to turn the defense around.
(5) The kicking competitions were quiet Sunday. The Bills didn't spend a lot of time kicking at Sunday's practice. When the team went through kick coverage drills, the punters did not actually kick the ball. They took the snaps, but a machine fired balls down the field. We also didn't see the Dustin Hopkins-Rian Lindell battle on the field at practice, at least on the main field. So if you're looking for more information on who will be the starting punter and kicker this season, you're going to have to wait awhile.