|David Duprey / Associated Press|
|Terrell Owens has made a good first impression on his teammates, coaches and fans at Bills training camp.|
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- The first day of full-contact practice at the Buffalo Bills' training camp meant different things to different people.
To the veterans on the offensive and defensive lines, it was a chance to do what they've looked forward to doing since the end of last season -- pound the daylights out of each other. And they did for the better part of two hours on the grass fields at St. John Fisher College.
To rookie offensive guard Andy Levitre, practicing for the first time since signing his contract with the team, it was a head-spinning experience to keep up with a far more accelerated pace than the one to which he was exposed during the offseason non-contact sessions.
"As much as we can, we like both sides to come off the ball aggressively... we go after it," coach Dick Jauron said. "They're all very, very competitive guys. And they're very proud. If they get the upper hand on one play, you know that (other) guy's coming a little harder the next play."
Levitre, the Bills' second-round draft pick and a projected starter, pretty much held his own from a physical standpoint. But stepping onto the field without the benefit of taking part in any of the four non-contact practices over the weekend (Levitre did not sign his deal until Sunday) Levitre was scrambling to catch up.
"Usually you get a couple days in shorts and a t-shirt to get your feet going," Levitre said. "It wasn't the greatest day for me, but I'm planning on doing a better job (Tuesday), and as long as I'm getting a little bit better every day, I think things will come along."
Fellow guard Eric Wood, the second of the Bills' two first-round picks, has been hanging out near the team's headquarters in Orchard Park, N.Y., waiting to complete his contract. That's an indication that he could strike a deal soon.
There isn't nearly as much optimism about when the Bills might come to an agreement with their other first-rounder, defensive end Aaron Maybin. Maybin's agent and the Bills haven't spoken very much lately.
» The Bills desperately need to upgrade their quarterback depth. It was actually painful to watch Ryan Fitzpatrick, the free agent they signed from the Cincinnati Bengals to fill the No. 2 role, throw passes during practice. His throws often lacked zip and accuracy. On multiple occasions, he would fire the ball at the feet of his receivers, or throw wobbly passes that were uncatchable. Gibran Hamdan, an incumbent backup, didn't do a whole lot better.
» Running back Marshawn Lynch showed tremendous explosion on his runs. The Bills have other good backs in Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes, but neither can replicate the extra gear that Lynch finds after hitting the hole. The Bills will be without his services for the first three games of the season as he serves a suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy. Jackson and Rhodes are capable of picking up a good deal of the slack, but Lynch's performance is a reminder that the Bills will clearly miss his presence.
» The Bills seemed to give the first hint Monday that they're going to put a fairly interesting spin on the "Wildcat" offense this season. For a few non-contact plays early in practice, they had wide receiver Roscoe Parrish lined up in shotgun, behind center, while quarterback Trent Edwards was lined up wide to Parrish's right at receiver. Parrish played quarterback in high school, so he is quite comfortable at the position. On one snap Parrish took it himself and ran after faking a handoff to Lynch, and then handed off to Lynch on another play. The Bills are happy to make all of their opponents aware that they have the "Wildcat" package because, by the estimation of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, Buffalo's defense had to devote a minimum of seven hours each week to prepare for "Wildcat" scheme of its opponents. Fourteen of those hours alone went into preparing to face the NFL's "Wildcat" pioneers and division foe, the Miami Dolphins.
» The Bills' offense, which notoriously has had problems throwing against 3-4 defenses, has only been able to work against the alignment in walk-through sessions because, as Edwards explained, "It's difficult to ask our (4-3) defense to go into a live practice running the 3-4 when that's not really what they run." The Bills face two 3-4 opponents, Pittsburgh and Green Bay, in the preseason. But even that doesn't seem like sufficient preparation to face the 3-4 schemes that the rest of the AFC East plays.
» Looking at the average age of the players on the Bills' roster, you could put almost any three of them together and still not equal the age of 90-year-old team owner Ralph Wilson. But Wilson is getting around quite well, and looks and sounds as if he is pretty much on his game. He watched his first practice of camp from a golf cart parked on the sidelines. After the workout, he got out of the cart and walked to the middle of the field where he gave his annual address to the players. They seemed fairly attentive and gave him a nice ovation when he was finished.
After practice, Jauron spoke in glowing terms about fourth-year veteran defensive tackle John McCargo. Yes, this is the same John McCargo that the Bills attempted to trade to Indianapolis last year only to have him return to Buffalo after failing the Colts' physical examination.
Now, McCargo, who joined the Bills as a first-round draft pick from North Carolina State in 2006, is making great strides towards making a significant contribution behind starting tackles Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams.
"We're excited about him being a part of our defensive line, a big part of the rotation," Jauron said. "John's a player we all like and we all believe he has a future. We all did what we thought was best for everybody last year, and the fact he reverted back to us, I think turns out to be a very positive thing. He's had a great attitude. We've always liked him, and now we're hoping to get out of him what we believe is there. And he's worked very, very hard."
Keeping in mind that three of the Bills' top four draft picks are still unsigned (Maybin, Wood, and second-rounder Jairus Byrd) and that the only player chosen in the first two rounds, Levitre, has had only one practice, it isn't easy pinpointing an impressive rookie in the Bills' camp. But there is one who has managed to turn some heads through the first three days of practice: Nic Harris, a fifth-round linebacker from Oklahoma.
Tom Modrak, the Bills' vice president of college scouting, said he has been particularly impressed with what Harris has shown in pass coverage. It is easy to see why. He is consistently around the ball, and seems to have a good feel on where he is supposed to be and when he is supposed to be there.
Since the first training camp practice, Terrell Owens has produced multiple highlight-video catches, but that isn't the only reason he is making a favorable impression on his teammates and especially on his coaches. They're also marveling over the way he has conducted himself through the early part of camp.
You constantly see him lending support and guidance to his teammates. When necessary, he encourages other players on offense to pick up the tempo and to stay focused.
"I call him, 'Terrell,' because that's who he is when he does that stuff," one Bills assistant coach said. "He hasn't been T.O. out here."
Owens also has spent time after practice working on his release from the line of scrimmage with receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. Owens has encountered different techniques and teaching methods at each of his three previous NFL stops, and Buffalo is the same in that regard. Tolbert's emphasis is on taking full advantage of Owens' 6-foot-3, 224-pound frame.
But perhaps the most lasting image from this third day of Bills camp is Owens spending a great deal of time, as he has after each previous practice, signing autographs for the throngs of fans gathered on bleachers outside the locker room calling his name every time he moves. He has patiently obliged all of them, which is nice when you consider that he is clearly the one player most fans who attend practice are coming to see.
"After seeing you practice today, I wonder why we lost so many games last year."
-- Bills owner Ralph Wilson addressing the team after practice.
Tight ends Derrick Fine and Jonathan Stupar made some nice catches and runs after the catch...Stroud remains sidelined after tweaking his left hamstring over the weekend. The bad news for the Bills is that no one else on the team is his equal as a dominant inside force. The good news is that he wasn't wearing any sort of medical wrap around the leg, which seems to confirm Jauron's assessment that he'll return to practice fairly soon...Veteran defensive end Copeland Bryan was helped off the field with a hamstring injury. Jauron didn't immediately know the severity, but said the injury was a "big disappointment for him and for us."...Second-year receiver James Hardy, who has been placed on the physically unable to perform list while recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee, seems to be making good progress while working on his own on the perimeter of the field. He appears to be running well straight ahead and is also able to make cuts.