Bills OTAs — Day 1 news roundup

GILMORE

(That’s Stephon Gilmore going head over heels on a pass breakup early in Tuesday’s positional workouts at the Bills’ OTA session. Yeah, how’d he not kill himself? The kid plays with fire. I know this photo of mine is blurry as hell. But there’s a wee bit of action in it, no? Couldn’t resist. If you can make out the number of the receiver, tweet me. Ha!)

 

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It’s rare when a head coach has anything good to say after his team’s first football practice of the year.

It’s rarer still to hear it from the coach of an NFL team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1998.

Although Chan Gailey of the Buffalo Bills was far from ecstatic, his comments on Tuesday reflected the uncharacteristic optimism that has permeated this NFL team — and its long-suffering fan following — since the signing of star defensive end Mario Williams.

“We had a lot of energy, a lot of quickness,” Gailey said following the NFL team’s first “OTA” practice session (Organized Team Activities) at its indoor facility.

“(The team) felt bigger on the field. It felt quicker on the field. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but initial observations were good.”

Despite finishing 6-10 last year, the Bills ended their decade-long struggles on offence, thanks to the standout play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wideout Stevie Johnson and running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.

The Bills might realistically compete for a playoff spot in 2012, the thinking went, if they could upgrade their 26th-ranked defence.

The free-agent signings of sack-meisters Williams (from the Texans) and Mark Anderson (from the Patriots) in March — plus the drafting last month of elite cover-corner Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina 10th overall — has fans hoping the club has done just that.

The whole league, in fact, has been buzzing about the Bills’ upgrade along the DL. Wisely, Buffalo coaches on Tuesday made sure those players realize that potential is only that.

“We talked about that in our room today — that everything looks great on paper, but we haven’t done anything yet,” veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay said. “Nobody’s made a play, nobody’s done anything — no matter what you’ve done in the past few years.”

Kelsay worked with the first unit on defence. He and Williams bookended tackles Marcell Dareus and backup Dwan Edwards in the Bills’ new 4-3 alignment.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Kelsay said. “A foundation has to be laid. And that’s we’re doing now, and that’s what we’ll do in training camp — so hopefully we hit the ground running in September. Our goal is to be a great defence.”

Williams is indeed as big and fast as billed. The 6-foot-6, 286-pounder said afterward that he’s been fully recovered for five months from the torn pectoral muscle that forced him to miss a big chunk of last season.

A pleasant surprise Tuesday was that starting defensive tackle Kyle Williams took part in D-line drills, before sitting out 11-on-11 sessions. Williams had bone-spur surgery on his left ankle last November.

“I went from running, to light change of direction, and then for the last couple of weeks I’ve really been doing some hard change-of-direction stuff,” Kyle Williams said. “Felt good.

“I’m not a good watcher … I want to get as much football work in as possible, to avoid any kind of rust or slow start or anything like that. I will do whatever they allow me to do.”

Defensive end Shawne Merriman, meanwhile, was not in attendance Tuesday. He is nearly recovered from the left Achilles tendon injury that prematurely ended his 2011 season.

“Today was the only day (for him) to see the doctor to get final clearances on some stuff,” Gailey said. “He’ll be back Thursday.”

Gilmore worked a lot with the ones. The first pass went to his man on a short crossing route. He broke it up.

On offence, second-year right offensive tackle Chris Hairston had the fun task of trying to ward off Mario Williams, as Fitzpatrick worked through what he called simple “install” progressions with his receivers.

Second-round draft pick Cordy Glenn from Georgia manned the left-tackle spot on the OL.

On one play, third-round draft pick T.J. Graham — one of the speediest rookie wideouts available — got open on a fly route. Fitzpatrick threw him a perfect deep ball, but the North Carolina State grad alligator-armed it and missed it. Hey, it was Day 1.

Of course, top wideout Stevie Johnson is still recovering from the surgery he had May 1 to repair the nagging groin injury he played most of last year with. Johnson did some light running only on Tuesday.

Asked when Johnson would be able to fully practise, Gailey said, “Training camp. I don’t see him making mini-camp (in late June). I’d love to say he would.”

In his bid to become Fitzpatrick’s backup, former Titans star Vince Young rotated with Tyler Thigpen with the twos. In early warmups, Young pumped then threw a perfect long ball for a completion on an out-and-up route. Nice.

The Bills’ OTAs (all voluntary) continue over the next three weeks. A mandatory mini-camp is slated for late June. Pre-season training camp begins in Rochester in the last week of July.

ALSO:

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Mario Williams wore No. 90 in Houston. Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay figured the $96-million man would want his No. 90 in Buffalo.
So he had a plan.

“Basically, when Mario got here I reached out to him,” Kelsay said Tuesday, after the Bills’ first full-squad off-season practice. “I said  jokingly, ‘I bet you want to wear No. 90. Good thing you make a lot of money.’

“He texted me right back — ‘LOL.’ ”

Kelsay explained to Williams that, as a nine-year NFL veteran, he hoped to keep the 90. No probs: Williams switched to No. 94.

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